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I guess I just like liking things

How YOU doin'?

How YOU doin’?

We don’t use the term “movie star” so much any more.  Today we have actors.  Times change; that’s fine.  And perhaps actors are more about the art than the glamor; that’s also fine, maybe even good.

But there was a day when a star’s mystique (both on-screen and personal) was alone powerful enough to bring people to the box offices in droves.  Movie stars inspired men to dream quiet dreams and caused women to swoon.  Gossip rags, eager to both satisfy and fuel the frenzy, dug up any interesting tidbit they could to publish, and if they couldn’t find it out, they’d make it up.

On second thought, maybe things haven’t changed all that much.

Cary Grant practically defines that term, movie star.  Handsome, athletic, charming, refined, and hilarious, he epitomized the “dreamboat” of the silver screen.  Nominated for two Oscars during his film career and winning neither, he was a good actor, but not a great one.  His best performance was, in fact, honing his persona, and bringing that to the screen, if in slightly different manifestations, in his better films.

And, for the most part, that’s the best thing about the best Cary Grant films.  Yes, the stories are decent, and the leading ladies top-tier, but the element that makes them is that they would not be the same, or nearly half as good, with any other actor then Grant.  Not too ironically, he won his only Oscar, an honarary career achievement award, essentially for being Cary Grant.

I haven’t seen all Grant’s films, but I’ve seen most.  The ones selected below as the Top Ten represent both his career arc and Cary Grant at his best.

10. Gunga Din (1939):  This is a relatively early entry in Grant’s careerbody of work and is not a typical Grant vehicle, but rather a solid group performance, or perhaps romp.  Grant; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; and Victor McLagen team up as low level  officers in the British Army who would rather be treasure hunters, but end up fending off a Thuggee rebelion in India.  Best scene:  Grant in a short lived boxing match with Mclagen.  Legend has it Grant was actually knocked out.

9. The Grass is Greener (1960): Another atypical entry in the Cary Grant oeuvre.  Grant plays the Lord of a British estate which is now open to public tourism so ends can be made to meet.  Grant carefully restrains his comic abilities in a manner quite appropriate to this comedy of manners.  While the leading lady, Deborah Kerr, and Grant’s romantic nemesis, Robert Mitchum, fall a bit flat here, Grant and Jean Simmons keep things lively.  Best scene: the disappearanc of the fur-coat.

8. Mr. Lucky (1943):  Cary Grant puts his suave affability to (mildly) evil intent as a con-man out to rook Larraine Day’s charity organization, but love gets in the way.  This film gives just a bit of insight into how Hollywood entered the war effort during WWII. Best Scene: Grant learning to knit and the related gags thereafter (“You call that knitting?  You dropped a stitch!).

7. Father Goose (1964):  This is Grant’s second to last film, and his last in a lead role.  Grant plays a scruffy, rough-around-the-edges island hopper impressed into the role of remote lookout for the British Navy during WWII.  Comedy and romance ensue when Leslie Caron and a gaggle of her orphan charges are stranded with him.  Best Scene:  Probably a tie between Grant getting Caron drunk as he waits for her to die of snakebite and 60 year old Grant putting an abrupt end to the awkward advances of the 16 year old orphan who has a crush on him.

6. Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (1948):  I could have as easily put The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, released a year earlier, in this slot. Both pair Grant with a sardonic Myrna Loy.  Both build from an implausible premise to an all out ridiculous conclusion.  Both are hilarious.  Heck, both contain a surplus of “B”s in the title.  But Mark’s love for Mr. Blandings tips the scales.  Best Scene:  One of Grant’s sub-contractors has some difficulty drilling a well.

5. Charade (1963):  Grant blends just the right amount of charm, comedy, and menace to keep this spy-thriller/whodunit simultaneously light and taut.  Audry Hepburn plays the stress-eating love interest.  And James Coburn leads a great gang of villains.  Best Scene: Walter Matthau’s initial interview with Hepburn.

4. The Philadelphia Story (1940).  This is a surprisingly sofphisticated society satire that assembles an incredible team in Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart.  Grant appears just enough to make it a Cary Grant movie, but Hepburn is really the star.  Best Scene: The wedding, followed closely by Stewart romancing an overly champagned Hepburn.

(These last tHree are really tough to prioritize.  I wouldn’t argue with anyone who arranged them differently.)

3. North By Northwest (1959):  This is the final and finest of the four films Grant made with legendary director Alfred Hitchcock.  Razor-sharp dialogue, relentless action, and a top-notch villian in James Mason (assisted by a young [and man-crushed?] Martin Landau), a truly great Bernard Hermann score, and, of course, peerless direction by Hitchcock make this mistaken-identity caper a classic.  Best Scene:  Yeah, it’s the cropduster.

2.  Bringing Up Baby (1938):  A screwball comedy classic.  Socialite Katherine Hepburn and paleo-zoologist(!) Grant chase an escaped pet leopard around the Connecticut countryside.  Best Scene: Any of several in which Hepburn and Grant chase an escaped pet leopard around the Connecticut countryside would suffice, but probably the one were Hepburn tries to talk herself and Grant out of a small-town pokey.

1.  His Girl Friday (1940):  Grant is quite simply at his best playing an unscrupulous newspaper editor who will do anything and use anyone to get the story he needs.  Rosiland Russel is flawless as the fast-talking city-wise reporter who, having divorced Grant, adds insult to that injury by leaving his paper to play housewife with the fumbling Ralph Bellamy.  A biting satire of the newspaper industry intertwined with high-comedy and, yes, a love story.  Best Scene: Russell tells Grant she quits–Grant: “Don’t believe me?   Want to check my fingerprints?”  Russell: “No thanks, I’ve still got those.” –this movie is why we have the term “repartee”.

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