The 10 essential Cary Grant comedies
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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