Quite by accident we had a Cary Grant Film festival at home both before and after the birth of our baby boy. Susan requested His Girl Friday from Netflix (our first film delivered thanks to Craig’s gift subscription) and then I stumbled upon the rest at the public library. I’d also checked-out The Awful Truth, but the DVD froze up in the computer a minute into the film so I didn’t get to watch it.
His Girl Friday (1940)
I don’t know why I’m surprised when old films are cynical and satirical, but this one caught me off-guard. The basic gist is that the media are dishonest purveyors of sensational stories at the expense of real news like “the war in Europe.” I was particularly surprised that the underlying plot is about a white man who shot a black cop and the mayor who wants to execute him so he will not lose the votes of his black constituency. And this is just background plot that the filmmakers figure the audience will get it. In the main story, Grant portrays a manipulative news editor trying to prevent his ex-wife from remarrying mainly because she’s his best reporter. Rosalind Russell overshadows grant as Hildy Johnson the quick-witted, fast-talking ex-wife who learns that she will not be happy away from the sleazy life of news reporting.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
This is one of my all-time favorite movies starring two of my all-time favorite actors, Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Once again Grant is somewhat overshadowed by his co-star as Hepburn is delightfully lunatic, but Grant holds his own as a nerdy (believe it or not) paleontologist. This movie is absurdly wonderful as Hepburn tricks Grant into to going to the wilds of Connecticut in a convoluted plot involving not one but two leopards (as a child I loved that this movie takes place in Connecticut and portrays Connecticut as a crazy place). As an added bonus, Grant utters a line in which for the first time on film the word “gay” is used to refer to “homosexual.”
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Another Frank Capra classic which is one of my all-time favorites. This time it is Brooklyn that is the borough of insanity in a comic Halloween caper. Grant is a drama critic who marries the girl next door and on his wedding night learns that his entire family is criminally insane. There’s Teddy who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt and does bugle charges up the stairs. There’s his beloved aunts who poison lonely old men because they believe it’s charitable. Then there’s the mysterious Jonathan who returns after a long absence with a corpse and a creepy Peter Lorre. Grant shows off that he is a master of doubletakes and slow burns as everything comes to a head. It’s a comedy so all ends well in this diabolically funny film.
Mr. Blandings is evidence that “starring Cary Grant” does not equal a good movie. The basic gist is that Cary Grant and his wife portrayed by Myrna Loy are dupes who put everything into a money pit in rural Connecticut to escape the city life. Most of the jokes and sight gags fall flat and the film is basically annoying sarcastic about everyone: the city and the country, the swindling real estate agents and contractors and the dopey people who pay them. Really, Grant and Loy are miscast because they are far too witty and urbane to be believable as these dull proto-yuppies leading the white flight out of New York.