As the quote goes, everyone wants to be Cary Grant. The talented actor was the picture of suave urbanity for more than three decades, and is still well-regarded today. I’m a latecomer to the charms of the erstwhile Archibald Leach, but I’ve become a huge fan in a few short years. But what I love about him isn’t his charm or his way with women: Cary Grant is HILARIOUS. He got his start in vaudeville and acrobatics (!), and while he eventually traded in the physical humor, his earlier films are what make him one of my favorite actors. Since today is the anniversary of his birth, I decided to share with you my picks for his six best films. Pay close attention to some of them: if I ever do a similar post for Katharine Hepburn, you’ll see them again. A very happy birthday, Mr. Grant.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Bringing Up Baby is a madcap adventure involving a dinosaur bone, a zany and free-spirited socialite (Hepburn, of course), and a leopard. Directed by Howard Hawks, the dialogue is so fast and witty that you’ll need to see the movie more than once. I do recommend doing so: it just gets funnier every time. Also, keep an ear out for the best Cary Grant line ever. I promise you’ll know it when you hear it.
How did Grant and Hepburn manage to make two supremely funny movies in the same year? I don’t know, but Holiday is every bit as hilarious as Bringing Up Baby. This time Grant is all set to marry into a wealthy family, but you’ll figure out quickly that he’s marrying the wrong sister. He gets to show off some of his acrobatic abilities, and Hepburn turns on the charm. Meanwhile, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, and Jean Dixon all nearly manage to steal the show from its stars. Sadly, I couldn’t find a trailer, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: this is a really good movie.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The most famous of the Grant/Hepburn pairings; you knew I couldn’t leave it out. This time we throw in James Stewart just to make it even more awesome. Grant shows up to try and win his ex-wife (Hepburn) back before she marries another man, but a visiting reporter (Stewart) might throw a wrench in the works. Once again, this is fast-paced, brilliantly executed dialogue. Basically, if it’s directed by George Cukor (Holiday was, too), it’s hard to go wrong.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
In this adaptation (directed by Frank Capra) of a successful stage play, Grant stars as Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic. On his wedding day, he not only learns that insanity runs in his family, but that his two maiden aunts are serial killers. Despite how it sounds, this is a delightfully funny and heartwarming movie, and Grant’s impeccable comedic timing is on full display.
North by Northwest (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of an ordinary man mistaken for a government agent is arguably his best film, and Grant’s, too. This is the suave Cary Grant, even as he is thrown into one extraordinary situation after another. Eva Marie Saint is an absolutely scorching femme fatale, and James Mason and Martin Landau are excellent villains. Simply an outstanding film.
Ah, that other Hepburn. Audrey, in this case, stars as a young woman whose late husband’s thievery has made her a target for some very bad men. She meets up with Cary Grant (who may or may not be a good guy) and the two must dash around Paris (how awful for them) trying to solve the mystery, outsmart the villains, and perhaps get in a little romance while they’re at it. Walter Matthau and James Coburn co-stars in this smart and stylish thriller, which, thanks to Grant’s wry wit, is also more than a little funny. This is later in his career, but he remains a joy to watch, particularly as he tries to rebuff Audrey Hepburn’s advances. Also, the score is excellent.
So, what’s your favorite Cary Grant? Did I miss it?