Always Versatile, Always Dashing: Cary Grant Returns to BAM

North By Northwest (Hitchcock, 1959)

There are certainly a number of classic moments throughout actor Cary Grant’s famed career—too many to even begin to describe in all their hilarity, sexiness, or thrills—but one of his most iconic will always stand out for me. It’s about halfway through Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, North by Northwest: Grant is standing in the middle of an open field; it is completely silent. He’s not even sure what  he’s waiting for—the one man who was there has gotten on the bus. Slowly but surely, a crop duster comes swooping down, aiming for him. Grant runs. Why he is running seems a little dumb; how is the crop duster going to attack him exactly? However, the determination in Grant’s eyes and the force of his body keep us not only invested, but completely mesmerized, clinging to our seats in utter fear. We can’t take our eyes of Grant and what he will do next, and we will follow him to the end of the Earth if needed.

Thankfully, you don’t have to leave New York to keep your eyes on Cary Grant this July. You do need to leave Manhattan though, as the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinematek program presents its sequel to last year’s Cary Grant retrospective. Simply titled Cary Grant 2, the series features 20 different films, including both his most famous, as well as overlooked, works.

Grant remains something of an outlier in the classic Hollywood system in that he truly was a versatile performer, playing in a number of genres and personas. Jimmy Stewart was always the naïve do-gooder. John Wayne, the cowboy. Robert Mitchum, the cynical loser. However, Grant could play it all. Just look at the two Hitchcock films featured in the retrospective. In North by Northwest (July 11th), Grant is clueless, confused, and always on the run. In Notorious (July 25th) with Ingrid Bergman, he’s charming, cynical, and dangerously sexy.

An Affair to Remember (McCarey, 1957)

Sexy though, might be Grant’s defining feature—he was easily one of the most handsome men in Hollywood, and its put to good use in his films. In Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember (July 23rd), Grant has never looked more dashing (and in glorious Technicolor as well). The film, a remake of McCarey’s own Love Affair from 20 years before, works all the more do to the chemistry between Grant and Deborah Kerr, bringing us vividly into the story, making the later tragedy all the more crushing.

Grant’s chemistry is all the more wondrous with his top-notch work in numerous screwball comedies. Director Howard Hawks was the only man to ever play Grant as a straight-laced buffoon, by burying Grant behind glasses and making him a nerd. In the cult classic Bringing Up Baby (July 13th), Grant nails punch line after punch line while going toe-to-toe with Katherine Hepburn. When the film failed at the box office in 1939, Hawks blamed it on the fact that every character—including Grant—was a complete screwball. However, the magic of Bringing Up Baby is found in Grant’s playfulness with his usual persona. His body and dashing looks can’t hide behind a pair of glasses, and because we know the real Cary Grant, he makes himself all the more satirical. The same liveliness can be seen in I Was Once a Male War Bride (July 18th), a gender-bending comedy 10 years before Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, and Monkey Business (July 28th), a film that puts Grant on edge with both Ginger Rodgers and Marilyn Monroe.

Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1939)

For the already dedicated Grant-o-philes looking for something they haven’t seen, Cary Grant 2 features a couple very curious films that have been overlooked by many. For fans of the Hawks-Grant classic His Girl Friday, Grant stars with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the India-set adventure Gunga Din (July 22nd). The film is mixture of tones, and is strangely based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling. However, watching the film reveals inspiration for countless later films—Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, His Girl Friday, The Party, and many more. Another overlooked classic is McCarey’s Once Upon a Honeymoon (July 16th), which couldn’t be more absurd. This WWII comedy, basically a collision of Casablanca and To Be Or Not to Be, finds Grant pursuing a Nazi-married wife played by Ginger Rodgers that touches on some sensitive subjects.

However, like all these films, Grant is the mold that keeps it together. His conviction, no matter what he’s doing, makes him an actor worth watching over and over. The best part of Grant is that you can have whatever you want with him: he’s funny, attractive, frightening, tragic, ridiculous, adorable, strange, and sexy, sometimes all in the same movie. Grant is Hollywood’s leading man, and BAMcinematek is happy to honor his tradition.

Cary Grant 2 stars Friday, July 9th, and runs till July 29th. Weekday films are $8 with valid CUID. Weekend films are $12. The first showing of any day is only $7.50.

*****

Peter Labuza, CC’11

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