George Clooney and Cary Grant

In his latest film The Descendants, George Clooney plays the father of two daughters, one of whom is grown, coping with the consequences of his wife being in a coma as a result of an accident. He is suddenly thrust into a parenting role that he had abdicated up to that point and for which he is not prepared. The film begins with a familiar trope that I detest but one that American filmmakers seem to be enamored by, that of rude and obnoxious children who mouth off to their parents. But fortunately that phase passes fairly soon and the rest of the film deals with the three of them coming to terms with each other and their situation.

It is hard to pigeonhole this film into standard niches. Given that one key character is in a coma, it is hard to label it a comedy but it has many funny moments. It is essentially a drama with frequent comedic touches and is worth seeing.

Here’s the trailer.

Whenever I see a film with George Clooney, I am reminded of Cary Grant. He has similar craggy good looks with a roguish twinkle in the eye that makes him perfect for romantic comedies.

In the case of Grant, he could not break out of that persona and played the likable romantic lead even when he was over sixty. As far as I know, once he became a star, Grant never played a villain and later in his career he tended to play opposite leading ladies who were two or even three decades younger, even though he himself felt that he was too old for the roles. He was trapped in a film system that did not allow him to expand his range and this may be why he abruptly retired at the age of 62 and refused to act again. I think he was a great actor who had a superb sense of comedic timing but was never allowed to show us the full range of his abilities. He seemed to be always playing the role of ‘Cary Grant’, just like Audrey Hepburn (whom I loved madly) was always playing the character ‘Audrey Hepburn’. This may be why Charade (1963) was such a wonderful film, one of my favorite films of all time and one that I think everyone should see. They were a perfect couple despite their huge age difference (Grant was 59 at the time, Hepburn 34) and they were playing themselves, completely at ease in roles that seemed to be designed specifically for them.

Here’s the trailer.

In Grant’s next film Father Goose (1964), he made some attempt at changing his image, playing a dropout from society on a remote island during World War II. Far from his usual dapper and debonair self, he was an unshaven alcoholic misanthrope, dressed in beachcomber attire, and irascible in his manner. But he still got the girl, played by Leslie Caron who was also nearly three decades younger than him. Grant is reported as saying that his character in Father Goose came closest to what he was really like. Grant abruptly retired in 1966 after just one more film, presumably because he just did not see a future for his character. Here’s the trailer.

It is hard for actors who play romantic leads when young to keep getting good roles as they age. It is especially hard for women who find fewer roles that are worthy of their talents. Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, and Helen Mirren are a few of the women who have managed to find some good roles that keep them in acting later in their careers.

There is a greater variety of roles for older men, though not all manage to make that transition. Clooney takes more risks with his roles than Grant did and does not seem to mind showing his age. In The Descendants, his hair is graying, his face is wrinkled, he peers over his glasses, and there is no storyline where he is romantically linked with an attractive young woman. Clooney seems to be following the path of Paul Newman, aging slowly and naturally from leading man into a character actor, playing roles that are not entirely sympathetic, like in The Ides of March. As a result I can see him having a long career.


  1. slc1 says

    n the case of Grant, he could not break out of that persona and played the likable romantic lead even when he was over sixty.

    This is a problem of being typecast into certain roles. One of the examples of an actor acting to prevent himself from being typecast is Frank Sinatra who played a professional hit man hired to assassinate the President of the United States in the movie, “Suddenly.” His performance was so good as a heavy that he thereafter refused such roles for fear of being typecast into bad guy roles, in addition to which he felt that such roles would hurt his singing career. IMHO, it was Sinatra’s best performance of his career; in addition, it was quite possibly Sterling Hayden’s best performance of his career.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    How much actual acting was needed for Sinatra to depict a nasty hoodlum?

  3. Didaktylos says

    @ #2 – probably very little. Thinking about Sinatra, if his musical career hadn’t taken off, it’s far from unlikely that he would have become a criminal.

  4. mnb0 says

    I don’t entirely agree on Cary Grant. In North by Northwest his character was more than his usual stereotype, albeit not that much.
    Of course CG wasn’t really trapped. He could have done what Henry Fonda and Burt Lancaster did in about the same time – go to Italy and play in a spaghetti western or an art movie. I am pretty sure the Italian directors would have been very happy to add a few dark sides to his screen appearances.
    Between 1960 and 1980 European cinema was simply ahead of Hollywood. It’s just that not all American stars were aware of it. Those who were found some of their most impressive roles at the other side of the pond.

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