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Saturday, June 13, 2020

Cary Out Grant By Threes

Watching His Lessers Make Me Like More His Betters

Three with Cary Grant, two watched together, the other further back. Grant was freelance early enough to choose for himself over most of a career. I’m not sure he was his own best guide. Once-upon-time wife Betsy Drake told an interview how she warned Cary against so many empty pictures (including ones with her), to which she did not add how he replied, but the conversation having been in the early 50’s, you know she made valid points. Given pick Grant had of virtually any movie being made, why Room For One More, Dream Wife, or too-oddity People Will Talk? Grant is one whose legend rests on fewer good pictures than most, among legends, that is. I wonder if Drake, a brainy sort, was too perceptive to set well with Grant. Every Girl Should Be Married was an RKO I had seen years before and forgot. Having had lobby cards, the set-up was familiar, but still came surprises when it unspooled.

Here was Grant called upon to elevate weak material, and knowing it (did that happen often enough to unstring, and make more moody, a famously fussy CG?). Money was a best reason for being there from what we know of him, Grant another who came up poor and forever felt wolf-sniff at his door. Wasn’t there a story about him darning socks until there was barely thread left? Keeping in eats made him do things unworthy, or did Grant believe ones of Every Girl sort would by miracles emerge good? Howard Hughes was evidently a friend, and maybe he asked Grant as a friend to be in Every Girl Should Be Married. The movie pleases for peculiarity and remove from how people are obliged to think today. I’d like  seeing a university book it for resultant fireworks. Just that title! Is it less legitimate to ask in 2020 if every girl should be married --- or more dangerous? Maybe the better title would be, Should Cary Have Made This Movie?, because Every Girl all but endorses track, stalk, and mislead toward wedding a man, trouble Grant had in other of late 40’s comedies where women, even teen girls (Shirley Temple) painted targets on his back. Was this because Cary Grant by postwar was anointed Most Eligible of Any/All Men, besides a dreamiest?

An aunt told me when I was ten that Grant was the most handsome movie star that ever was, and I went years ascribing truth to that. Seemed he was always overrun, however, by brat kids, per early view for me of Father Goose (at the Liberty, where a ten-cent Baby Ruth was regarded higher than many movies), Room For One More, in which he marries and winds up with a passel, to which I asked, Why do that?, and Houseboat (same, w/ Sophia Loren but small compensation). Finally got to see Notorious at age fourteen, and said, Ah yes, this is my Cary Grant. Every Girl has shock value that I enjoy more than if it were funny. Drake spots Grant at a magazine shelf in a drug store where his looking at a gurgle-baby cover makes her think he’s married, signals endlessly crossed from there. She gets him at an end by trickery, but to avoid his being made an utter fool, Grant is shown as being hep all along, but … why agree to marry in the face of such red flags? Also Drake is more neurotic than comical, persistent like Maggie McNamara before there was a Maggie McNamara. We worry that fade-out Cary has gone, or been dragged, in over his head.

I Was A Male War Bride explains at least where Herman Cohen got his clever werewolf idea some years later, though there had been a first person Shoplifter, and far back as 1933, a Prisoner on Chain Gangs. To me, I Was A … anything implies humor, and so Male War Bride is funny, the best I think, of Howard Hawks comedies. Devastated Germany is again backdrop for frolic, as with A Foreign Affair out a year before. US crews went Euro after the war for greater authenticity and to loosen funds frozen by governments tired of us carrying off loot earned on site. I Was A Male War Bride opens with Cary Grant on leisurely ride through what's left of Deutsch landscape, Hawks and cameras giving us glimpse of mess a fighting force left behind. This isn't emphasized or even commented upon, as Male War Bride treads at all times lighter, though men may laugh less at continual embarrassment sustained by Grant, plus near two hour length of his ordeal. Hawks enjoyed juggle of man/woman power, even if his humor worked better as garnish to action subjects. When baked from full comic recipe, the cake could and sometimes did fall, not the case for me here, though I admit Hawks at full levity can register two dozen differing ways for as many onlookers. You may expect your guests to dig his humor, but don't be overly confidant of it.

A first half is conflicted courtship of Grant with Ann Sheridan, the second given to delayed consummation of their marriage. We get slapstick plus business with a motorcycle and sidecar, which Sheridan herself drives with Grant accompany, even in long shots, willingness I admire as it's rare for big stars to exert themselves where distant stand-ins could do as much. Hawks and writers have great sport with army protocol and senseless regulation. Now that serious mission of war was over, we could laugh at military cock-ups and personnel wanting to get hell out of it (but what of the Cold one --- did Soviets watch this and figure we could be beat?). Hawks stars were permitted ... encouraged ... to ad-lib and submit ideas, Grant an actor as auteur who could and did shape vehicles to suit instinct of what worked for him. Fact is, maybe we should call it Cary Grant’s I Was A Male War Bride. Hawks liked women to laugh at absurdity of their men, War Bride with innumerable scenes where Sheridan breaks up over Grant's discomfort. Query: Did Howard enjoy wives doing this to him at home? I bet not. Sheridan would remember War Bride as a favorite assignment, her Warner output largely scrap iron since a wartime peak (grimly photographed and made up in Silver River). She should have done a dozen for Hawks before War Bride. Think of her opposite Grant in Only Angels Have Wings instead of Jean Arthur. I Was A Male War Bride streams here and there in High-Def, a best bet since visually, it could use a boost.

Most intriguing of the Grant group was Crisis. Decidedly not a comedy, but sold like one in 1950, MGM’s campaign reflected what they wish they had over reality of a thing no one was figured to want. False labeling usually betrayed a dud picture, which Crisis isn't, but Cary Grant not doing comedy was an unnatural state, thus a trailer with whatever moments might be read as frothy, posters reading “Carefree Cary Grant On a Gay Holiday With His Lovely Bride Walks Right Into Danger.” That much was technically true where one split hairs, but exit from Crisis had to feel like leaving a dentist who promised only to polish your teeth, but drilled them instead. I will state without deeper research, and little fear of being wrong, that here is the only time Cary Grant played a brain surgeon. Crisis was directed and co-written by Richard Brooks, his first in that dual capacity. Brooks later said it was Grant who made that possible. The star is so good being serious that you wish he had done it more often. There really should have been two or three Cary Grants to satisfy varying audience appetites.

Always good, and happening too seldom, was Grant going opposite, or in opposition to, a strong male co-lead. Crisis has Jose Ferrer, nearing a peak of Broadway and elsewhere success, as a South American despot who kidnaps Dr. Grant for purpose of cutting out a tumor, procedure for which Grant is most-in-the-world qualified. They verbal spar and not in jest. Grant must have been refreshed doing work like this, to show himself, if not a wide audience, that straight performing was still an option. I enjoyed him as much here as in any six of comedies. That Crisis lost money, a rather lot of it ($680K) was less reflection on Grant than further proof of MGM feeling pinch that was sunk revenue across industry boards. I’ll note he ducked drama for a next seven years, till The Pride and The Passion, which tanked also. Everything from there to finish was comedy, or thrilling served Hitchcock light, or someone trying to be Hitchcock. Crisis plays TCM and is available from Warner Archive. I don’t see them rushing to put it on High-Def, tip-off that 2020 can’t use Cary Grant in drama any more than 1950 could. By all means order Scott Eyman’s Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise, a best-ever bio of the star and a same joy to read as every other Eyman book. 

6/14/2020: Up this morning to a wonderful comic by Jules Feiffer sent Greenbriar's way by Donald Benson. So yes, we do, all of us, want to be Cary Grant, but has even one among us ever achieved it?


Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

I'm amazed that Tillie's Punctured Romance was still in a theater in 1950. It's interesting that Mack Sennett's name was used as a draw and not Chaplin's. Was it due to the reception of Monsieur Verdoux? Chaplin's politics?

9:29 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Odd legends I've read here and there:
-- Grant really wanted "Bridge on the River Kwai" and even starved himself down a bit to look like a POW. Possible he was a victim of his light-and-suave reputation by then?
-- He supposedly turned down "My Fair Lady" and/or "The Music Man", declaring only the original Broadway star could do it.
-- Meanwhile, Hammer's "Phantom of the Opera" was meant to star Grant as a sympathetic, non-murdering phantom. How close was Grant to actually making that one? Did he back off because of cold feet, money, or what?

Wonder if Grant ever compared notes with James Stewart, who did darker and more adventurous stuff without endangering his paydays on fluffy comedies.

2:38 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"He had such a traumatic childhood, it was horrible. I work with a lot of kids on the street and I've heard a lot of stories about what happens when a family breaks down — but his was just horrendous."--—Grant's wife Dyan Cannon on his childhood.

Hammer was beneath Cary Grant. That is a helluva snobbish statement but the writing at Hammer only rose to first rate with its Nigel Kneale based productions. He would have been wasted in the film.

Folks are fond of saying Mae West's claim she discovered Grant is not true. It is true Grant was featured in films before West but hitting hard as she did with her first two films, SHE DONE HIM WRONG and I'M NO ANGEL in both of which Grant was the object of her desires catapulted Grant into a status he would not have had without her. Those two films saved Paramount from bankruptcy.

I have never thought of Grant appearing in a bad film. His presence made what he appeared in better. He knew that as Archie Leach, his real self, he was of little interest to anyone while the lie he lived was of interest to a huge number of people.

He was astute in realizing he had to be the captain of his career. We all must.

One of my favorite bits from him was when he was asked, "How old Cary Grant?" He replied, "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?"

The man was wit personified.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Jack Warner was pushing hard for Cary Grant or James Cagney in THE MUSIC MAN, but author-composer Meredith Willson had cast approval and insisted on the Broadway leading man, Robert Preston. Warner huffed and puffed but Willson held all the cards.

Back to the topic of the day. Greenbriar's readers might search the index for John's take on THE BISHOP'S WIFE, in which Cary Grant walks a fine line between comedy and drama. He does no mugging or overt slapstick fumbling, but makes deadpan remarks to lighten tense situations. For the dramatic aspects, Grant's benevolent angel is angered by unholy actions, and tormented by his too-mortal feelings. Another actor might have chewed some scenery and hit the dialogue too hard, but Grant shows restraint, remaining quiet and calm throughout.

9:01 AM  
Blogger shiningcity said...

Grant had his share of duds during that time period, but he also did Mr Blandings, a comic gem which astutely mirrored the rush to the suburbs at that moment.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Boppa said...

I’ve never seen ‘Crisis,’ but the plot sounds remarkably close to that of a British film, ‘State Secret ( AKA The Great Manhunt)’, released that same year. The latter stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as a surgeon tricked into operating on a dictator.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Good eyes there Mark. I had to look hard to find TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE. I would have thought Marie Dressler's name had sure fire drawing power if not at that time Chaplin's. This being the last day for the film previous ads more than likely touted Chaplin and Dressler.

5:50 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

CRISIS is probably my favorite Cary Grant film. He is great in it and it is a great story reflecting quite well the issues that Latin America faced at the time and todayh.

2:32 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Grant also turned down the Michael Redgrave role in The Innocents, feeling the part was too small. He was also unavailable for Love In the Afternoon. A shame he never worked with Wilder.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

THE BISHOP'S WIFE is a remarkable film. Only Grant could have pulled that off.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I think Sennett, and silent comedies in general, were undergoing a revival at the time, thanks to TV and movies like "Down Memory Lane."

9:12 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Turns out I was half right. The Burwood print was indeed reissued by Eagle-Lion; former Grand National head Edward Alperson then held the negative, and signed a deal with Eagle-Lion on May 1, 1950. However, it wasn't DOWN MEMORY LANE that spurred the TILLIE reissue. Broadway columnist Danton Walker reported that the success of 1950's CITY LIGHTS reissue prompted Eagle-Lion to revive TILLIE.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

So what's the deal with Hitch and that little still camera?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

CITY LIGHTS is one of the greatest films EVER. TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE, promoted as Chaplin's greatest, must have come as a HUGE let down.

4:05 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That is Hitchcock's YOUNG AND INNOCENT cameo where he is a comic shutterbug, or frustrated newshound, take your pick.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Amoskind said...

Grant had fewer great pictures than most? AWFUL TRUTH, BRINGING UP BABY, HOLIDAY, GUNGA DIN, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, PHILADELPHIA STORY, NOTORIOUS, NORTH BY NORTHWEST? I could double that with some less than great but still good pics. The late 40s early 50s had a lot of sludge, I guess, but still had MALE WAR BRIDE, BLANDINGS, MONKEY BUSINESS.

How few is too few?

I’ve been reading for years so since my first post is a complaint, just wanted to say I love coming here!!! And your books are terrrific!

7:00 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky has to agree with Amoskind. Just to pick one actor at random, how many great pictures did Spencer Tracy make? Always watchable in many good ones, but how many great ones? Stinky is too tired to scan the entire oeuvre.

11:24 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

From Reg Hartt:

TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE got a nationwide re-release in 1950:

"Film historian Scott MacGillivray: “I suspect that Eagle-Lion released the Burwood print on the heels of Eagle-Lion’s Mack Sennett-Steve Allen feature compilation Down Memory Lane (1949). Wouldn’t surprise me if some house booked the pair of them.”

10:56 AM  

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