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Cary’s Comedies

March 17, 2013

by John Farr

Five funny films featuring Cary Grant.


Topper (1937)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

George and Marion Kirby (Grant and Bennett) seem to have it all: they’re rich, attractive, and live the high life-that is, until they’re killed when driving their roadster just a bit too fast. Now bona-fide ghosts, it seems the couple have one final errand to do before going to their eternal rest: help their stifled, hen-pecked banker Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) get more out of life-while he’s still living!

WHY I LOVE IT:

Uproarious comedy was yet another step to super-stardom for Cary Grant, who proves himself a gifted comic player as well as handsome leading man. Bennett (older sister of Joan) is the essence of high-toned style and beauty as wife Marion. Still the revelation is Young, who’s a consistent delight as the put-upon Cosmo, a man who must cope not only with a rigid, controlling wife (Billie Burke), but a couple of goofy, upper crust specters who keep turning his well-ordered world upside down. A genuine screwball classic. Note: this DVD also includes the sequel “Topper Returns”, which brings back Young (sans Grant and Bennett) and is good fun, though a tad contrived and not up to the first entry.


The Awful Truth (1937)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Grant and Dunne play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, an affluent, attractive young couple who temporarily drift apart and initiate divorce proceedings. Both are unwilling to admit the obvious fact that they’re still in love. Jerry plays the field, but always seems to be turning up (mostly to visit their dog, Mr. Smith). His visits only increase once Lucy gets involved with oil man Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy), a wealthy rube from Oklahoma.The couple’s slow but inevitable rapprochement becomes one hilarious, delightful dance.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Leo McCarey was renowned for his comedic flair (he had directed the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup”), and this consistently sharp, often side-splitting picture shows why. Reportedly the director actually improvised many of the comic set-pieces right on the set, causing rising star Cary Grant much anxiety. He needn’t have worried. The film was a hit, and cemented the reputations of both stars as much more than pretty faces, but in fact, gifted comic players with superb timing. Both Dunne and Bellamy received Oscar nods, while McCarey won for Best Director. Among the top screwball comedies ever made- and that’s the truth!


Bringing Up Baby (1938)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) leads a quiet, studious life, and is engaged to a proper, like-minded young woman. Then, quite by accident he runs into daffy heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), who immediately takes a shine to the handsome, bespectacled scientist. Used to getting just what she wants, Susan simply won’t let David go. Before long, Huxley’s life gets turned upside down, as Susan kidnaps him to her starchy aunt’s Connecticut estate, along with her explorer brother’s recently arrived present, a tame leopard called “Baby”. The comic mayhem escalates from there.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Howard Hawks’s quintessential screwball outing remains one of our most riotous and inspired screen comedies. Grant and Hepburn (who’d do “Holiday” later the same year and “The Philadelphia Story” two years later) are in fabulous form, with Grant wholly convincing as the nerdy, befuddled victim, and Kate on fire as a flaky but determined lass who’s finally found true love, and intends to hold on, come what may. This Sublime, classic film is fun, fast and oh-so-funny.


Holiday (1938)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Free-spirited Johnny Case (Cary Grant) proposes to sweetheart Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) while on holiday in Lake Placid, but only later learns that she hails from an old and wealthy New York family headed by her stiff, suspicious industrialist father (Henry Kolker), who disapproves of Case. Julias rebellious sister, Linda (Katharine Hepburn), goes to bat for the dashing, independent-minded Mr. Case–and they soon find they have more in common than a tendency to flout convention.

WHY I LOVE IT:

As leading man, Grant was unequalled, the epitome of charm, and Cukor’s “Holiday” finds him in peak form, starring opposite the redoubtable Hepburn in this giddily amusing romantic comedy. Based on Philip Barry’s Broadway play, this was the third Grant-Hepburn pairing in as many years, and one of the sauciest, as the young would-be lovers buck the dictates of high society. With excellent supporting work by Lew Ayres as Hepburn’s alcoholic brother, and Edward Everett Horton as Grant’s bosom friend, “Holiday” is an antic riff on lives of privilege.


His Girl Friday (1940)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Sneaky, slimy editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) will stop at nothing to prevent his best reporter (and former wife) Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) from leaving the exciting newspaper business for a dull marriage to the chronically normal Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). As fate would have it, the year’s biggest story is breaking, as condemned killer Earl Williams (John Qualen) breaks out of jail, and even Hildy can’t resist the lure of the scoop. Will Walter’s nefarious scheming prevent Hildy from reaching the altar?

WHY I LOVE IT:

The legendary Howard Hawks directs what may be the fastest film comedy ever. A re-make of “The Front Page”, this version’s inspired plot twist is that Hildy is a female reporter, formerly wed to loveable scoundrel Burns. The conceit works, as underneath Walter and Hildy’s scathing, rapid-fire repartee we sense a strong (though somewhat twisted) animal attraction. Both Grant and Russell are in top form, and all we have to do is keep up with them. A rip-roaring good time, start to finish.


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  • comments (7)
  • rayban

    That’s a great list, John, I’d also add two early films, “Kiss and Make Up” in which Grant plays a beautician and “Wedding Present”, in which he plays a star reporter and two much later films, too, “Indiscreet” with Ingrid Bergman and “Walk, Don’t Run” with Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton.

  • Rolfi G Gonzalez

    My opinion is that these classic are ireplacable and there really what the movies are all about. Especially” bringing up Baby”.

  • Nikki

    I miss films like Bring Up Baby and Topper. I think we’ve lost our sense of humor that allowed us to laugh with the characters and at ourselves, and replaced it with a cruel humor that we laugh at the characters and at others instead.

  • Madeline O

    A really great list, but one quibble: Arsenic and Old Lace should really be on here. That film has such great physical comedy done by Grant: the range of faces he makes upon discovering that dead body in the window seat is just astounding. I always preferred his comedic performances to his romantic ones!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nikki.harmon.167 Nikki Harmon

    The first on the list would be “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Actors still refer to a double take as a “Cary Grant Take.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.farr1 John Farr

      I always thought it didn’t age as well- extremely broad and stagy, IMHO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.farr1 John Farr

    love “indiscreet” in particular..have to find these early ones!