Cary Grant Character Sketches

The last list I wrote was on ‘Cary Grant Comedies’, but there was more to Grant than comedy. He was superb in many a serious roles, especially Hitchcockian crime drama’s, as much as when playing a romantic lead or that of a family man, the breadwinner, pertaining to that time period (as nowadays roles can be reversed, and it’s not necessary that the breadwinner be a male character). So here is a list of five varied character roles he’s played in his career spanning four decades, each character pertaining to a bulk of his roles with similar attributes.

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“ 1. “Cary Grant & Hitchcock (and the Hitchcockian)”

Some of my favourite movies happen to come from the period of film-noir, i.e. from the 30’s & 40’s. And the best of noir belongs to director Alfred Hitchcock. And Cary Grant has worked in some of the best from this dark genre with Hitchcock. He’s appeared in a quadruplet of Hitchcock films, namely ‘Suspicion’ (1941), ‘Notorious’ (1946), ‘To Catch a thief’ (1955) and ‘North by Northwest’ (1959). Out of all these my favourite Grant role happens to be that of Devlin from ‘Notorious’. A very serious, stern looking, emotionless character contrasting to his famed comical ones. We see the spy Devlin stand aside as Americans use Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) as a modern day Mata Hari. Although he is madly in love with her, he doesn’t show her even a peek into his real feelings, when she is about to sacrifice herself by marrying the enemy to better spy into the Nazi agenda. Even post her marriage, when she’s being slowly poisoned by her husband (Claude Rains) and mother-in-law (the mastermind behind getting rid of the spy in the family, a chilling performance by Madame Konstantin), though unaware yet seeing her frail state Devlin fails to show any sympathy towards her. His job comes first, love second. Thus it could almost be too late for him save the woman he loves.
In ‘Suspicion’ we see him marrying into aristocracy, and seemingly being the villain of the piece plotting to murder his wife (see my list on Joan Fontaine). In ‘North by Northwest’ Grant plays an innocent man, mistaken for a spy and indicted of a crime he did not commit, on the run. And in ‘To Catch a thief’ a ex-jewel thief in Monaco, alongside Grace Kelly who ended up being the Princess of Monaco later in real life, and she died in a car accident in Monaco in 1982, coincidentally in the same location where there is a driving scene, with Grant and Kelly speeding across the French Riviera in the movie, ‘To Catch a thief’.
Besides the Hitchcockian films directed by Hitchcock, Cary Grant has also appeared in a post-noir-noir (a.k.a. neo-noir) flick, the famously known Hitchcockian film that Alfred Hitchcock did not direct, the multi-genred ‘Charade’ (1963). See my list on ‘Cary Grant Comedies’.

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“ 2. “Cary Grant & Comedy”

Cary Grant’s comic timing is impeccable. He’s a brilliant comic as much as a serious actor in more thought provoking roles. Some of my favourite Grant movies happen to be comedies. Although they seem pretty light hearted, they actually could still delve into a deeper hidden meaning. It’s pure sarcasm pointing towards real people. Slightly exaggerated versions of realism, yet not overdoing the exaggeration, thus ordinary people can relate to these comedies. It doesn’t matter that these rib ticklers are from a different time, the human characteristics haven’t changed that much since evolution anyway, thus these comedies are timeless and some of the best classic comedies in the history of cinema.
Two of my favourite Grant comical roles happen to be, one that of Mortimer from the dark comedy ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ (1944) , and the other that of the conniving newspaper editor, Walter Burns, from ‘His Girl Friday’ (1940).
It’s not just the great subject matter in these movies and the way the suspense is built up, but even the characteristics of the individual human psyche. For example, in ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ (1944) we see an innocent newly wed drama critic, Mortimer, horrified to find a dead body in his aunts house, and crazier the tale goes as the aunts are responsible for twelve dead bodies in that house. A total psychoanalytical piece of work told humorously. In ‘His Girl Friday’ (1940), we see Grant playing a shadier character and the movie’s a fine comical insight into world of newspaper reporting and print journalism. Grant plays another similar conniving fellow in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940), another masterpiece farce.
Although my favourite Grant flick happens to be Hitchcock’s ‘Notorious’ (1946), most of the other movies I love of his happen to be comedies. Thus I made a separate list titled ‘Cary Grant Comedies’.

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“ 3. “Young Cary Grant & the 30’s”

I haven’t seen any Cary Grant films that came before the second world war, have only seen his films from during that war and post, thus am not familiar with the work of a very young Grant in his 20’s and early 30’s. His film career only began in his late 20’s with ‘This Is the Night’ (1932), long after he came to the United States with a troupe of comedians, aged 16, in 1920. Although British born, Grant has always been regarded as an all American icon.
So the only movies I’ve seen from the 1930’s are ‘Only Angels Have Wings’ (1939), ‘His Girl Friday’ (1940) and ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940), by then he was already in his mid-30’s. All the rest I’ve watched are from the 1940’s, 50’s & the 60’s. Of course ‘Only Angels Have Wings’ and ‘His Girl Friday’ are two movies I studied, while doing a module on Film Analysis (of Howard Hawks films) in my first semester, for my M.A. in International Cinema, back in 2002, in England (University of Luton).
Some of his movies from the 1930’s I’d love to see are ‘Blonde Venus’ (1932) with Marlene Dietrich, ‘She done him wrong’ (1933) with Mae West, ‘Bringing Up Baby’ (1938) & ‘Holiday’ (1938) with Katherine Hepburn and ‘Gunga Din’ (1933) with Joan Fontaine.

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“ 4. “Cary Grant - The Family Man (and other varied roles)”

Cary Grant in more sober roles where he plays more of an responsible adult, responsible of taking care of people and loved ones. He’s played spies, shoddy characters, comical ones, war hero’s, romantic leads and playboy’s. But here we see him as a husband and father, a family man. In ‘Penny Serenade’ (1941) we see Grant playing Roger Adams, a man who meets Julie Gardiner (Irene Dunne), falls in love and they get married and is about to have a kid when the 1923 earthquake strikes Japan (where the couple is residing at the time) which results in his wife having a miscarriage. They later adopt a girl who’s destined for tragedy. A beautiful little gem of a movie which reflects on the ups and down of family life and how the couple cope through tragedy after tragedy and keep their marriage going besides all the pitfalls; told via a series of flashbacks.
In Hitchcock’s ‘Suspicion’ (1941), we see him playing a lowly husband who can’t take care of his wife of a wealthier background, and most probably is plotting to kill her. In ‘Crisis’ (1950) we see Grant playing Dr. Eugene Ferguson, a brain surgeon, caught in the middle of coup against a tyrannical dictatorship of Raoul Farrago (José Ferrer), while on holiday with his wife in Latin America. He is forcefully brought into the lair of the tyrant, Raoul Farrago, who is the root cause for this whole upheaval. Farrago is suffering from a life threatening tumor and is in urgent need of a brain operation. We see Grant’s character in a dilemma, divided between his moral obligation, ethics as a doctor and on the other end his duty to society which precludes him from saving a life of a notorious dictator. Another beautiful story of a responsible husband and Doctor set in Spanish-speaking America. In ‘Monkey Business’ (1952), he plays a middle-aged scientist, where we see what happens when science goes wrong; as his wife (played by Ginger Rogers) and him end up with drastic consequences once they drink from the ‘fountain of youth’ (see my list on ‘Cary Grant Comedies’).

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“ 5. “Mature Cary Grant & the 60’s”

Of the four movies Cary Grant made in the sizzling 60’s; ‘That Touch of Mink’ (1962), ‘Charade’ (1963), ‘Father Goose’ (1964) and ‘Walk, Don't Run’ (1966); I’ve only seen the first two. ‘That Touch of Mink’, opposite Doris Day, was already an outdated romantic comedy when it came out, and when I watched it almost a decade ago, I didn’t think it was that great. Something didn’t feel right. The idea of Day’s character contemplating whether to have pre-marital sex or not, while Grant’s character played a playboy-ish character who just wanted a fling and had no interest anything more, just somehow didn’t work in this movie. If it were made in the 50’s, it could have done better, the likes of the most famous sex-comedy ever, ‘Pillow Talk’ (1959). Of course back then sex-comedy meant a movie that dealt with battle of the sexes, not intercourse, as today’s mindset (wired in such a way that word sex could only stand for one thing) would conclude. Thus ‘That Touch of Mink’ is a movie that couldn’t end up a timeless classic that has aged well, much like majority of silly chick flicks made today that’s passed off as romantic comedies. Still ‘That Touch of Mink’ is watchable.
Then of course there was ‘Charade’ (1963), with Audrey Hepburn, where Grant’s character with many a pseudonyms, remains a mystery right till the end.
The last Cary Grant movie I watched (that I’ve never seen before) was ‘The Pride and the Passion’ (1957) co-starring Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren, back 2007 while I was living in Sydney. Of course I did re-watch my favourite Grant movie, i.e. ‘Notorious’ (1946), a couple of years ago or so for the nth time (as I own a copy). After all ‘Notorious’ is a movie I studied (along with other Hitchcock movies mentioned above) for my final dissertation in my last semester back in 2003, for my M.A. in International Cinema (2002-2003) in England (University of Luton). And then a few years later, I did pay another tribute to Hitchcock by doing a series of paintings in my first semester, back in 2006, for my M.A. in Painting (2006-2007) in Sydney, Australia.
Cary Grant retired after the release of his last film, ‘Walk, Don't Run’, in 1966. He died twenty years later, in 1986.
Love Film, Great fan of Hitchcock; and from the 1930’s and 40’s, Cary Grant happens to be one of my favourite icons. Especially when it comes to comedies (see my list on ‘Cary Grant Comedies’).

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

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