Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cary Grant Comedies

The Inimitable Cary Grant
Source: By Trailer screenshot (The Philadelphia Story trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cary Grant

Cary Grant defines the suave and debonair man. He rose from a troubled childhood in Bristol, England to a world wide superstar. Known for both his dramatic and comedic roles in over 75 movies, he was only nominated for the Oscar award twice. He was finally given a special Academy Award in 1970. Many actors have been called "the next Cary Grant" but there is only one original.  Here are my favorite Cary Grant comedies.

"Arsenic and Old Lace"

"Arsenic and Old Lace" is so hilarious that one forgets that the plot is about three serial killers, two very sweet little old ladies and their scary nephew. Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster. Mortimer marries the girl next door at City Hall. The couple goes first to Brooklyn to tell Mortimer's aunts about the marriage and then intend to go to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon.

It doesn't quite work out quite that way. Cary Grant makes a very surprising discovery about Aunts Martha and Abby while sitting on a window seat. Let's just say that the elderberry wine that the aunts serve their guests has an extra kick. Mortimer's brother, Teddy, is very busy burying "yellow fever victims" in the basement. Teddy thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt digging locks in the Panama Canal. He is always dashing up San Juan Hill (the stairs) yelling "Charge!"

To complicate matters even further, his other brother, Jonathan, is on the lam. He arrives with his accomplice, Dr. Einstein, to hide out and bury his latest victim. The roles are played to perfection by Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre. Another running gag in the movie is multiple characters telling Jonathan that he looks like Boris Karloff. Peter Lorre manages to be both menacing and funny at the same time.

Elaine, Mortimer's wife, eagerly wants to go on her honeymoon. Mortimer keeps delaying until he finds out that he's the "son of a sea cook" and not a Brewster after all. It's too bad that the censors would not let Cary Grant say, "I'm not a Brewster - I'm a bastard!" The alliteration is better in the original line. Lots of funny subplots play out during the movie, adding to the hilarity. Edward Everett Horton wants to get the commitment(s) finalized. Raymond Massey wants plastic surgery to hide his identity. Officer O'Hara keeps trying to tell Mortimer about the play he's written.

Director Frank Capra skillfully keeps the pot from boiling over. Although known for directing "It's a Wonderful Life", "It Happened One Night" and many other great films, this is my personal favorite. According to, "Cary Grant considered his acting in this film to be horribly over the top and often called it his least favorite of all his movies." Grant's exaggerated facial expressions and overreactions are the best part of the movie!

Available for download on iTunes for $9.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $7.53
Run time: 1 hours 58 minutes
Released in 1944 by Warner Brothers

"Arsenic and Old Lace" Trailer

"He looks like Boris Karloff"

"The Philadelphia Story"

"The Philadelphia Story" is a sparkling comedy with sharp repartee between all the leads. High society gal, Katherine Hepburn, is about to marry a self made man who doesn't quite fit in with her social set. Her ex-husband, Cary Grant, shows up the night before the wedding. There's blackmail in the air which brings James Stewart and Ruth Hussey to the family home, as reporters covering the wedding. A midnight mix-up fueled by Champagne complicates matters but there's a happy Hollywood ending.

Acerbic comments about the upper class abound. One of my favorites is when Jimmy Stewart observes "the privileged class enjoying its privileges". Of course there's also Katherine Helpburn's "the nice judge gave me a full pardon" in reference to her marriage to Cary Grant.

Cary Grant's performance is as subtle in this film as it was manic in "Arsenic and Old Lace." Katherine Hepburn rid herself of the title "box office poison" by playing Tracy Lord both in the Broadway play and the movie. One best scenes is between Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart after Stewart has had too much Champagne. Stewart ad-libbed the hiccuping. Grant's reaction is priceless. Check out the clip below! Director George Cukor was known as a "woman's director." His other films include "Sylvia Scarlett", "The Women", and "My Fair Lady" just to name a few.

"Arsenic and Old Lace" and "The Philadelphia Story" are both nearly two hours long. I suggest curling up with a large bowl of popcorn and binge-watching both of them.

Available for download on iTunes for $14.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $7.49
Run time: 1 hours 52 minutes

Released in 1940 by MGM
                                              "The Philadelphia Story" Trailer

Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart

"Bringing Up Baby"

"Bringing Up Baby" defines the phrase "screwball comedy." Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant pair up again in this movie that has a plot that is as thin and light as air. The story line includes a clavicle, leopard, dog and a million dollar endowment.

Cary Grant plays a somewhat nerdy paleontologist. He's trying to assemble a complete dinosaur skeleton but is missing the clavicle. In addition, Grant is about to marry a very focused, serious woman, but meets the breezy Hepburn. Hepburn immediately falls in love with him and won't leave him alone. Grant gets the bone but Katherine Hepburn's dog steals and buries it. A leopard named Baby appears, causes mayhem, and only calms down to the song "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." The wedding is cancelled, Hepburn finds the bone, and everyone lives happily ever after.

"Bringing Up Baby" was initially considered a failure and is the cause of Hepburn being labeled box office poison. The film became popular after it began running on television. Apparently, director Howard Hawks and Hepburn did not get along very well. He did more movies with Grant including "His Girl Friday" and "I Was a Male War Bride."

There are many outrageously funny sight gags in the movie. Katherine Hepburn tears her dress in a restaurant. Cary Grant walks in tandem with her out of the restaurant to protect her modesty. Grant had done this routine in vaudeville, which contributed to the perfectly synchronized walk. Another famous scene in the movie has Cary Grant running around in a feathered robe. Hepburn's aunt asks him why he is wearing the robe. Grant famously ad-libbed "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!" There's a lot of speculation as to what the intended meaning of the word gay is in that line. I just think the sight of Grant in the robe is funnier than any connotation of the word. The final scene is my favorite. Although I'm sure that stunt doubles were used, Cary Grant is clearly hanging onto Katherine Hepburn as the skeleton collapses.

If released today, "Bringing Up Baby" would probably be called a "rom-com" (romantic comedy). In my opinion, the light as air plot and comedic performances are simply wonderful.

Available for download on iTunes for $14.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $7.49
Run time: 1 hours 42 minutes
Released in 1938 by RKO Radio Pictures

"Bringing Up Baby" Trailer

"Gay All of a Sudden" 

"Once Upon A Honeymoon"

“Once Upon a Honeymoon” offers an interesting look back at World War II style propaganda. Although released in 1942, the same year as “Casablanca,” this film has faded into obscurity. Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers elevate “Once Upon a Honeymoon” to an interesting time capsule of a troubled era.

The complex plot takes nearly two hours from exposition to denouement. Ginger Rogers dons a pseudo upper class accent even though she is a burlesque dancer from Brooklyn named Katie O’Hara. She’s using the name Katherine Butt-Smith in Vienna and marries an Austrian baron. He showers her with “jew-els”, her exaggerated pronunciation. Unbeknownst to her, he works for the Nazis and helps to bring down the governments in the countries that they visit. Cary Grant play’s Patrick O’Toole, a reporter trying to expose Baron Von Luber as a Nazi collaborator. He meets and falls in love with Ginger Rogers, who is now Baroness Von Luber. Grant tries to convince her about her husband’s true intentions but she refuses to believe him. Finally, in Warsaw, Rogers sees the truth about the Baron. She helps her Jewish maid escape by giving the maid her passport. Unfortunately, Rogers is stopped by the Gestapo carrying her maid’s passport. Both she and Grant nearly go to a concentration camp. Grant puts her name on a casualty list and provides one of her diamond bracelets as proof of identity. Paraphrasing Grant, “The Baron will really know that you had to be dead to give this up.”

After hop scotching across Europe, Grant and Rogers go to Paris where they meet a double agent posing as a photographer, Gaston Le Blanc. In a memorable scene, the agent convinces the couple that he is an American by going through a compendium of American slang. Rogers agrees to resurface as the Baroness to bring down the Baron for the last time. Grant runs into the Baron and agrees to do a Nazi broadcast aimed at Americans. Grant laces the broadcast with double entendres that an American listener would recognize, negating the propaganda value. For example, he states "Germany wants peace, a piece of Poland, a piece of Holland, a piece of France". At the end, he exhorts the listener to tell everyone about the Nazis, including “tell it to the Marines" meaning that the broadcast was untruthful.

Rogers and Grant leave on a ship for America, only to find that the Baron is escaping on the same ship. Rogers runs into the Baron and takes action by pushing him overboard. She tells Grant “"He said it came down to me or him and I guess, in my mind, it came down to him."

Leo McCarey notably directed Cary Grant in “The Awful Truth” and “An Affair to Remember.” McCarey brings the comedy skills shown in the classic “Duck Soup” to “Once Upon A Honeymoon.”

If you like “Casablanca”, Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”, or Jack Benny’s “To Be or Not To Be”, watch “Once Upon a Honeymoon” to immerse yourself in another time and place.

Available for download on iTunes for $9.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $17.99
Run time: 1 hours 57 minutes
Released in 1942 by RKO Radio Pictures

"Once Upon A Honeymoon" Trailer

So Many More!

I've only scratched the surface. Other great Cary Grant comedies include and aren't limited to "She Done Him Wrong," "His Girl Friday," "Monkey Business," "I Was a Male War Bride," "Topper," "Bachelor and The Bobby Soxer," "Operation Petticoat," and "Father Goose."

Cary Grant's comedies are still funny, even at today's standards.  His dramatic acting in "North by Northwest" and "Suspicious" is outstanding. However, the comedies are in a class by themselves.These are just a few of the many hilarious comedies starring Cary Grant. I've chosen my personal favorites. Hope you enjoy them!