Riviera Style: To Catch a Thief

Kimberly at the wonderful GlamAmor blog has published a fantastic post and accompanying video on the Edith Head designed resort wardrobe featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief.  If you love Grace Kelly’s cool, understated elegance in that film as much as I do, you’ll definitely want to check it out.

Wardrobe contributed so much to Hitchcock’s films and as Kimberly points out so well, Edith Head was integral in creating what we now think of as Hitchcock Style. Imagine Vertigo without Kim Novak’s severely chic gray suit, or Rear Window without Grace Kelly’s magnificent entrance in that black and white dress with the full tulle and chiffon skirt.  It can’t be done!  The best costume designers, like Mad Men’s brilliant Janie Bryant and of course Edith Head, are just as much storytellers as any writer or director.

If you want to learn more about Edith Head, I highly recommend checking out Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer by Jay Jorgensen.  It’s full of stunning illustrations and photos of Head’s most memorable work, including that she did with Alfred Hitchcock.

Fifteen Movie Questions Meme

So much for me posting up a storm here in May!  I can’t believe tomorrow is June 1st.  It’s been a busy couple of months and I’ve hardly watched any movies at all.  Here’s hoping the summer provides me with some quieter moments, so I’ll have more time for watching and writing.  My backlog of unwatched films recorded off TCM is getting ridiculous!

Anyway, several people, including Clara at Via Margutta 51, have done the 15 Movie Questions meme recently, and it looked like fun.  If you’d like to do it yourself, consider yourself tagged.

1.  Movie you love with a passion.

There are a lot of these!  Maybe An Affair to Remember.  I’ve seen it so many times and still think it’s the most romantic movie ever.

Affair to Remember

2.  Movie you vow to never watch.

Never is a very long time, so who knows?  There was a time when I hated Westerns, after all, but now there are quite a few I love.  But I’m definitely averse to horror movies, especially modern day gory ones, so probably those.

3.  Movie that literally left you speechless.

Leave Her to Heaven – the rowboat scene.  (Starts at about 2:20 below.)  I was so stunned and horrified the first time I saw it, and it still leaves me speechless every time.

4.  Movie you always recommend.

The More the Merrier.  To me it’s a perfect romantic comedy, and yet a lot of people outside of the classic movie fandom have never heard of it – or of Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn.

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5.  Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie.

Cary Grant.  I’ll watch anything he’s in at least once!  Obviously I’m not the only one who feels this way, given the recent releases of many of his early ‘30s movies on DVD.

6.  Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for.

John Wayne.

7.  Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet.

Cary Grant.  I’m reading his daughter’s book now (review to come!), and it’s made me adore him even more than I already did.  I’d love to have known him.  I’d also love to have met Audrey Hepburn, the sweetest lady ever, and Montgomery Clift, because he was so sad and I think he could’ve used a hug.  (And some anti-depressants, bless him.)

8.  Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen. (Picture required!)

Gary Cooper, no question.  In his prime he was absolutely the sexiest, most beautiful man ever in the movies.  Tall and lanky, with masculine strength and that sweet, shy demeanor, he could wear bespoke European suits or rugged American cowboy gear with equal elegance.  That pretty face and those bedroom eyes, swoon!

He was basically catnip for women, both on and off screen, and continues to be dreamy even to girls born many years after died.  I think I’d better add him to question #7, above!  I’d love to have met Coop, that’s for sure.  Preferably alone on a deserted tropical island.

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9.  Dream cast.

Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck in a romantic comedy.  Why did that never happen?

10.  Favorite actor pairing.

Rock Hudson and Doris Day.  They were so much fun together.

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11.  Favorite movie setting.  

Paris.  So many of my favorite movies take place there:  An American in Paris, Gigi, Sabrina, Funny Face, Charade.  Heck, pretty much every Audrey Hepburn movie is set in Paris!

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12.  Favorite decade for movies.

Probably the ‘30s.

9th May 1934: Myrna Loy (1905 - 1993) and William Powell (1892 - 1984) play sleuthing couple Nick and Nora Charles in 'The Thin Man', directed by W S Van Dyke.

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Mr Deeds Goes to Town

Swing Time

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13.  Chick flick or action movie?

Chick flick.

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14. Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Hero.

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15.  Black and white or color?

Black and white, I suppose, although I wouldn’t want to live without all my beautiful Technicolor movies.

Midnight at the Oasis

Devil and the Deep (1932)

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This movie is a total hoot!  A hoot and a half, you might even say.  Don’t mistake me, it’s not exactly good.  In fact, it’s completely ridiculous.  But it’s also fun – nutty, only-in-Hollywood fun, with star power galore, a crazy story, and quite a bit of pre-code sexiness.

In a nutshell:  Tallulah Bankhead plays the wife of Charles Laughton, a submarine commander stationed in North Africa.  He is insanely (and I mean insanely) jealous of every man who looks at, speaks to, or breathes the same air as his wife, even though she is faithful to him.

After Laughton falsely accuses her of having an affair with one of his officers (Cary Grant), Tallulah runs off into the night, meets Gary Cooper, and has an evening of passion with him.  Of course Cooper turns out to be one of Laughton’s officers too, and all hell breaks loose when the truth comes out.

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The plot is melodramatic and improbable, but there are so many things to love about Devil and the Deep.  For instance:

* Cary Grant.  He only has a small part at the beginning of the film, but he acquits himself quite nicely and is very young and handsome.  He’s not the Cary Grant we all know and love quite yet, but it’s still a pleasure to see him — especially looking so spiffy in his uniform.

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* Charles Laughton in his first movie role.  Paramount gives him a big, over-the-top introduction in the titles, befitting the big, over-the-top actor he was.  As soon as I saw the below pop up, I figured this movie was going to be the aforementioned hoot and a half and I was not disappointed.

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Laughton chews the scenery like nobody’s business, especially in his final scene of the picture.  I don’t want to spoil things by giving it away, but it’s truly fantastic.  I laughed so hard, even though I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to.

* Tallulah Bankhead.  She’s mesmerizing to watch, with her husky voice and drawn on eyebrows, slinking around in bias-cut evening gowns that leave little to the imagination.  She even wears one of those gowns while escaping from a submarine at the bottom of the sea!  That’s glamour.  She’s also quite touching in the early scenes with Laughton – you can feel her weariness at putting up with his constant, unfounded jealousy and her helplessness to do anything about it.

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Watching her love scenes with Gary Cooper, I couldn’t help remembering that Bankhead famously said the only reason she came to Hollywood was “to f—k that divine Gary Cooper.”  Asked about her comment by a reporter years later, she simply stated “Mission accomplished.”  She was something else, that’s for sure.

* Gary Cooper, who is so drop dead gorgeous in this movie that Tallulah’s ambition, while vulgarly phrased, is quite understandable.  This is far from Cooper’s best role – in fact he is a bit wooden at times.  Still, it’s still a treat to see him in seduction mode: rescuing Tallulah from being jostled to death by a crowd of Arab men filling the streets for a festival, lingeringly checking out her clingy gown/no underwear ensemble, buying her a bottle of exotic perfume, and leading her off to a desert oasis for a magical night of passion.

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Pre-code movies are so shameless sometimes!  They fade to black, sure, but not before they make certain you know exactly what is going on.  Devil and the Deep is no exception and it’s pretty steamy.  Also interestingly pre-code is the fact that in the end Tallulah is not punished for her illicit behavior.  She’s able to take up with Cooper again once Laughton is out of the way.  Post-code she’d have had to die or lose her lover forever as punishment.

Cooper cuts a dashing figure, whether in his naval uniforms or in his civvies.  He even makes an ascot look masculine and sophisticated instead of foppish.  He filmed this movie shortly after returning from time spent with Countess Dorothy DiFrasso in Europe and Africa.  The Countess had transformed his way of dressing and carrying himself, Pygmalion-style, and it shows in the newly elegant and  easy way he wears his clothes here.  The cowboy from Montana had taken on a dapper, European style.

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* The submarine scenes.  Although the sets and effects were fairly hokey, it still freaked me out to imagine those poor souls trapped at the bottom of the sea under the command of a raving lunatic.  From the time Laughton destroys the ship in a fit of jealous rage until his final hammy moments (glug, glug), Devil and the Deep is nerve-wracking, inadvertently hysterical entertainment.

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I found the movie totally entertaining.  It’s part of the recently released Cary Grant: The Early Years collection, which is a bit misleading.  His part is very small and this is much more Gary Cooper’s movie than it is Cary Grant’s.  Of course the truth is that Charles Laughton steals the show from Gary, Tallulah and Cary.  There’s definitely nothing subtle about his performance.

Check this one out if you get a chance.  It’s kind of fabulous.

Happy Birthday, Cary Grant!

I had high hopes of writing an epic Cary Grant post here today in honor of the 107th anniversary of his birth, but unfortunately life and work got in the way and I didn’t have time.  So, instead of the epic, I’ll share a personal story about how, in an unexpected turn of events, Cary’s widow read (or at least received) a letter I wrote about her husband.

My very favorite book about Cary is Evenings With Cary Grant, written by Nancy Nelson. Nelson worked with Grant on a series of lectures he gave in the ’80s called A Conversation With Cary Grant. She got to know him well, and after his death in 1986 she wrote this book, full of the stories he’d told as well as memories and anecdotes from his friends and colleagues. It’s a loving, warm, thoroughly entertaining tribute. 

The first time I read the book I was in college.  By the time I finished it, curled up in my little dorm bedroom, I was completely overwhelmed with love for this man.  I’m a big sap about him now, but it was even worse when I was only twenty! I dried my eyes, got out my Brother word processor (ha, remember those?) and penned a gushing yet completely heartfelt letter to the author – something I’d never done before.  Something about that book, and about Cary himself, was so compelling that I just had to do it.  I wrote:

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Thank you so much for your wonderful book, Evenings With Cary Grant. When I finished reading it last night tears were streaming down my cheeks. I felt as though I had made a new friend in Mr. Grant, and was sad to have lost him so soon after getting to know him.

Cary Grant has been my favorite actor for several years, at a time when all my college roommates are swooning over Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. I loved his movies and wanted to know more about him as a person. However, every other biography I glanced through at the library or bookstore seemed full of rumor, innuendo and secondhand sources. I was so excited when I came across your book! When I saw that it was mostly in Cary Grant’s own words and the words of his friends, and that it had the blessing of his wife and daughter, I bought it right away and just devoured it.

When I read a biography or memoir, I always hope to learn something about the subject’s life, as well as to be entertained. Evenings with Cary Grant was fascinating, witty, and also very moving.

What made finding your book even more special was the fact that just the night before I had been in Houston to see Gregory Peck in his version of Mr. Grant’s “Conversations.” Mr. Peck had mentioned that he got the idea from Cary Grant! It was a wonderful coincidence.

Thank you once again for your book. The publishing world needs more authors like you to write honestly and kindly about the famous and successful.

Sincerely, etc.

Pretty corny, I know! I’m almost embarrassed about that letter, but I meant every word of it then, and I still do, actually. It’s a lovely book. (I can’t say  my emotional reaction to it has changed with age, either.  I read it last year and was just as touched.)  A couple of months later I received this letter from Nancy Nelson:

Dear Ms. —:

Your letter about my Cary Grant book has put me right into a soup of emotion. First of all, it is such a joy to receive a letter so long after publication – in the beginning there was lots of mail – and, secondly, you have expressed yourself beautifully. If I had any fantasy at all about what reaction people would have to Cary and his life and the way I portrayed it, it would be yours. Exactly. A million thanks.

(By the by, I would have responded sooner but your letter just arrived this morning. Publishers are notorious for not sending author mail in any timely fashion.)

And you mention the coincidence of being in Houston. Well, so was I. Today Gregory Peck is my client, and yes he got the idea from Cary Grant, who told him how much fun it was to go out on the road to meet people. I knew Cary was talking to Greg – years ago – and I took up the mission myself. I practically got on my knees when I went to his house to interview him for my book! Well, it’s many years later – about 11 since my first contact with him via Cary – but here we are! Wasn’t Houston smashing? The audience was marvelous, and he was terrific. Of the six we’ve done, it’s my favorite. Everything worked. All the technical stuff, etc. It was a perfect show.

Thank you for all your kind words and thoughtfulness. I’ll cherish your letter. (I’ve already faxed it to Cary’s wife.)

Sincerely yours,
Nancy Nelson

What an amazing letter to receive!  I never expected to hear anything back from her, so to get something so nice, to find out that she had been at the Gregory Peck show my sister and I had been to, and to know that she sent my goofy fangirl letter to Mrs. Cary Grant?! It was a beautiful, happy day in my young life. It still makes me smile to think about it.

So there you have my personal Cary Grant connection, tenuous though it is.  I ended up seeing Gregory Peck’s show again a few years later. It too was “smashing.” Gregory Peck was a class act, a great man and a great actor.  But what I wouldn’t have given to see just one of Cary Grant’s shows. By all accounts they were truly magical.

Sadly, Evenings With Cary Grant is out of print now, but used copies can still be tracked down.  I recently found one at a very reasonable price on the Alibris site, for a friend’s Christmas gift. If you’re interested in Cary Grant, both as an actor and as a man, this is the book to get.

Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Amelia Earhart, 1934

This is so cool!  No doubt it’s a publicity photo for the Grant/Loy aviation drama Wings in the Dark, which I watched recently and talk about here.

I don’t know why, but this picture blows my mind a little.  Amelia Earhart, my girlhood idol, with Cary Grant, my idol of all time.  I get really geekily excited when I come across things like this.  No wonder Myrna Loy was so believable playing a daring aviatrix in Wings in the Dark – she’d met the real thing!

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Husbands and Wives

For some reason the movies I watched this weekend all had a marital theme.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just grabbed DVDs that looked like fun, but maybe  on some level I was preparing myself for another season of watching Don and Betty Draper’s early ‘60s battle of the sexes. 

Too Many Husbands (1940)

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Too Many Husbands came out the same year as another, more popular “extra spouse” movie, My Favorite Wife, and to be honest it’s not as funny or memorable as the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne film.  The three leads, Jean Arthur, Melvyn Douglas and Fred MacMurray, are all good though, and the movie has its humorous moments.

One thing that sets Too Many Husbands apart from My Favorite Wife is its more risqué premise. Jean Arthur’s character, Vicky Lowndes, isn’t a newlywed “kissless” bride, as Cary Grant’s new wife is. Her first husband Bill Cardew (MacMurray) has been “dead” (like Dunne’s character in My Favorite Wife he was lost at sea and presumed drowned) for a year.  Vicky has been married to husband number two, Henry (Douglas), Bill’s best friend and business partner, for six months.

Once Bill returns Vicky can’t decide which man she loves more and which one she wants to stay married to. She seems quite excited by the prospect of bigamy, in fact, if only because she enjoys having two men paying attention to her and vying for her affections. She gets a wicked gleam in her eyes the night of Bill’s return, contemplating the fact that two attractive men are downstairs fighting over who has the right to join her in bed.

Her two husbands argue and tussle and show off for her. (One of the funniest parts of the movie is seeing these two grown men running around the living room like fools, hurdling armchairs to prove their manly prowess.) She spends time with each of them alone, in an attempt to make her decision, and ends up more confused.

Eventually the law has to step in and make the choice for her, but in spite of her winding up married to only one of the men, it’s clear from the movie’s ending, with Vicky dancing with both at the same time, each clinging to one of her arms, that things aren’t really settled at all.  The whole movie has a slightly perverse vibe, like maybe Vicky would be just as happy with a threesome situation, which was an interesting take for 1940, that’s for sure.

All in all a funny little screwball comedy, though not one of the greats. For me it suffers in comparison to My Favorite Wife, both in terms of humor and heart, but it’s still worth checking out for the wonderful Jean Arthur. Also for the sight of Fred MacMurray in his first scene, bearded and as wild looking as Tom Hanks in Cast Away, but considerably more happy-go-lucky about the whole desert island rescue scenario.

Dream Wife (1953)

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 I’ve watched An Affair to Remember over and over recently,which inspired me watch the other Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr collaborations, inferior though they both are to Leo McCarey’s 1957 gem. (It may be sentimental and imperfect, but for me An Affair to Remember is the movie equivalent of comfort food. Not necessarily as nutritious as some other meals, but good for the soul nonetheless.)

Grant and Kerr first starred together in 1953′s Dream Wife, a movie I should probably hate, but don’t. For one thing it’s really not that good, objectively speaking. Sidney Sheldon wrote and directed it, and at times it feels like an episode of I Dream of Jeannie, only without the supernatural angle. It gets very slapstick silly at times.

For another, it’s so sexist.  Grant plays Clemson Reade, an American businessman engaged to a State Department employee, Priscilla “Effie” Effington (Kerr). She’s a workaholic and doesn’t spend enough time with him, so Clem gets fed up, breaks the engagement, and proposes to an Arab princess whose father is involved in a business deal with him. The princess has been raised to cater to her husband’s every whim and live only to make her man happy, something that appeals greatly to Clem after being repeatedly brushed aside by Effie.

Check out this conversation Clem has with some fellas at the office.  It’s awful!  It’s like a scene out of Mad Men!  And yet it makes me laugh anyway, because Cary Grant’s delivery is so good.  He can turn almost anything into comedy gold.

 

Ex-fiancee Effie has to be involved in Clem’s wedding preparations by virtue of her job at the State Department (there’s an impending oil crisis involving the princess’s country), and she throws a wrench in the engagement by teaching the princess all about Amelia Bloomer and Susan B. Anthony, helping her break free of all that subservient female stuff.

Dream Wife is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, I guess.  I enjoy it in spite of its flaws.  Cary Grant plays his trademark crankiness to the hilt, and if his character is unpleasant at times, he at least makes it funny to watch. Deborah Kerr is lovely and beautifully dressed, and if her character really is focused on work to the neglect of her fiancé, she at least makes it funny to watch.

Dumb but cute is probably the best way to describe this movie. If it had starred anyone other than Grant and Kerr I probably wouldn’t have liked it much, but their charisma and chemistry go a long way.

In this movie, at least. Not so much in their final collaboration.

The Grass is Greener (1960)

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 Every few years I pop this movie in the DVD player, hoping that this will be the time I really like it, but every time I’m disappointed. You would think that with Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum starring and Stanley Donen directing it would be fantastic, but it’s not.

Grant is an English aristocrat, Victor, Earl of Rhyall, who has opened up his stately home to tourists in order to pay for its upkeep. Kerr is his wife, Hilary, who keeps busy with their two children, gardening, and growing and selling mushrooms in the village. They’re a comfortable, loving couple, and in their first scenes together they’re quite adorable to watch.

Then Robert Mitchum’s Charles Delacro, an American tourist and (of course) oil tycoon appears, brazenly pushing his way into the family’s private quarters and making a play for Hilary. She falls for him almost immediately, and after just half an hour spent together is in love and ready to sneak off to London for a tryst with him.

Which she does, even though Victor knows what’s going on, and she knows Victor knows what’s going on. Jean Simmons is Hilary’s kooky friend Hattie, who has a designs on Victor and gets mixed up in the situation, too.  It all winds up in a silly duel between Victor and Charles and a lot of yakking about the meaning of marriage, fidelity, and love between Victor and Hilary.

It’s all supposed to be very sophisticated, but it just icks me out. There are ways to handle adultery intelligently and entertainingly in a movie, whether as a comedy (The Awful Truth) or a drama (Brief Encounter), but The Grass is Greener isn’t good at doing it either way. It’s unbelievable to me that anyone involved could’ve dealt with the situation in such a cool, collected manner as the characters in this movie. 

More shallowly, what I really find implausible about the movie is the notion that anyone would risk losing Cary Grant’s sweet if stodgy Victor because of an infatuation with Robert Mitchum’s not too attractive and dull as toast Charles.  I know that’s my biased inner fangirl talking,  but honestly.  It’s Cary Grant!  Even at age 56, wearing comfy cardigans and thick black-framed glasses, he’s more charming and attractive than anyone has ever been.  I mean, would you throw over a husband who looked at you like this while you were in the bath?  For Robert Mitchum?

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No, I didn’t think so.

I’ll be with you in a minute, Mr. Peabody!

If you ever get a chance to see Bringing Up Baby with the DVD commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, do!  I watched the movie today, and when it was over I started it again with the commentary, figuring I’d just listen to a few minutes of it.  I ended up watching the whole movie all over again!  The commentary reeled me in, which is pretty rare.  Lots of DVD commentaries are dull, dull, dull, but this one wasn’t.

Bogdanovich peppers the commentary with readings of excerpts from interviews he did with Bringing Up  Baby director Howard Hawks in the 1960s and ‘70s, and when he does that he plays both parts, impersonating Hawks.  Pretty funny, like he’s performing a little play.  He throws in a Cary Grant impersonation now and then, too.

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The best part about the commentary is just how amused Bogdanovich is by the movie, even though he’s clearly seen it many, many, many times.  (He used the framework for the film when he made his own screwball comedy, What’s Up Doc?, with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in the early ‘70s.  That’s another one on my t0-watch-soon list.)  Bogdanovich can’t help laughing out loud over and over, and it made me laugh out loud with him.

I bet I’ve seen Bringing Up Baby fifteen or more times, (something I should probably be embarrassed to admit, huh?) and I catch something new every time.  The movie is so zany, fast, and full of hilarious bits of dialogue and physical comedy that you can’t take it all in in just one viewing, or even three or four.

I don’t think Cary Grant was ever funnier than he was as Professor David Huxley, wearing his geeky Harold Lloyd glasses, “tsk, tsk”-ing and “oh dear”-ing all over the place, getting more and more frustrated by the frantic lunacy Katharine Hepburn’s nutty but endearing Susan Vance drags him into.  It’s worth it to spend at least one viewing of the movie keeping your eyes on Cary the whole time.  Every little look, noise, line reading, and bit of business he does is brilliant.  He plays it all straight, that’s what makes it so funny.  Susan’s just plain driving him insane!  And yet she’s making him much more human at the same time, breaking him out of his stuffy, academic rut and rescuing him from the boring, cold fish fiancee who doesn’t even want to go on a honeymoon with the dishy doctor.

 

The character actors in classic movies are some of the best things about them.  There are so many wonderful faces and kooky characters.  I appreciate seeing my favorites pop up over and over — it’s like running into an old, beloved friend.   There’s something comforting about seeing people like Edward Everett Horton, Beulah Bondi, Charles Coburn, Spring Byington or Edward Arnold appear on the screen.  You know them, you love them, and you’re sure you’re going to have a great time with them.

Charles Ruggles is so good in Bringing Up Baby, playing Major Applegate, a big-game hunter and friend of Susan’s Aunt Elizabeth (the also wonderful May Robson).  Everybody in this dinner scene is perfection, actually – even the famous dog, Asta, who plays George.  It’s just so wacky!  The Major doing leopard cries, David repeatedly getting up from the table to follow George outside, hoping to finding the intercostal clavicle, Aunt Elizabeth appalled by David’s behavior and Susan totally smitten by her dear “Mr. Bone”. 

 

“It was probably an echo.”  “Yes, well it was a long time coming back, wasn’t it?”  HA!

I don’t think I could ever tire of this movie.  I find it endlessly amusing and endlessly quotable.  It cracks me up every single time I see it.

A real leading man

Interesting article about Cary Grant in today’s New York Times, in connection with a series of his films being shown in New York City in August: Once Upon a Time, a Real Leading Man.

I love this part, and couldn’t agree more.

Watching him is to be reminded of a time when intelligence, grace and self-containment were their own rewards. The 21st century, so far, hasn’t deserved him.

For all the good things he has to say about Grant’s work in the article, however, Mike Hale still can’t help slipping into snooty, 21st-century, cooler-than-thou mode now and then, as when he discusses Penny Serenade.

It’s brave of the Brooklyn Academy of Music to be showing the 1941 weeper “Penny Serenade,” a hit at the time and an important moment in Grant’s career. But when Grant and Irene Dunne smile as their adopted child says she wants to be an angel before next year’s Christmas pageant, the howls will be heard across Fort Greene.

And yet Grant is worth watching, even in something as preposterous as “Penny Serenade,” and he makes the film worth watching too. (Well, almost. It helps that Edgar Buchanan is around to play the crusty older friend.)

Oh yeah, so brave. Forgive me if I roll my eyes. There’s no denying that Penny Serenade is unabashedly sincere and sentimental, and it’s a product of its time in terms of style, but is that so terrible that you have to be “brave” to screen it? Oh brother. In spite of its old-fashioned melodrama, the movie tackles a lot of issues that are still relevant today: infertility, adoption, what makes a “real” family, financial woes and a marriage struggling to survive a devastating loss.

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Irene Dunne and Cary Grant are both great. Cary is especially heartbreaking, falling in love with his adopted little girl, fighting to keep her when the court wants to take her away, and coming apart at the seams when years later he loses her in a way he can’t prevent. I love Penny Serenade! It is not preposterous. Hmph.

I also disagree that director George Stevens’ 1942 movie The Talk of the Town is “plodding” and a “clunker.” I watched it for the first time last weekend and found it quite funny, thought-provoking, and entertaining.

Jean Arthur is her usual smart, spunky, hilarious self. There’s a scene involving a newspaper and an egg that made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of my chair! I won’t say more in case you haven’t seen it, but good night that lady was funny. I’m just crazy about Jean Arthur these days.

Ronald Colman is outstanding as a stuffy law professor and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice who gets caught up in a crazy, career endangering situation that tests his beliefs about the law and brings out his humanity in a wonderful way.

And of course Cary is fantastic in a role that’s a strange, unexpected one for him. He plays a character called Leopold Dilg, a troublemaking, leftist rabble-rouser unjustly accused of burning down a factory and killing someone inside. He escapes from prison and hides out at Jean Arthur’s character’s house, which is being rented by the law professor. His character is idealistic yet wary, suspicious yet trusting, serious-minded yet in many ways a bit of a goof. It’s not a typical Cary Grant role, but as usual he brings his intelligence and perfect comic timing to the part. He’s endlessly fascinating to watch and is the most interesting person in the movie. At least to me he is, but then I’m biased!

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The whole thing is a weird mix of crime drama, social commentary, and screwball comedy — kind of a bridge between the silly farces popular in the 1930s and the more serious “message” pictures of the 1940s, like Gentleman’s Agreement (one of my favorite Gregory Peck films) and others produced by Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox.

The only real problem I had with the movie was that the romance seemed almost an afterthought, like it was tacked on only because movies need to end with a couple getting together. The three leads developed a lovely friendship, and both men grew to have feelings for the girl. I didn’t feel like she had a huge preference for one over the other, though, and the fact that she chose Cary Grant in the end seemed to happen mostly because, well, he was Cary Grant. And even if he was a penniless, unstable kind of guy and not an oddly English-sounding Supreme Court Justice, who cares? It was Cary Grant.

I read somewhere that George Stevens actually filmed two endings, one where Colman ends up with Arthur, and one where Grant does, intending to go with the ending test audiences preferred. I don’t remember all the details, but it was something like that. It feels like that uncertainty translated to the rest of the movie, since I could never quite figure out which fellow she was most smitten with.

Anyway, overall I liked The Talk of the Town a lot. It didn’t cause the kind of huge, revelatory “Oh my Lord, how have I never seen this masterpiece before?!?” moment Only Angels Have Wings did, but I’m still happy I finally watched it.

Another new-to-me movie I watched recently was Mr. Lucky, from 1943. This is another of those in-between movies Grant did in the early 1940s, and it too blends comedy and drama in an interesting way. I love his performance in this. He plays an amoral, draft-dodging gambler and con artist who, under a name stolen from a dead man (hello Don Draper/Dick Whitman!) plans to bilk a wartime ladies’ relief organization out of a huge amount of money.

Of course there’s more to this guy than all his bad qualities. He’s charming and funny, uses Cockney rhyming slang (something Grant apparently added to the script himself, since he knew it from his years growing up in England), and starts to develop tender feelings for one of the society ladies in charge at the relief organization. (She’s played by Laraine Day, whom I found rather bland and boring compared to other of Grant’s leading ladies.)

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Can this guy change his ways and go straight? Does he even want to? Does he really care about this lady or is it all part of the con? He puts on a smooth, happy-go-lucky façade with Day’s character, but at a certain point he blows up at her, full of anger and bitterness. He barks that her kind, upper class and wealthy, see through his kind, those who clawed their way out of the gutter however they could, as if looking at a dirty pane of glass. It’s a powerful moment; you can see the pain in his eyes.

I love the rare occasions when we see Cary Grant play someone lower class and gritty. The darkness always there beneath the surface of his elegant, sophisticated persona appears even more strongly, and it’s as if you get a glimpse of the motherless (to his knowledge, anyway), poverty-stricken young Archie Leach for a while. It’s an intense performance.

Hilarious in places too, as when one of the matrons at the aid society teaches him how to knit. He hates it at first, it offends his masculinity, but eventually he gets better at it and ropes his mob buddies into knitting, too. Nothing is funnier than hearing Cary Grant complain in his grumpy, put-upon way that someone made him drop a stitch. Hee!

Interesting bit of trivia. The idea for Mr. Lucky was pitched to Grant by the tennis pro at his club. He liked the idea so much that he asked the pro to write the script. The studio agreed, but only if the guy had the assistance of a professional writer. Still, what a vote of confidence, having Cary Grant go to bat for you like that!

Cary did that kind of thing quite a bit in his career, allowing first-time directors and writers to create material for him and getting studios to go along with it. (Richard Brooks making his directorial debut with Grant’s Crisis springs to mind.)  He eventually became a very hands-on producer when he started his own production companies. He was encouraging to new talent he believed in and gave them a hand when he could. 

It’s almost surprising that someone as controlling of his image and careful about the work he did as Grant would do something as risky as letting his tennis pro write a movie for him, but he did. And yet he refused other parts in top-shelf pictures that seem completely made for him, like the role of Joe Bradley in William Wyler’s Roman Holiday and the role of Linus Larrabee in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina. He and Wilder were personal friends for years, but he always said no to acting in one of Wilder’s films. Why?! It was BILLY WILDER!

Cary was nothing if not a contradictory character. A complex one too, who had his own reasons for what he did or didn’t do. Whatever those reasons, he was usually spot-on at knowing what worked for him and what didn’t, and we’re lucky enough to have a lot of good movies and performances to enjoy because of that.

Oh gosh, I really love him an insane amount. Maybe the 21st century doesn’t deserve him, but thank goodness we have him anyway.

Cary Grant’s favorite leading ladies

Irene Dunne

Co-star in “The Awful Truth”, “Penny Serenade”, and “My Favorite Wife”

“I loved working with Cary – every minute of it.  Between takes he was so amusing with his cockney stories.  I was his best audience.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  The more I laughed, the more he went on.”

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Katharine Hepburn

Co-star in “Sylvia Scarlett”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Holiday”, and “The Philadelphia Story”

“We got on well, Cary and I.  It was fun to play with him, and I think he had a good time, too.  People liked us together, so we enjoyed it.”

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Ingrid Bergman

Co-star in “Notorious” and “Indiscreet”

When Hollywood shunned Ingrid Bergman for leaving her husband to marry Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Cary was one of the only stars who stayed in touch with her, stood by her side, and remained a friend.  When she returned to movies in the mid-1950s, he co-starred with her for the second time in “Indiscreet”.  “I was very fond of Ingrid,” Cary said.  “She was an amazing woman.  She was one of the world’s most talented women, completely secure and happy.”

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Rosalind Russell

Co-star in “His Girl Friday”.

  Cary introduced Russell to her husband, his friend Frederick Brisson, during the filming of “His Girl Friday” in 1941.  “Cary, you will never know the great joy you have helped bring us both and how much we shall always love you for it,” Rosalind wrote Cary.  “You must know, too, that the wedding would not be complete without you.  You who brought us together.  All love to you, Cary, darling.”  Cary was best man at their wedding.  Russell and Brisson were happily married until her death in 1976.

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Here are Cary and Rosalind at the 1942 Academy Awards.  Wartime, so no tuxedos and evening gowns here.  Looks like they had a fine time anyway.

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Grace Kelly

Co-star in “To Catch a Thief”

Cary absolutely adored Grace Kelly and was a devoted friend for the rest of her life.  “Grace had a kind of serenity, a calmness, that I hadn’t arrived at at that point in my life – and perhaps never will, for all I know.  She was so relaxed in front of the camera that she made it look simple.”  Cary admired women who were elegant, ladylike and refined.  Leslie Caron once said “Cary liked women who had a distinction and a certain education about them.  That’s what he liked about Grace Kelly.”

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 Deborah Kerr

Co-star in “Dream Wife”, “An Affair to Remember”, and “The Grass is Greener”

“His elegance, his wit, his true professionalism were outstanding, and I learned so much from just watching him work,” Kerr said.  “As a person, apart from his talent, he was warm and affectionate and a joy to have as a friend.  He lived simply and was not tremendously social – a very private person.  He was also a keen and shrewd businessman; in fact there was no end to his talents.  I treasure my memories of him.”

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Audrey Hepburn

Co-star in “Charade”

“I think he understood me better than I did myself,” said Audrey.  “He was observant and had a penetrating knowledge of people.  He would talk often about relaxing and getting rid of one’s fears, which I think he found a way to do.  But he never preached.  If he helped me, he did it without my knowing, and with a gentleness which made me lose my sense of being intimidated.  I had this great affection for him because I knew he understood me.  It was an unspoken friendship, which was wonderful.  He would open up his arms wide when he saw you, and hug you, and smile, and let you know how he felt about you.”

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