The 10 essential Cary Grant comedies


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Has there ever been a more charismatic leading man than Cary Grant? From Clark Gable to George Clooney, no screen star ever radiated affable likability and suave charm like the former Archie Leach. He was a movie star back in the era when being a movie star meant something beyond being derided for expressing political opinions (something Grant himself always opposed), and many consider him to be the greatest movie star of all time. He was quick with his wit as he was with a smile, and his comedies are every bit as entertaining as his dramas. Now this list is certainly not a comprehensive one – most Grant fans will tell you that all of his comedies are essential, and you should check them all out when you have the time. It’ll be time amusingly spent – and here’s a list of ten great Cary Grant comedies to start with, in chronological order.

1. “The Awful Truth” (1937)

Director Leo McCarey’s screwball comedy about a divorcing couple who spend their time trying to completely undermine each other’s attempts to move on to new loves was the first time Grant’s trademark light-comic bantering style hit the silver screen, opposite the fantastically game Irene Dunne. In fact, McCarey is credited with helping develop that persona of Grant’s. Even though there was tension on the set between the two, Grant would work with McCarey three more times. This is also one of three ‘couples on the verge of divorce rediscovering their love’ comedies on this list alone.

2. “Bringing Up Baby” (1938)

This Howard Hawks farce was a revelation of Katherine Hepburn’s comic talents, as she plays Susan Vance, a free-spirited heiress who’s been given a tamed leopard named Baby to deliver to her aunt on behalf of her brother. Grant, meanwhile, plays uptight paleontologist David Huxley, who is slated to get married the next day to a less-than-charming woman named Alice Swallow. Susan thinks he’s some kind of animal expert rather than a fossil expert, and she conspires to rope him into her shenanigans once she realizes she’s in love with the exasperated man. While this didn’t do exceptional business at the box office, it’s since grown into one of Grant’s most beloved films.

3. “His Girl Friday (1940)”

Another Hawks effort, this time pitting Grant’s hard-nosed Morning Post newspaper editor Walter Burns opposite Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson, ex-star reporter and Burns’ ex-wife. It seems she’s got marriage plans he’s out to ruin by, among other things, getting her fiancé repeatedly arrested for ridiculous reasons. What proves to be the winning formula, however, is when the case of an escaped death-row convict falls into her lap, and the lure of her job proves too much to resist. The dialog is absolutely rapid-fire here, and although Russell’s part was originally written for a man, and then for several other actresses before she stepped in, she was so determined to make her mark on this picture that she hired her own writer to punch up her scripted lines, disguised as ad-libs, in order to be a match for Grant.

4. “The Philadelphia Story” (1940)

Another remarriage comedy that teamed Grant up with Hepburn once again by director George Cukor, this time with Jimmy Stewart thrown into the mix. Stewart is Mike Connor, a writer and reluctant society reporter with more intellectual aspirations assigned to cover the impending marriage of socialite Tracy Haven (Hepburn) to the newly rich George Kittredge (John Howard), something which both Connor and Tracy’s ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) have seen fit to sabotage. The ensuing back and forth and forth and back again has Tracy torn between the three men. Although Grant and Hepburn had worked together often, she had the reputation of being box office poison for a long while until this film gave her the hit she needed – and the hit she deserved, quite frankly. Aside from the comedy, it’s one of the absolutely classic romantic movies of all time as well.

5. “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944)

One of the most popular Cary Grant performances is also one he didn’t think was very good. He’s very frenetic in this macabre comedy as Mortimer Bewster, the newlywed author who discovers that his brother thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt and his aunts have taken up the habit of poisoning lonely old men. Throw in Mortimer’s other brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey in a role written for Boris Karloff) and his alcoholic partner Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) trying to find a place to dispose of a body they’ve killed (and eventually decide they want to kill Mortimer), all while his wife Elaine (Priscilla Lane) is waiting to start their honeymoon, and you’ve got a really twisted gem from Frank Capra.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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