Becoming Cary Grant (2017)

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Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant. Born in 1904 as Archie Leach, Cary Grant was the greatest star ever produced in Hollywood. Before he went there he was the younger survivor of two sons with the older dying following an accident for which his mother blamed herself. Then one day aged eleven he came home to be told by his father that his mother had died. Twenty years later he discovered she had been institutionalised on the man’s say-so in order that he could shack up with another woman. The reinvention Archie conjured across the Atlantic having literally run away with the circus to become an acrobat was accompanied by a lifelong mistrust of women and a name change. After two dozen films where he played a piece of jewellery for his leading ladies as contributor Mark Glancy puts it, he found himself working with George Cukor in Sylvia Scarlett and played a character I know, as Jonathan Pryce relates from Grant’s unpublished autobiography: he was finally acting and he was good. When he worked with director Leo McCarey on The Awful Truth nerves got the better of him and he took his lead from his director – McCarey was a suave, urbane, debonair, handsome, beautifully dressed and well-spoken ladykiller, and Grant copied him. That character became key to his screen persona. At the age of 31 he was reunited with the mother he had thought dead for twenty years and when they met, she asked him, Archie, is that really you?  His identity is at the centre of this film by Mark Kidel, as it penetrates the mystery of  his spectacular stardom and his acting technique.  Yet critic David Thomson says Grant’s persona is very democratic,  you can still sense the working class Archie Leach in him, something you can aspire to.  Howard Hawks would further the development of his screen image, locating in Grant something insecure and strange. Their many collaborations would reveal these layers of oddness, some of which was inhabited by Grant’s sexuality. He appealed equally to men and women. The film interrogates his relationships with women (he married among others actress Virginia Cherrill, heiress Barbara Hutton and actress Betsy Drake) but never mentions his long living arrangement with fellow actor Randolph Scott in the Thirties. Thomson claims, This is a man who is exploring gender safeguards as we see a clip of Bringing Up Baby, in which Grant’s character exclaims, I just went gay all of a sudden! wearing a woman’s dressing gown. Grant was well aware of his dichotomy and much of the film explores pictorially what Grant expresses in his unpublished writing, the experience of using LSD in controlled experiments in the late Fifties, an idea pushed by his then wife Drake, a woman who made him feel young again and who was an avid proponent of the therapeutic treatment herself.  It is clear that Grant believed it helped him make psychological breakthroughs. Home movies show him dressing up and acting the clown and in late life when he would do a theatre tour about his career he particularly liked to show those film clips which showed him doing backflips. When he worked with Hitchcock, Thomson declares that the director saw a different level of darkness than other collaborators and excerpts from Suspicion and Notorious accompany the narration. (But the viewer will note that Hitchcock also did the same for James Stewart, albeit he had already exploited a kind of psychopathic edge in the westerns he made with Anthony Mann). You never quite know where you are, Thomson says of this degree of sadism on display. It doesn’t ruin the likability but it qualifies it. Grant went independent so that he could control the roles he played and in the Forties persuaded RKO to buy the rights to the novel None But the Lonely Heart in which he essays the role of the kind of man he might have been had he remained in Britain, as one commentator notes.  Following a period of near-retirement he would work again happily with Hitchcock on To Catch a Thief of whom he said, Hitch and I had a rapport deeper than words.  He was incredibly well prepared.  Nothing ever went wrong. He is similarly complimentary about co-star Grace Kelly of whom he was in awe and he says, There are very few actresses who really listen to you. He could throw any line at her and she had a comeback. They were fast friends. He would team up with Hitchcock again for North By Northwest, and Thomson says of the great Cold War comic thriller, It’s about a man who has to grow up emotionally. He aged better than any other actor and in Father Goose despite its apparent un-Cary Grant-ness he always maintained the louche mariner was the one most similar to himself. He loved children and would finally find personal happiness when wife Dyan Cannon gave birth to their daughter Jennifer. He adored her and would have loved a huge family.  Despite a divorce a couple of years later he and Jennifer would remain close. She says what he really liked to do was stay home and watch TV – He loved television! she smiles to camera as home movie footage shows father and daughter sitting up on a huge bed with snack trays in front of them. His last wife Barbara Jaynes recalls him with love but says of his early perceived abandonment, Somewhere in the back of his mind was the idea that women were not always going to be there. She still lives in his Hollywood house with the panoramic views of the city he loved. In 1986 he had a massive stroke during a rehearsal for his one-man show and he died shortly afterwards. Kirk Kerkorian choppered Barbara and Jennifer over his home and out to sea, to spread the ashes of Archie Leach who insisted there be no funeral or memorial. A film about the best Hollywood star ends scattered in the air, skirting the surface of a fascinating man who was all transatlantic speaking voice and great clothes and beautiful movement, an actor who was never quite there.  Written by Kidel and Nick Ware. I feel fine. Alone. But fine

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

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Now it isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you, but – well, there haven’t been any quiet moments. Harried paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) has to make a good impression on society matron Mrs. Random (May Robson), who is considering donating one million dollars to his museum. On the day before his wedding to Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), Huxley meets Mrs. Random’s high-spirited young niece, Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), a madcap adventuress who immediately falls for the straitlaced scientist when she steals his car and crashes it on a golf course. The ever-growing chaos – including a missing dinosaur bone and a pet leopard – threatens to swallow him whole… Wildly inventive, hilarious and classic screwball comedy from director Howard Hawks, written by Hagar Wilde and Dudley Nichols and performed by a group of actors indelibly engraved on our collective brains for their roles here.  Hepburn learned from Grant’s uptight persona to play it straight and if it were any slower this would be a film noir because she is one of the fatalest femmes you could ever dread to meet in a text bursting with double entendres. With Charles Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald and Fritz Feld (as a psychiatrist!) bringing up the rear, Asta the dog from The Thin Man series and The Awful Truth (uncredited! the injustice of it!) and Grant going ‘gay all of a sudden’ what we have here is gaspingly funny cinematic perfection.

Come Dance With Me! (1959)

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It’s always good to see Brigitte Bardot, even in a lesser crime drama. She’s the young wife of the dentist (Henri Vidal) who has a one-night stand (with Dawn Addams) that is photographed in a bid to blackmail him. She follows him to the dance studio where the tryst took place and finds him with his lover’s corpse and a gun in his hand – then goes undercover as a teacher to root out the real culprit… Adieu, trystesse! Interesting for an excursion to a drag club, a gay villain and the performance of Serge Gainsbourg as Addams’ lover and it’s the final film of Vidal who died immediately after shooting. The dialogue is a little on the nose for what is essentially a comic mystery. But the more BB finds out, the more revealing her costumes become and she dances up a storm, as you’d expect from a trained ballerina. Gainsbourg sings the title song in a film which made less than BB’s previous hits yet she earned more than she ever had before in terms of salary, leading her producer, Raoul Levy, to sever their collaboration, claiming she was finished. Incroyable!

Bates Motel 2013-

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There can be no doubt as to Alfred Hitchcock’s incredible influence on culture and cinema and the great mould-breaker of them all was Psycho (1960). It changed the way films were made. Partly because Hitchcock had been making such a success of his career in TV. In the mid-1950s Hitchcock began a different phase of his career: the Film Director as Superstar.  He inhabited every American living room with the success of his weekly TV suspense series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in an extraordinarily profitable deal negotiated by superagent Lew Wasserman.The director commented that “the invention of television can be compared to the introduction of indoor plumbing.  Fundamentally it brought no change to the public’s habits. It simply eliminated the necessity of leaving the house.”  Now everybody’s home was subject to a weekly fright night. Or, as Peter Conrad puts it, “Hitchcock brought fear home to us.”  Psycho would have its own double, triple, quadrupled life form as it multiplied and sequelised.  The second sequel was directed by Anthony Perkins, Norman Bates himself, doubling as star, and the original even got its own cover version, directed by Gus Van Sant in 1998 with the approval of Pat Hitchcock. It has been prequelised in TV series Bates Motel (Universal, 2013-).  Far from being the wack job that such a concept suggests, according to Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock had hoped to make a prequel to the film and discussed it with Robert Bloch  (Rebello, 2013:  188). That didn’t come to fruition in his lifetime – but it has in ours, and thank goodness for it. It differs from Psycho IV:  The Beginning. Moving the action to Oregon in the Pacific North West, we are in Twin Peaks country and the series, now concluding Season 4, has all the hallmarks of lessons well-learned. Season 1 focuses on the move to the fabled haunted house, with Mom Norma (!) and son Norman, still in high school, trying to make a go of the business while a proposed bypass will bring traffic in the opposite direction. Dad died mysteriously in Arizona. A man attacks Norma, she kills him and Norman helps her get rid of the body. In Season Two Norman gets way too close to his teacher who winds up … dead. Another son shows up, Dylan. We get the strong whiff of incest. In Season Three, Norman’s close friendship with a girl is paralleled with his mental disintegration and the Sheriff who’d been close to Norma distances himself. In Season Four, Norman is introduced at full throttle drag and things are really heating up after he’s released from a local mental hospital. There is SO much more but those are the bones of it. Season Five is promising the appearance of a certain Marion Crane – which is where we all came in! This is A&E’s most successful scripted show and it is stunningly constructed. At the heart of it is the relationship between Norma and Norman:  the bravura performances of Vera Farmiga (executive producer) and Freddie Highmore as the creepily co-dependent deluded psychotic duo are just part of an extraordinarily brave hybrid of remake, sequel and prequel developed by Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Anthony Cipriano. Hitchcock’s fright night lives.  Roll on Season 5! I cannot WAIT!

Up To His Ears (1966)

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Belmondo and De Broca reunited for this slapstick adventure adapted more, or perhaps less, from a Jules Verne story. He’s a wealthy guy who’s hired hitmen to kill him but changes his mind and spends a long time in a lot of places evading their capture. It’s zany, funny stuff, filled with hair-raising stunts, Keatonesque slapstick and boasts the delectable Ursula Andress – even staging an homage to her Dr No role. It’s very dialogue-heavy however but Bebel’s drag striptease is worth the price of admission!

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

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Galleon? Check. Skull and crossbones? Check. Velvet loons? Check. Someone shouting ‘Avast’? Check. Swashbuckling? Check and check and check!!! This is one of the supreme entertainments of the studio era. Burt Lancaster is the piratical Captain Vallo operating in the Caribbean in the late 18th century. He and his men capture a frigate belonging to the king that’s carrying Baron Gruda to the island of Cobra to crush a rebellion led by El Libre. Gruda suggests they exchange the leader for a reward.  The crew say this isn’t pirate business so Vallo and his mute henchman (Nick Cravat) are sold out. The deal with Libre’s fellow rebel Pablo Murphy (Noel Purcell) falls asunder. Vallo has a gruff approach to romance with Libre’s daughter Consuela (Eva Bartok) – “What we have for each other we just have to get over!” When Professor Prudence (James Hayter) gets working on his scientific experiments to take back the island things get seriously funny. This is elegant, energetic, exuberant entertainment. It is a film for all ages, for the ages. Working from a first screenplay by blacklistee Waldo Salt, Roland Kibbee fashioned an amazing, tongue in cheek action adventure with oodles of quips to spare. Christopher Lee, who has a supporting role with the Brits (boo hiss!) said of the turn of events in his memoir,

The script started life as serious, nay solemn, but Robert Siodmak, the director, with all the sure touch of real tension behind him in The Killers andThe Spiral Staircase, took stock of the material in forty-eight hours and turned it into a comedy. It was like a Boy’s Own Paper adventure, except that Eva Bartok was in it.

— Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome[4]