Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How Old Cary Grant?

Have you heard the old chestnut about the publicist who cabled Grant's agent asking 'How old Cary Grant?' The reply read 'Old Cary Grant fine, how you?' That just about sums up the actor in a nutshell, an unchanging screen presence, always something of the cheeky chappy about him, whilst still retaining a suave sophistication. He remains the archetypal film star, forever playing variations on a single theme, always a very fine Cary Grant. The in-joke of the man born Bernie Schwartz putting on his best Cary Grant accent in "Some Like it Hot" is to baffle us with the idea that he too could be this timeless leading man.

This all sprung to mind after watching a double-disc of two of his lesser-known films. I purchased it to replace my old beta copy of "In Name Only" (1939) and it came with a print of "Once Upon a Honeymoon" (1942), a film which I had seen previously, but which had struck me as too flawed to warrant owning a copy. Directed by dab hand Leo McCarey, it is a Hollywood stab at anti-Nazi propaganda, but is far too uneven in tone to do the job. Grant plays a news reporter hoping to become a radio broadcaster in Europe on the brink of the Second World War. His leading lady is Ginger Rogers, an actress who has forever troubled me in her non-musical roles. She plays a jumped up ex-stripper from Brooklyn, pretending to be a high-born pukka lady and engaged to marry Walter Slezak's sleazy Austrian baron, one of Hitler's fixers, although Rogers manages to turn a blind eye to his evildoing, even after they marry. It takes persistent attention from Grant to open her eyes and to help her escape from this loveless union into his relatively impoverished arms. Falsifying evidence that she has died in an air-raid, the pair even end up in a concentration camp at one stage (she has given her own papers to her Jewish maid, but kept the latter's original passport in her handbag), where a bunch of religious stereotypes are chanting "Kol Nidre" in the background. Talk about bad taste! As the pair criss-cross Europe en route to passage back to the States, their paths cross a 'French' photographer, Albert Dekker, who is actually an American double-agent, and back once more to the cowardly Slezak. How he is dealt with remains the film's denouement and is like 100% unbelievable.  Even throughout these various shennanigans Grant remains eternatlly Cary Grant and eternally watchable.

"In Name Only" is a very definite change of pace both for Grant and his more likeable co-star Carol Lombard. He is in a loveless (again) marriage with uber-bitch Kay Francis, frostily removed from her earlier and more charming roles. She has married him for his money, despite having been in love with another, but has convinced his doting parents that she is beyond perfection. Meanwhile Grant chances upon Lombard, a widow with a young daughter (a darling Peggy Ann Garner) and is smitten. The sister with whom she lives has been badly hurt by her ex and glowers disapprovingly as the romance simmers. Meanwhile Francis gets wind of her new rival and does her best to humiliate Lombard -- she has no intention of giving up her hard-won meal ticket and the prospect of more to come when his dad Charles Coburn eventually kicks the bucket. When finally confronted by Grant, she promises a divorce and swans off to Paris with his parents for several months, having said that she would break the news to them gently. Grant and Lombard now believe that the future can be theirs until they discover that Francis has dug her fangs in even deeper. This leads Grant to booze it up and to catch a deadly bout of pneumonia -- but the film manages a 'happy' ending despite the florid dramatics from all concerned. This role is in complete contrast to Lombard's usual comedic persona, but she is believable and a glowing presence here despite this change. Grant of course remains good old Cary even while he is in a coma.

Grant was only Oscar-nominated once for another of his 'serious' roles in "None But the Lonely Heart" (1944), but never received any kudos from his peers. Never mind; he continues to receive lasting kudos from his many fans -- of which I am proud to admit I am one.
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