And that’s a wrap! Much like the previous month, September was largely spent in NFT1-3 at the BFI, ignoring all the big releases at the end of summer in favour of more of Grant’s back catalogue. The second half of the BFI’s Cary Grant season features films from the mid-1940s until the end of his career in the 1960s.
Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
The first of two films Grant made with Ginger Rogers, Once Upon A Honeymoon is a romantic drama set during World War II. Rogers is burlesque performer Katie O’Hara, who becomes entangled with Grant’s foreign correspondent Pat O’Toole after he begins to suspect her new husband of being a Nazi sympathiser. The plot of this RKO production – overseen by producer/director Leo McCarey – takes so many turns you’re never sure where it’s going next, and it has an uneven tone to match. It’s great to see Rogers and Grant together on screen though.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Grant is said to have hated his performance in this dark Frank Capra comedy, but I think his hamminess is perfect for the tone of the film, in which he appears as the flabbergasted Mortimer Brewster, nephew of the murderous Abby and Martha (played by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair). Priscilla Lane is also fantastic as his new wife Elaine, impatiently waiting to go on her honeymoon whilst her husband frantically tries to (literally) find all the skeletons in the family closet.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
The third and final film Grant made with Myrna Loy is a sparkling comedy which makes you wonder why they hadn’t been paired for more of the same earlier in their careers. They’re James and Muriel Blandings, a couple struggling to live in their cramped New York apartment with their two daughters. Muriel has plans to remodel their apartment, but after seeing the projected costs the pair decide to go the whole hog, and build themselves an entirely new house; a project where everything that could possibly go wrong, does. Reginald Denny has a cameo as architect Henry Simms.
I Was A Male War Bride (1949)
This Howard Hawks comedy pairs Grant’s French army officer Henri Rochard with Ann Sheridan’s US Women’s Army Corps officer Catherine Gates, who engage in some screwball-style antagonisation of one another when she’s assigned to be his chauffeur on a top secret mission. Inevitably they fall in love, and marry in a civil ceremony, but trouble strikes when Catherine gets word she’s being shipped back to the United States; the only way Henri can get a visa to join her is through the War Brides Act, but his status as a War Groom (and the fragility of 1940s ideas about masculinity) lead to a variety of cross-dressing japes.
Monkey Business (1952)
Another Howard Hawks comedy, and another pairing with Ginger Rogers. This time they’re the Fultons; Grant is the brilliant but absent-minded Dr. Barnaby, a chemist working on a youth serum, and Rogers his loving but exasperated wife Edwina. After the youth serum he’s inadvertently invented ends up in the drinking water of the lab where he works, the comedy unfolds as everyone who drinks it finds their behaviour regresses – depending on how much they’ve consumed – to teenage or even infant level. This strange film also features an early Marilyn Monroe performance and, as the title might suggest, the appearance of several chimpanzees.
To Catch A Thief (1955)
This is the last of the four films Grant made with Hitchcock, and over the course of their two decades working together the actor had honed his Hitchcockian persona to a fine perfection. In many ways it reflected his other classic leading man roles, but always with a thorny side, a sharpened edge that lets us know he cannot be trusted. Here he’s retired cat burglar John Robie, opposite the almost ethereally beautiful Grace Kelly as nouveau riche American tourist Frances Stevens, in what would also be her final Hitchcock performance. The film glitters like the blue waters of its French Riviera setting, and the masterful performances and direction delivered in glorious technicolour give the whole thing a distinctly sumptuous feel.
Grant and Ingrid Bergman are together again in this romantic comedy, directed by Stanley Donen and shot on location in London due to the actress’s conflicting schedule. Bergman plays accomplished theatre actress Anna Kalman, who falls in love with Grant’s Phillip Adams, a handsome and successful economist. There’s a problem – as far as Anna is aware, he’s married. However, this turns out to not entirely be the whole truth, and comedic chaos reigns before the pair can be together.
This light romantic comedy stars Grant as Tom Wilson, returning from Europe after a long period of separation from his family, forced to parent his estranged children by his wife’s sudden death. Fate leads Sophia Loren’s Cinzia Zaccardi, the runaway daughter of a world-renowned orchestra conductor, to become the children’s nanny. The destruction of their original home means they end up living in the titular houseboat, which – much like the family themselves – might look disastrous from the outside, but just needs a bit of TLC. There’s nothing really original here, but it’s warm and funny, and I enjoyed it a lot.
One of the last films Grant would star in, and also considered one of his best. He’s the mysterious and elusive Peter Joshua opposite Audrey Hepburn’s Reggie Lampert, in a role clearly influenced by his previous work with Alfred Hitchcock. The two leads have great chemistry together, helped by the fantastically tight script, and the whole thing is gorgeously shot and costumed.