After watching the inscrutable film The Lobster, I decided I needed a break from high-brow art films and so decided to watch films that just entertained and did not tax the mind. And for that purpose, I have been on my own personal Cary Grant film festival. I first watched That Touch of Mink (1962) that co-starred Doris Day, then Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955) co-starring Grace Kelly, then my favorite Charade (1963) with Audrey Hepburn. Next in my queue if I can find them are Indiscreet (1958) with Ingrid Bergman and The Grass is Greener (1961) with Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum, and Jean Simmons.
Grant almost always plays a suave, witty, sophisticate. These old romantic and/or suspense comedies all provide the promise of being very pleasant and unchallenging. You can be sure that everything will end happily and that they will never take a sudden dark turn, though one false note that one should be prepared for is the casual male chauvinism on display that was taken for granted in those days but now strikes the viewer as jarring.
All these films were in the last decade of Grant’s career who retired in 1966 at the relatively young age of 62 because the he felt increasingly uncomfortable playing the dashing romantic lead and being partnered with women young enough to be his daughters. In the last of such films which was the truly excellent Charade, he was 59 years old and Hepburn was just 34 and she looked much younger than that. It is reported that he insisted that the script be written so that she pursued him and not the other way around, to avoid the impression that he was a creepy old man chasing a young woman. In the next two films which were his last, in Father Goose (1964) he played a grizzled, unkempt, and misanthropic beachcomber, and in Walk Don’t Run (1966) he returned to the debonair character but only as a matchmaker to a young couple.
Grant was an actor like James Garner and Roger Moore, all of whom played pretty much the same easy-going charming characters in almost all their films but did it so well that one tended to overlook how hard it is to pull off that light comedic touch. The character Grant created on screen was so appealing that people would forget that it was just a character and once when he was told by an interviewer that “Everybody would like to be Cary Grant”, he is said to have replied “So would I”.
One of the nice things about these old films is that the main credits come at the beginning, right after the title, though sometimes there might be a very brief introductory scene. The credits would feature the main stars first, then in smaller type the bigger supporting actors, and then came the longer list of those with smaller speaking parts, followed by the screenwriter, composer, producer, other technical people, and finally the director. Nowadays, some of the major films get right into the story without even showing the title, and this has on occasion misled me to thinking the film had started when it was a preview of another film or a short film about something else. This happened to me with the latest Star Wars film.
The reason I like the credits up front is that I remember the faces of minor actors and as soon as I see them on screen, I try to remember their names and this can be distracting if I cannot immediately recall them. When the credits come first, I look for familiar names in the list and then when I see them later, it is not a distraction. Furthermore, at the end of the old films, one just sees ‘The End’ or something else indicating that it is over and one can get up and go. Nowadays, the credits go on for a long time and some people leave immediately as soon as they start, while others (like me) try to stay on to see the names of the actors whose faces I found familiar but could not name or to learn the name of a new face that I was impressed by. Sometimes the music over the end credits is good, making me want to stay for that too, and now we have the phenomenon of an occasional after-credits bonus scene, making the decision of whether to stay until the bitter end a problematic one. I like to stay to the end but frequently my companions get up to leave, putting pressure on me to follow suit. I am not sure why so many films put the title and credits at the end these days. Maybe it is because the credits have become so lengthy.
Another thing about older films is that they do not have the subdued bluish tint that seems to be almost universally the case these days, and so the colors seem very vibrant. I wrote a few years back about why filmmakers started adding a subdued bluish tint some years ago, after they developed the ability to alter the color palette during post-production.
What, no North By Northwest?
Holly Golightly, peering out from behind her Oliver Goldsmith “Manhattans”, graces every one of my devices welcome screens.
Mano Singham says
I saw that film quite recently so will let a few years go by before seeing it again.
I agree, Charade is a fun movie!