Tuesday, September 29

Cary Grant's 40s Films

He was one of the great movie stars of all-time and a fine actor as well.  He certainly made some dramas but light comedy was his forte and in that genre he knew no equal with his suave manners and sophisticated banter.  He began making films in 1932 and ended his career in 1966 with 72 films to his credit.  I suppose my favorite decade for him was the 50s but there is no denying that his best and most prolific time was the 1940s.  Let's take a look at those films:

His Girl Friday (1940)
Directed by Howard Hawks, it is a reworking of The Front Page with a main character shifting from male to female in the person of Rosalind Russell.  That snappy repartee is in evidence here from both Grant and Russell.  He is a newspaper editor and she is his top reporter and they were once married.  He is now trying to keep her from remarrying amid great lines and physical comedy.  It's too bad these two didn't make another film together.

My Favorite Wife (1940)
This was his second (of three) films with Irene Dunne and the second with Randolph Scott (at the time, in real life, Grant's lover).  Here Grant's wife, Dunne, has been missing for years, presumed dead, when, in fact, she's been stranded on an island with Scott.  Both return on the day Grant has remarried and the comedy of one wife too many and jealousy take over. 

The Howards of Virginia (1940)
It was a period piece and it was a genre that was not successful for him.  During American colonial times a map surveyor marries an aristocratic woman as they embark on stressful times.  Martha Scott was an unusual choice for a Grant leading lady.  The film was his least successful of the decade and it sent him into another bout of depression (a fairly usual state for the actor).

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
This bright and brittle comedy was owned by Katharine Hepburn (who had played the lead, Tracy Lord, on the stage) and she sold it to her home studio, MGM, on the proviso that she star in it and have her choice of the two leading men.  She wanted Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, both at her studio, but it didn't work out.  She accepted Jimmy Stewart as the reporter (who would go on to win the Oscar) and she then requested Grant, whom she had worked with three times before and quite adored.  The storyline is not dissimilar to My Favorite Wife.  Here Grant played Hepburn's ex-husband and nextdoor neighbor who is making a nuisance of himself on the weekend of her second wedding.  Hepburn's pal and landlord, George Cukor, was the perfect director.

Penny Serenade (1941)
A romantic tear-jerker that is nothing short of wonderful, it was the final pairing of Grant and Irene Dunne.  A woman is planning to leave her husband and while listening to records, she reflects on their years together.  One of the segments concerns the couple attempting to adopt and a plea that Grant makes to a judge on this matter is heart-warming.  Some consider this film, under George Stevens able direction, to contain the actor's best work, for which he received his first Oscar nomination..

Suspicion (1941)
The film acquires a degree of its fame due to being Grant's first (of four) for Alfred Hitchcock.  Nearly as famous was that fact that as the story went along, the actors had no idea how it would end.  The story of whether a man is planning to murder his rich wife should have ended with him doing that but the studio didn't want to tarnish Grant's pleasing image and as a result he doesn't murder her (making the ending a bit hokey).  Grant hated making the film mainly because he openly loathed costar Joan Fontaine.

The Talk of the Town (1941)
George Stevens was back in the director's chair for a winning comedy-drama with actors Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman bringing out the very best in Grant.  The three have edgy cohabitation issues when Arthur rents her house to Colman while he writes a book and she functions as his housekeeper.  Her childhood friend, Grant, is the gardener who is really an escaped prisoner.  The general theme of the common man v.s. government and big business has a decidedly Frank Capra feel to  it.

Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
A Leo McCarey comedy-drama concerns a reporter who tails a suspected Nazi and ends up falling in love with the man's wife was only moderately successful.  It had its moments but the convoluted plot tries to tell too much and we end up with too much confusion and a poor ending.  I am not sure I think Grant and Ginger Rogers were a good match, although I enjoyed them more 10 years later in Monkey Business.

Mr. Lucky (1943)
The story of a gambler who plans to swindle a charity provided Grant with one of his most debonair roles.  I'm not so sure Grant didn't play a version of Mr. Lucky for the remainder of his career.  An enjoyable twist to his suave character is that he is also not the nicest man.  Laraine Day, never a top-echelon actress, really struck gold here and she never looked better (although doesn't a girl clearly have to look her very best sharing closeups with Grant?).

Destination Tokyo (1943)
During WWII a U.S. submarine sneaks into Tokyo Bay and places spies on shore to secure information for the first air raid on Tokyo.  This film was made as the real war raged on.  It was a decent story, an unusual role for Grant and his pairing with WB hotshot John Garfield was rather inspired.

Once Upon a Time (1944)
This may not have fared as poorly as The Howards of Virginia, but it was close.  Part of the problem was that Janet Blair was not on equal footing with Grant in the star department and as good as he was, he needed a dazzling costar.  Rita Hayworth was wanted for the female lead, but she wisely refused.  Grant plays a cash-strapped theatrical producer who opts to showcase a nine-year old boy's dancing caterpillar.  Yes, you read that right.  I wonder why it was not a successful film.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
One of the great black comedies with Grant as a newspaper man who discovers on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are killing older gentlemen and burying them in the cellar.  It allows the actor to display that breezy temperament that he was so good at on the screen.  Oddly, he was the second choice after Bob Hope declined.  Ace director Frank Capra actually made the film in 1941 but couldn't release it until the Broadway play closed.

None but the Lonely Heart (1944)
A drifter son returns to his sickly mother's home to help her run her shop, happily discovering that he is needed and worthwhile.  Grant received his second Oscar nomination but I always felt he was wrong for this part.  The elegant Mr. Grant playing a down-and-out is a bit of a stretch and he was also a bit long in the tooth.  Ethel Barrymore, playing his mother, did cop a supporting Oscar.  It was the first of only two films directed by the gifted playwright, Clifford Odets.

Night and Day (1946)
This biography of tunesmith Cole Porter is so fictionalized it defies imagination.  It starred three gay actors (Grant, Alexis Smith and Monty Woolley) and all played real-life gay characters and yet no one was gay in the story.  Most of the plot points were doctored as well.  Porter personally requested Grant and while the homely Porter never looked so good in the person of Grant, the actor was sleep-walking through it all.  The film does have a gorgeous look and of course that music made me weak-kneed.

Notorious (1946)
Grant's second film with Hitchcock was a great success, partly because his first pairing with Ingrid Bergman was one of the best of their careers.  (While the two were lifelong friends, he was one of her few costars that she didn't bed.)  They engage in one of the longest kisses in film history.  The thriller concerns a government man who asks a married woman to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South American and has a smuggled uranium subplot.  It is a beautifully-realized film on all counts and a watershed moment for Hitchcock, clearly his best film of the 1940s. 

The Bachelor and the Bobby-soxer (1947)
I loved this silly film.  It changed titles for foreign distribution because no one knew what a bobbysoxer was.  Few Americans today know what it means either.  The title stars were Grant and 16-year old Shirley Temple.  She was a high school student reporter who falls for a sophisticated artist who, in turn, falls for her sister-guardian (Myrna Loy) who also happens to be a judge who's seen the artist in her court too many times.  It has a witty script and everyone has a high time.  You will, too.

The Bishop's Wife (1947)
A preacher (David Niven) prays for funding for a new cathedral and an angel (Grant) presents himself and ends up falling for the preacher's wife (Loretta Young).  I never liked Young and found the film and its religious theme way to cornball for my tastes.  It was a troubled production that started with Niven as the angel, a part he adored.  However, when Grant was brought aboard, he insisted on playing the angel and the two men barely tolerated one another during the filming.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
The pairing of Grant and Myrna Loy was so successful in The Bachelor and the Bobby-soxer that the public went clamoring for more.  Hence, Mr. Blandings whose city apartment is too small for the family and they wind up in the country living out the film's title along with the comical pressures, troubles and setbacks.  Melvyn Douglas could deliver the droll lines as sophisticatedly as his costars.

Every Girl Should Be Married (1948)
A duplicitous young woman sets out to trap a wily pediatrician, who is on to her, into marriage but since this is a romantic-comedy, you know how it works out.  The material was way below the actor's standards but at the same time he raised the quality of this film that is eerily similar to the drek that Doris Day did at the end of her movie career.  I'm guessing that Grant's third wife, Betsy Drake, playing the female lead, may have had something to do with the actor's participation.

I Was a Male War Bride (1949)
Grant ended the decade with the same director with whom he began it, Howard Hawks.  In post-WWII Germany a French captain is given a recruitment task that involves him getting a female army chauffeur (Ann Sheridan).  They fight constantly, providing some of the film's best lines, but red tape compels them to marry.  When she is transferred to the States, he wants to join her but must go dressed as a woman.  Grant in this getup is worth a look.

Here are 20 films... 12 are comedies and for the most part, superb comedies.  He added to this stunning resume two Hitchcock thrillers, a diverting war film and three affecting dramas.  In his entire career, he rarely made a misstep in his choices but regardless, what he could do with a line, a look and an attitude was a dazzling thing to experience.  He was always keenly aware of what it took to project Cary Grant.  Oddly, he said it was a difficult thing to do.  He certainly made it look easy, didn't he? 

Next posting:
A Good 40s Film

1 comment:

  1. Notorious was my favorite. as far as I remember it was a very exciting film...there's a Turkish version of that film too:)