twistedchick: Cary Grant looking scrumptious (yes dear)
twistedchick ([personal profile] twistedchick) wrote in [community profile] carygrant on November 9th, 2009 at 08:36 pm
When a man is wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he's in no position to run.
[ETA: This is one of a series of movie-related posts over at my journal.]

This week's reviews feature Pretty Boys Who Can Act. They have to look good, at least starting out, but they also have to not rely on those good looks in lieu of learning to act. In other words, they have to be actors who happen to be pretty, not models in actor drag.

It occurs to me that I've never attempted to define acting here. My definition of acting is the ability to create and portray a different character than the actor, and to effectively convey that character's thoughts, emotions and actions so that the viewer believes in the creation as separate from the actor. (This eliminates from all my discussions Clive Owen, who has said that he doesn't believe emotions are part of acting. Sorry, Clive, you're boring to watch; why should I spend the money?)

Anyway, the first day's pretty boy, who never lost his charm or his looks or his style:

Cary Grant. You knew this would happen; I've highlighted a few of his movies here, though not as many as I'd like to.

He started out as Archie Leach, whose mother was taken away from him when he was 9 and was put into a mental hospital -- he was told she'd gone on vacation to the seashore, but she never came back. His father raised him alone for five years; he ran away at 14, forging his father's name to the permission slip, to become a juggler and acrobat, and from there went into acting. There he invented from whole cloth the character of Cary Grant, whom he played successfully for the rest of his life. An early picture1:


It's hard to say who's prettier in She Done Him Wrong, Grant or Mae West. It's one of his first featured performances, where he actually has a name instead of something like 'third guy from the left'. IIRC, he's the Salvation Army guy trying to convert her, unsuccessfully, though with the 1930s matinee idol looks it seems to me it could have gone either way.


Early mid-career. This was taken about the time of Bringing Up Baby, in which he played a scientist whose head was so far up his career that he couldn't see anything else (except perhaps his misplaced brontosaur intercostal clavicle); Holiday, in which he wanted a break from everything that most people didn't want him to have; and The Awful Truth, in which he and Irene Dunne headed for divorce, tried to undermine each other, and then fell in love again. A photo from that, with Irene Dunne, is next:



But Cary Grant didn't just play drawing-room comedies; he was in military movies (Gunga Din, Destination Tokyo), biography (the badly miscast Night And Day, playing Cole Porter opposite Alexis Smith, who couldn't stand him), suspense (Hitchcock's Suspicion, in which you don't know if he's a killer until the last second, and perhaps not even then. The subtleties in that performance are amazing.) He was one of Hitchcock's favorite leading men, also starring in North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief. He played a ghost twice, the debonair George Kirby in Topper and Dudley in The Bishop's Wife. He played silly postwar comedies, as the lead in I Was a Female War Bride, as the researcher in Monkey Business, and in Indiscreet, where he flirted charmingly with Ingrid Bergman, whose character was happy to have an affair with him but didn't want to marry him. And he also was in an immense Napoleonic War epic with Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra, The Pride and the Passion, during which he was in love with Sophia and asked her to marry him -- but she was falling in love with Carlo Ponti at the time. Here's a photo from that era, probably from a party, where it's pretty obvious who's looking at whom or not:



Probably his most serious role was in None but the Lonely Heart, where he later said he drew on his childhood to play someone who had grown up in a poor mining town in Wales. He deserved an Oscar for that role, and was nominated as best actor; Ethel Barrymore, who played his mother, won for best supporting actress. Also on the serious side is An Affair to Remember, with Deborah Kerr (not one of my favorite movies, but it's good.)

Over time, some actors develop a theme, or perhaps a characteristic, for which their roles are known. Cary Grant had many of them -- graceful movements, those eyebrows that he could manipulate to express soulful desire or anger or frustration -- but the one I think of is that in any relationship he's in onscreen, he spends most of his time backing up. This is not the great lover who pursues the actress by showering her with roses and chocolates (except in Indiscreet, a role he took to help re-establish his friend Ingrid Bergman's career after she was blacklisted from film for having children with Roberto Rossellini, who was married to someone else.) Instead, this is the man who is exquisitely polite and very obviously interested to some degree, but who makes his partner do all the work of chasing him because, deep down, he might not believe he's really wanted. In one way or another this facet of character shows up in so many movies, all the way from She Done Him Wrong to Topper to The Philadelphia Story to The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer to Charade. There are exceptions -- but those are either movies with a largely male cast, like Operation Petticoat, or movies where he's married at the start of the story, such as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. I can't help but think that's a little of young Archie Leach peeking through, the abandoned boy who left home at 14, to be in a traveling comedy troupe because that had to be better than where he was.

I can't find the photo I'd like to show from Charade, where Audrey Hepburn puts the tip of her finger on the cleft in his chin and asks, "How do you shave in there?" He never answers, but later does take a shower in her bathroom - in his suit, which he says is drip-dry. At 59, when studios were looking for younger leading men like Paul Newman, he could still be the romantic lead opposite Audrey Hepburn. In Father Goose, his second-last movie, he said the character of Walter was really him -- grumpy, unshaven, argumentative and practical. But after he retired to raise his daughter by Dyan Cannon (they were divorced; he had five marriages and she was his fourth wife), he was persuaded late in life to go tour college campuses and talk about what Hollywood was like under the studio system, how it was to act with various famous actors, and pretty much anything he wanted to talk about. He was dubious (I think he patented dubious) but tried it and found he enjoyed it. He could talk about whatever he wanted, make jokes, have fun. It was billed as 'An Evening With Cary Grant', and it made me wish I was back in college. He was in his 80s, and still looked superb:


It's hard to not have him around any more. In another post I'll make a list of his movies and why you should see most of them. But I still think of him as someone on whom the rain could only fall gracefully, at least in movies:




1 Photos from several sources, including carygrant.com, borrowed and in some cases edited for size; no money is being made here.
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