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Cary Grant-The Suave Charmer

January 19, 2012
Watching  Cary   Grant,   do  his  charming, suave  playboy act,  wooing and  flirting with an  already  engaged  Deborah  Kerr in  An  Affair to  Remember,  or   when  you  watch  him  turn up  the  heat  with  Eva  Marie St  in  North By  North  West,  here  seems  to  be  a man  born  to  play  the  archetypal  Mills & Boon  romantic  hero, the  tall, dark,  handsome   dream  lover,  suave, charming  and  gentlemanly.  But  beyond  that  glamorous,  screen persona of  the  charmer,  who  made the woman  want  him  and  the men wanting to be like  him,  was   a  rather unglamorous  Archibald  Alexander  Leach,  born  on  the  other  side   of  the  Atlantic,  in  a working  class suburb  of  Bristol.  For  a  person  who  charmed   millions of  women  on  and  off  screen,   he   had  a lonely  childhood,  his  mother   hospitalized  when he  was just 9.   For  a  person  who  seemed  to  embody  the  wealthy,  cultured  British  gentleman, in  reality  his  earlier  life  was  that  of   struggle  and  poverty.
 But  Cary  Grant’s  enigmatic  nature,  extended  more  than  just  his  rags  to  riches  story.   A  fervent  Republican  supporter,  he  however  was  an  outspoken  opponent of  Mc Carthyism,  and  did  not  approve of  the  way  his  close  friend  Charlie  Chaplin,  was  then  blacklisted,  owing  to  his  liberal  views.  A  person  who  was one of the  biggest  stars of  his  time,  whose  name  was  box office  gold,   he  also  became one of  the  first  actors  to  go “indie”,  breaking  away  from  the  studio  system,  dictating who  should be  his  directors, co  stars,   and  choosing  his own scripts.  And  also  one  reason,  why  he  was never  given the  Oscar  during  his  career.  Ok  he  did  get  the  Lifetime  Achievement  Award,  but  then  that  for  me, is  more  like  a “Sorry, we  did  not give  you the  Oscar you  deserve, so we will make it up now”. Actually  going  indie  during  the  studio  dominated  era,  would have  been  professional  suicide, but such  was  Grant’s  charisma  and  personality,  that  he  could  get  away  with it.   For a person,  who  most  often  played  the  Clean, Nice guy, who  you could  take home to Momma on  screen,  off   screen,  he  had  a stormy  personal life,  and  had  experimented  with LSD,  and  was  also  rumored  to be  bi sexual.Not  that  those events in  any  way  effected  his  popularity or  status.
But  one  thing  i  feel  unfair,  is  overlooking  his  status  as an  actor.  Being  a lover  of  classic cinema,  i  quite often  have  these  discussions  with  people  about  the  stars  of  Hollywood’s  Golden  period. While   Grant’s  super  stardom,  his  charm,  his  popularity  is  widely  acknowledged,  there  seems  to be a  reluctance to  accept  his  acting  abilities.  The  consensus  is  that  James  Stewart,   Robert  Mitchum are  better  actors,  while  Cary  Grant is  more  of  a  star  than   an  actor.  It  also  does  not  help  that   most  of   Grant’s   filmography  is  studded  with  rom  coms,  love stories,  screwball  comedies,  in  effect  the  not  so  serious  cinema. But  then  this  was  the  only  actor,  Alfred Hitchcock ever  loved  in  his  whole  life,  he  should  be  knowing,  he  had  after all  directed  him  in  4  movies,  and  then  the  unforgettable  shot  of    Cary  Grant,  running from  the  crop  duster  plane in  North by  North  West. Aah   North by  North  West,  who  can  ever  forget  the  crop  duster  scene,   the  final  chase  at  Mt. Rushmore  and last  but  not  least  Eva  Marie  St,  surely  one  of  the  sexiest  femme  fatales  ever  on  screen. But then here  was  the catch,   after  the  rather  lukewarm  reception  to    Vertigo,  Hitchcock wanted  to  do  a   more  escapist,  racy,  action thriller.  It  was  to be  a straightforward  man  on  the  run  movie,  free  from  the  symbolism,  psychological  complexity  that  quite often   characterized  his  earlier  movies.  Even  among  die  hard  Hitch fans,   North  By  North  West is  taken  as  the  lesser  movie  compared  to  Pyscho  or  Vertigo ,  it  is  considered  more  of a  masala  movie,  but   a  good  entertainer  nevertheless.  And on top  of  it  there  were  rumors  that  Hitch choose  Grant, over  his  original  choice,  James  Stewart, as  he  was  not  satisfied  with  the  latter’s  performance  in Vertigo.
Rumors, nonetheless  they  did  give  weight  to  the  impression of   Cary Grant,  being  a  matinee idol  kind of  star, good for  escapist  entertainers,  while  it   was  people  like  James  Stewart, Robert  Mitchum,  Spencer  Tracy who  were the  real actors.   Even  if  it  was  a  masala  flick,  North By  North  West,  to me  still  stands  out  as a  masterpiece,  not  just  because  of  the  crop duster  scene,  but  also  the  initial encounter between  Grant  and  Eva  Marie  St,  in  the  train,  where   Hitch  manages to  wink  at  the censors,  in  what  must  be  one  of   the  most  erotic  sequences  in  movie  history.    Cary  Grant,  perfectly  fits  in  the  role,  essaying  the  man  on  the  run,  with  aplomb  and  grace,  and  sheer  effortlessness.   He  played  the  suave  charmer  to perfection   again  in  To  Catch  a Thief,  his  another  collaboration  with  Hitch,  Grant  playing  an  ex  burglar,  John  Robie,  who  needs  to  clear his  name, when  a  series  of  copy  cat  burglaries,   point  the needle  of  suspicion to  him.   He  decides  to  catch  the  thief, using  his  old  style,  and takes  the  help  of a  rich  heiress,  Frances  Stevens(  Grace  Kelly)  in  his  endeavour.  Smooth, charming, debonair,  Cary  Grant is  again a delight,  here,  as  the  suave  burglar,  and  his  chemistry  with  Grace Kelly,  lights  up  the  screen.

With Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief
With Ingrid Bergman in Notorious

With Ingrid Bergman in Notorious
But  it  is  Hitch’s  Notorious that  shows  there  is  much  more  to  Cary  Grant, than  just  being  a suave  charmer.   Grant  plays  the    American  spy,  Devlin,  who asks,  Alicia  Huberman(  Ingrid  Bergman),  the   daughter of a  former  Nazi  spy, to  infiltrate  a  Nazi  spy  ring  in  Brazil,  taking  advantage  of  the  fact  that  one of  the gang members  Sebastian(  Claude  Rains) is  hopelessly  in  love  with her.    This  again to me  is  one  of  Hitch’s  most  complex  and  layered  movie.   Grant   breaks  away  from  his  usual  suave  persona,  to  depict  a more  grayish,  neurotic  character.    Torn  between  his  love  for  Alicia,  and  his  professional duty,  he  is  neurotic,  he  feels  tormented  that  he  had  sent  her  to doom.  And then  his  final dash  to  save  Alicia,  from  the  gruesome  tragedy  she is  facing  in  Sebastian’s  home,  his  performance when he  encounters  her  at  the  mansion,  was brilliant.  Mostly Grant,  had  this  carefree,  subtle  approached  to  acting.  He  could  easily  slip  into  the   character  without  ever  trying too hard.  Watch  him  in the  final  scene,  when he  confronts  Sebastian while  carrying  Alicia  out of  the  mansion,   nothing  over  the  top,  just a  firm voice,  a  steely  expression,  as  he  says

I’m taking her to the hospital to get the poison out of her…How’d you like your friends downstairs to know? They’ve yet to be told…You haven’t forgotten what they did to Emil, have you Sebastian?…You’ve got your chance here and now. Tell them who she is.

What  was  fascinating   was  the  relationship  between   Alicia  and  Devlin,  she  is  not  the  perfect  woman, she had  a rather  shady  personal  life,  she  is  feisty,  independent,  and  yet  the  love  between  them  is  overpowering.  Inspite of  being  deeply  in  love  with  Alicia,  he  requests  her  to  seduce  Sebastian,  just  to get  the  information.  It  was  a relationship  quite  bold  for  it’s  times.
With  Audrey  Hepburn in Charade

With Audrey Hepburn in Charade
And  then  he  also  acted  in the “best  Hitchcock  movie  which  Hitch never made”,  the  1963  thriller  Charade, opposite  one of  my   favorites,  Audrey  Hepburn.     Audrey  plays   Regina,  who  finds  her husband  murdered, in a mysterious  fashion.  The  plot  gets  into a  major  twist,  when  she  is  informed  by  the  CIA  director in  Paris,  that  her  husband  was a  double crosser,  involved  in a  theft  during  WW2,  and  the  persons  who  killed  him, were his  ex  partners  in  crime.   Regina  gets  deeper  into a  tangle,  as  she  befriends  a charming  stranger  Peter  Joshua(  Grant) who  promises  to help  her out, though  in  reality  he is  not  what  he  seems to be.   Mixing up comedy,  thriller  and romance,  the  movie  is  one  fast  paced  entertainer, with a  whole  lot of  twists  and turns.  Hepburn is  first  rate  as  the  damsel  in distress,  and  Grant  as  the  mysterious   stranger  who keeps  playing the charade,  conveys  the  enigma,  the  charm,  the  dapper  attitude  needed  for  such  roles.   It  is  this  kind of  charm,  that  i  found  missing  in the  rather  bland  remake   The  Truth  About  Charlie. While  Mark  Wahlberg  and Thandie  Newton  are  good  enough  performers,  they  just  don’t  have  the  Grant-Hepburn  charisma,  that   makes us sit  through  some  rather  silly  looking  scenes.
As  a comedy  star,  Cary  Grant  was   one  of  the  best,  especially  the  whole  host  of  screwball  comedies  he  has  acted   in.   While  i  have  not  seen  all of  them,  i  did  manage  to  catch  some  really  memorable  ones. Arsenic and Old Lace, is  classic,  one of  the  best  in the  black  comedy genre,  i have ever  seen.   Grant  plays  a  successful  writer  Mortimer Brewster,  in  this  Frank  Capra  movie,  some one  who  does  not  believe in marriage.  He  however soon  falls  in love  with  his  next door neighbor  Elaine,  and  marries  her.  The  twist  in the  tale,  comes  when  he  visits  his  old  family  home,  he  has  to  deal  with  2  whacked out  elderly  aunts  Abby and  Martha,  who  have this habit  of  ending  the  lives  of  lonely  old  bachelors  by  serving  them wine  spiked  with  arsenic  and  a bit  of  cyanide.  And  his brother   Teddy,  who  has a  delusion  that  he  indeed  is  the  person,  his  namesake, and the  former  President of  the  US.    To  make  matters  worse,  there is  his another brother  Jonathan,  a psychotic  murderer  seeking to  dispose  off  the corpse  of  his  latest  victim.   As  he  tells  his  girl  Elaine

Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.

The  supporting  cast  that  makes  up  Grant’s  own  Addams  Family  is  brilliant,  especially  the  women who  play  his  two  loony  aunts.  And  Grant  is  brilliant,   with  an  impeccable  sense  of  comic  timing, as  the  hapless  Mortimer,  whose   own  marital  bliss  is  threatened  thanks  to  the  antics  of  his  brother.  Watch him  in a  scene, where  he  sits by on the  sidelines, as  he  watches  his  brother Jonathan, get  into  a fist  fight with the cops, casually  lighting up a cigarette.    Go on — fight, fight. I don’t care.  And  then when the  cops  try  to bring his brother down using  a shoe, he  tells  em  it  never  works,  and  when his  brother  finally  collapses,  the  parting  quote  What do you know? it worked!.
The classic pool side scene from Philadelphia Story, along with Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart

The classic pool side scene from Philadelphia Story, along with Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart.
He  had a  great  pairing  with  the  other  Hepburn- Katherine,   acting  in  a series  of  rom  coms- Bringing Up Baby,  Sylvia  Scarlett, Holiday  and  the  most  famous  of   all  The  Philadelphia  Story.   George  Cukor’s   famous  adaptation of  the  screen  play,   is  a deliciously  mounted  satire, poking fun at  the  Philadelphia  high  society, without  ever  getting  too  preachy  or  moralizing.    The  story  centers  around a  rich  Philadelphia  socialite  Tracy Haven(  Katherine Hepburn),  who  divorces  her  husband  C.K.Dexter(  Cary  Grant), who  though belonging to the  same  social  class,  is  deemed   as  not  a suitable  husband,  owing  to  his  drinking habits. She  chooses  to  marry  George  Kittredge(  John Howard),  a  self  made  millionaire, man  of  the people  kind.   The  love  triangle  gets  complicated when  a  snoopy  tabloid  reporter  Mike Connor( James  Stewart), barges  in along with Dexter, to  get  exclusive  details  of  the  high  society  wedding,  while   Tracy finds  herself  falling  for  Mike’s  charms,  and  Dexter  wants  to  get  back  Tracy  at  any cost.  While   Hepburn  and  Stewart  have  the  more  meatier  roles,  and  the  better  lines,  Grant  still  manages  to  hold  his  own  as  the  suave, debonair  ex,  acting  as  a  wonderful  counterpart to  Stewart’s  more  acid  tongued  character.
Cary  Grant  was  one  of  the  true  legends  of  the  silver  screen.  A  suave, charming  gentleman  on  the  screen, and  a  great  human  being  off  the  screen.   Ian  Fleming had  Cary  Grant  as 007 in  mind,  when  writing  Dr. No,  but  he turned  down the  role,  as  he  felt  he  was too  old  to  be an   action  hero.  He  was  not  sure  of  romancing  Audrey Hepburn,  half  his  age  in  Charade,  and  requested  the  script  to be  re written  to  make it  look,  as if  Audrey  was pursuing  him,  honestly  though i  felt,  he  still  was  as charming  as  ever.  He  had  this  habit  of  turning  on  the  chemistry  with  his  female  co  stars,  though  his  personal  favorites  were   Audrey Hepburn , Deborah Kerr,   Grace Kelly and  Ingrid  Bergman.    Like  most  of  the  British  actors  of  his  time,  Sir  Laurence Olivier  and  Sir  Alec Guiness,  he  was  not   a   big  fan  of  method  acting,  in  fact  he  contemplated  retirement,  when  Marlon Brando’s   style  became  more  popular.    Grant  retired  from  movies,  when  he  felt   that  his  kind of  feel good comedies  was  not  having  any  takers,  as  he  said  once.

There is no doubt I am aging. My format of comedy is still the same as ever. I gravitate toward scripts that put me in an untenable position. Then the rest of the picture is spent in trying to squirm out of it. Naturally, I always get the girl in the end. It may appear old-fashioned. There seems to be a trend toward satirical comedy, like The  Apartment(1960). Perhaps it is because young writers today feel satirical living in a world that seems headed for destruction.

Cary  Grant has  departed  the  world  physically, but  his  influence  and legacy  lives on with  us  forever.  To date  the  unforgettable  images  of   Cary  fleeing  the crop  duster  plane  in  North By  North West  or  the  romantic  encounter with  Deborah Kerr,  will  forever  be  embedded  in  our  memories.
  1. Good stuff.The majority of Cary Grant films are classic but my favourite is one his lesser known ones, Penny Serenade, in which he starred with Irene Dunne. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film.

  2. AS you mentioned Philadelphia story is a great movie and his work with Hitchcock especially in Notorious was splendid. North by Northwest is not underrated. It is the mother of modern day action cinema. Look closely and you will see it has the exact framework all modern day action cinema. But I think the best of Cary Grant's work was in the late 30's and 40's. You must check out Bringing up Baby with Katherine Hepburn. One of the best comedies of all time. The variety he demonstrated in this period was brilliant. I am a fan of James Stewart and Cary Grant but it is like comparing Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise :PPS: Robert Mitchum must be my least favourite actor of the period 🙂

  3. I liked him very much in Notorious and North by North west. I have not seen all the movies written here.I would like to watch all the movies one by one.

  4. Superb writing …informative too!!!!!

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