Charade (1963)

True confession: I’ve seen some dogs with Cary Grant, but I never saw Charade. Maybe I was saving it for this past weekend, to cheer me up while I recovered from my second COVID booster. A little jaunt to Paris with the lovely Audrey Hepburn modeling a succession of elegant coat dresses and pillbox hats, and those oversized sunglasses that helped define the Holly Golightly look (along with the little black dress), capped off by the mature Cary in a playful mood, turned out to be just the ticket.

I settled down on the sofa with a cup of tea and was instantly drawn in, what with the jazzy, syncopated Henri Mancini score playing behind the titles designed by the great Maurice Binder, of James Bond fame. But then I got distracted. Walter Mathau’s, James Coburn’s and George Kennedy’s names spun by. I didn’t know those guys were in Charade!

Kennedy had only recently left the service, having enlisted in 1943, served under Patton in the infantry, earned two Bronze Stars in the Battle of the Bulge, then up and reenlisted when the war ended.Herman Scobie,” a ruthless guy with a short fuse who had a hook instead of a right hand was an early role for him. 1967 would be his big year: The Dirty Dozen and Cool Hand Luke both came out. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as “Dragline” in the latter. (Little-know others in that movie, since we’re playing the game: Dennis Hopper as “Babalugats,” Wayne Rogers as “Gambler”, Harry Dean Stanton as “Tramp”).

Mathau seemed to be in a bad-guy phase, movie-wise. He used a whip on Burt Lancaster in The Kentuckian (1955) and got beaten up by Elvis Presley in King Creole (1958). Knowing him as Oscar Madison, though, I wouldn’t have believed he was a fake spy—I mean agent—were it not for the suspicious mustache. He had yet to grow into a loveable curmudgeon.

Coburn was close to the peak of his career, coming off The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) when he made Charade. But for a bad decision, he could have kept riding that wave; Sergio Leone wanted him for Fistful of Dollars, but Coburn asked for too much money and the role went to a lesser-known actor, Clint Eastwood.

But who’s that balding little guy with him? The name Ned Glass meant nothing to me, but “Leopold W. Gideon” sure looked familiar. Turns out he was a character actor who played in a number of shows and movies I watched growing up, including Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes, The Monkees and Julia (he was nominated for an Emmy for one episode of that show). His big breakthrough came with West Side Story (1961), where he played “Doc.” Before that, he played a series of uncredited parts in movies with titles like I’m from Missouri (1939), Callaway went Thataway (1951) and Stop, You’re Killing Me (1952). North by Northwest (1959) where he played the uncredited role of the ticket collector, broke that streak.

Grant and Hepburn were entertaining enough, I enjoyed the costumes and the scenery, but it’s the minor characters who kept me watching.

Blonde Venus (1932)

You can watch this film to White tuxedo and grant close-upsee naughty Marlene Dietrich and you can also watch it to see how the studio tried—and failed—to rein her in. The cabaret singer we met in The Blue Angel, the cold-hearted seductress who wears a man’s top hat, reappears here in a glittering white tuxedo. Marlene swings both ways in Blonde Venus (as the actress did in real life). Sauntering onstage in the Paris nightclub where she’s become the star attraction, she frankly admires another showgirl, giving her a fleeting caress in passing, as if to say, I’ll catch you later, sweetie. And yet she also manages to convey an aloofness. It’s part of her allure. Nobody steals her heart, but she dares you to try. (According to her biographer, Donald Spoto, French actor Jean Gabin was the only one to succeed.)

Admiring Dietrich’s performance is the millionaire playboy (a very young Cary Grant) with whom she’d had a brief liaison a couple of years earlier. He fell for her opening number, “Hot Voodoo,” you know, the one where Dietrich comes out in a gorilla suit?

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 8.44.11 PM

I probably should have included a warning: some viewers may find the staging of this number disturbing. And get a load of those lyrics!

That beat gives me a wicked sensation. My conscience wants to take a vacation. Got voodoo, head to toes. Hot voodoo, burn my clothes. I want to start dancing, just wearing a smile. Hot voodoo, I’m aflame. I’m really not to blame. That African tempo, is meaner than mean. Hot voodoo, make me brave. I want to misbehave.

So, there they are, in the Paris nightclub, the seductress and the millionaire. He’s still smitten. Dietrich blows smoke in his face and, the next thing you know, they’re engaged. Yep, he’s a decent guy. So decent that he brings her back to New York so she can reunite with her husband (Herbert Marshall) and young son (Dickie Moore). We’re supposed to believe that beneath the sultry exterior, Dietrich is a devoted mother (as the actress was not, in real life).

Blonde Venus was pre-code, but Dietrich was problematic.english poster Married and the mother of a young daughter, she’d been sexually entangled with her director, Josef von Sternberg, during the filming of the three previous films they’d made together, and was romantically linked to various actors and actresses, carrying on with two or three lovers at a time. With the proceeds from her Hollywood career, she supported her husband and his mistress back in Berlin; the three of them traveled together in the summers, with the daughter in tow. All this was known, and disapproved of, and von Sternberg may have been trying to rehabilitate his protégé’s image with this film, but nobody was buying it. They wanted the seductress. Just look at the poster. Dickie Moore is nowhere in sight. Then there’s the tagline: From the lips of one man to the arms of another.

You know what I love most about Marlene Dietrich? She got away with it.

The Pride and the Passion

Poster - Pride and the Passion, The_05Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Sophia Loren in Napoleonic era Spain. The two men are vying for the woman, butting heads for most of the picture. Wait, there’s more. A big cannon. Okay, that’s it.

I rarely pass up an opportunity to watch Cary Grant, and this epic’s notorious because of the romance that developed between Grant and Loren in the course of filming it. Grant’s marriage to Betsy Drake was dissolving; Loren was waiting for Carlo Ponti to divorce his wife. “Both of us soon realized that the feelings between us were beginning to be laced with love — and we were scared.” In her forthcoming memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Loren admits that she was torn:

I knew that my place was next to Carlo — he was my safe harbor, even though I was still waiting for him to make a decision about our lives; our furtive relationship couldn’t go on much longer. At the same time, it was hard to resist the magnetism of a man like Cary, who said he was willing to give up everything for me. On our last night, he invited me out, looking more solemn than usual. Inside, I was afraid.

There was a gorgeous sunset outside as he turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said simply: “Will you marry me?” My words got caught in my throat. I was like an actress in a movie who’s forgotten her lines.

I felt so small in the face of this impossible decision. “Cary, dear, I need time,” I whispered breathlessly.

He understood. And he deflected my reply with a light touch of humor: “Why don’t we get married first, and then think about it?”

Grant seems to have behaved like a gentleman, and although Loren chose Ponti in the end, the two remained close. “In a treasure trove of memories that I keep in a box, there are letters and notes in Cary’s elegant, joyful handwriting that still fill me with tenderness,” she writes, “they speak to me of a fondness that, although it changed over time, never waned.”

You can get a sense of the heat on the set of The Pride and the Passion from this flamenco scene:


For a Cary Grant fan like myself, the prospect of watching him and Katharine Hepburn together was not to be missed this Memorial Day weekend.  “Holiday” was made in 1938, the same year as the pair’s much better known romantic comedy, “Bringing Up Baby.” This one’s a romantic comedy too, but it’s got an edge. A sad undercurrent that lends the film depth.

Hepburn plays Linda Seton, the older sister of the woman Grant’s character (Johnny) loves. The Setons are a wealthy family with the usual skeletons in the closet. In this case, it’s a younger brother with a drinking problem. Ned Seton has given up his love of music to go into business and his quiet self-destructiveness broke my heart.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Linda has just realized that she’s in love with Johnny.katharine-hepburn-cary-grant-holiday-black-gown-2 She’s too high-principled to steal him away from her sister — nobody does high-principled better than Hepburn — even though we can see that she’s just his type.

So Linda asks Ned to pour her a glass of champagne.

“What’s it like, to get drunk Ned?”

He considers this seriously. “How drunk?”

“Good and drunk.”


“How is it?” Linda persists.

“Well…” He pauses to refill his glass. “To begin with it brings you to life.”

“Does it?” she asks, brightening to the idea.

“And after awhile you begin to know all about it. You feel… important.”

“That must be good!”

“Yes.” He beckons her closer. “And then pretty soon the game starts.”

“What game?”

“A swell game. A terribly exciting game. You see, you think clear as crystal but every move, every sentence is a problem. It gets pretty interesting.”

Linda’s face falls as understanding dawns. “You get beaten then, don’t you?”

“Sure, but that’s good too. Then you don’t mind anything. Not anything at all. Then you sleep.”

“How long can you keep it up?”

“A long while. As long as you can last.”

“Oh, Ned. That’s awful.”

“Think so? Other things are worse”.

“Where do you end up?

“Where does everybody end up?” He says this matter-of-factly. “You die.  That’s alright too.”

Shades of the bitter disillusionment of “Dinner at Eight,” which George Cukor also directed from a stage play. The romance is lovely, right up there with “The Philadelphia Story” (another Cukor gem). But the dialogue lends this film a darker tone.

Many thanks to E. H. for recommending it to me.

North By Northwest

So it’s not the greatest Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant (that would be “Notorious”). It’s not the best Hitchcock film that includes a seduction on a train by a long shot — “The Lady Vanishes” and “The Thirty-Nine Steps” do the boy-meets-girl business much, much better. The mistaken identity business is done much better in “The Thirty-Nine Steps,” too. And Grant’s character’s problems with his mother pale in comparison with those of Norman Bates.

But let’s not be too picky. Grant is terribly charming in this picture and at the top of his form. Eva Marie Saint is lovely, and it’s nice to see her happy and prosperous after “On the Waterfront.” James Mason is delightfully suave as the bad guy. He leaves the sinister stuff to Martin Landau, and that seems exactly right. Landau always struck me as rather sinister in “Mission Impossible.”

Speaking of 60s television, those of us of a certain age get to see a number of favorite spy characters in “North by Northwest.” Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” has a nice role as Grant’s C.I.A. handler, and the Chief (Ed Platt) from “Get Smart” makes a cameo too. If you pay attention, you’ll even catch Wally Powers (Edward Binns) from “It Takes a Thief.”

The trailer’s a classic!


Even a die-hard fan of Cary Grant will find him hard to admire here. I blame the screenwriters. The novel on which “Suspicion” was based is psychologically complex, and quite dark. The heroine of the book (played by Joan Fontaine in the picture) strongly suspects that her husband Johnny (Grant) is trying to kill her, but she’s so in love with him that she drinks the glass of milk he gives her, believing that it is poisoned.


This scene occurs in the film, but Fontaine’s character leaves the milk untouched on her bedside table. You see her face as she contemplates drinking it; Fontaine does love Grant. Who wouldn’t, right?

Well, actually, he is not his usual lovable self in this vehicle. You get flashes of the charming rogue here and there. In one scene, as they drive away from a party and Grant’s character tries to steal a kiss, Fontaine asks him how many women he’s had. Far too many, it turns out. “Once, when I couldn’t go to sleep, I started counting them,” he tells her, “just like sheep jumping over a hedge, and I fell asleep at number 73.”

At moments, you believe that Johnny is truly as bad as Fontaine’s character fears. He seems to have no conscience, is quite manipulative, a pathological liar intent on his own pleasures. He takes advantage of his friend “Beaky” (played by the wonderful Nigel Bruce—imagine a slightly dissolute Watson, still thick but endearing as ever), embezzles from his cousin, threatens Fontaine more than once.

But the evil you begin to perceive is always deflected and in the end you are supposed to think that Johnny is hopeless at managing his finances but at heart a decent sort who can be saved by the love of a good woman. Too bad, because watching Grant abandon his leading-man goodness and embrace a truly immoral role would have been interesting.

Bringing Up Baby

This one’s for Olyvia Eve Garrison, born January 2, 2012

Cary Grant is having the worst day of his life. He’s a paleontologist who’s just assembled a huge brontosaurus skeleton, and he’s about to put in very last bone. All he’s got to do is convince a wealthy widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Random, to give a million dollars to his museum and he’ll be all set.

Enter Katharine Hepburn’s madcap heiress character, Susan, and her pet leopard, Baby. She’s instantly smitten by Grant and used to getting her own way.  Before you know it, she’s got Grant where she wants him…

Unfortunately, the dowager at the front door is Grant’s benefactor, who also happens to be Susan’s aunt.  Things go downhill from there. Mrs. Random’s dog buries the bone, Baby is set free, another leopard appears on the scene, and this one’s not tame. It’s a killer.  Meanwhile, the entire cast ends up in jail. Still with me? Never mind. Susan’s got everything under control.


Welcome to the world, Olyvia.  May you find joy always, and laughter even in adversity.

© Lisa Lieberman 2012

The Philadelphia Story

Kate is in fine form in this picture.  Of course, she got everything she wanted:  George Cukor for her director, Cary Grant for her leading man, cary-grant-and-katharine-hepburn-the-philadelphia-storyJames Stewart as the reporter she gets drunk with, and fine supporting performances from Ruth Hussey and Mary Nash.  You can tell they’re all having the time of their lives.

Kate’s character has painted herself into a corner. She’s got such high standards, no mortal man can measure up.  She’s about to marry a stuffed shirt who worships the ground she walks on—the polar opposite of her first husband (Grant).  Rosalind Russell nearly made the same mistake in “The Front Page.”  How any woman could divorce Grant is beyond me, but Kate’s character is awfully confused when the picture opens.  She thinks she wants to be worshipped.

Fortunately for Kate, she’s got Stewart to remind her how to be human.

But life isn’t only champagne and kisses.  The uptight fiancé cares only for appearances, and things look pretty bad.  He’s ready to defend his bride’s honor, but Grant beats him to it.  Maybe he’s a wee bit jealous, too.

Of course he wins Kate back.  About time she came to her senses!

His Girl Friday

I love Rosalind Russell in this film.  (I love Cary Grant too, but then, I love him in just about everything.)  his-girl-friday-poster-art-cary-everettRussell shines whether she’s bantering with the boys in the newsroom or parrying Grant’s insults.  She knows how to take care of herself, that’s for sure.  Here’s how she talks to Grant’s editor character, who happens to be her ex-husband:

“Now, get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee: There ain’t going to be any interview and there ain’t going to be any story. And that certified check of yours is leaving with me in twenty minutes. I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up.”

Grant’s trying to prevent Russell’s character from marrying another man, and leaving the newspaper business for good.  He took it hard, the divorce.  Or so he claims.  But Russell shows not an ounce of sympathy:

“A big fat lummox like you hiring an airplane to write: ‘Hildy, don’t be hasty. Remember my dimple. Walter.’ Delayed our divorce 20 minutes while the judge went out and watched it.”

I can’t help myself, quoting dialogue left and right.  It’s just so good.  Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote the original play, “The Front Page,” based on their experiences as Chicago reporters, and the story has an authentic feel.  What stands out (apart from the jokes about picaninnies — a reminder that the play dates to 1928) is Russell’s character’s nose for a story.  The boys in the newsroom know it:

Newsman: Well, I still say that anybody that can write like that ain’t gonna give it up permanently and sew socks for a guy in the insurance business. Now I give that marriage three months and I’m layin’ three to one. Any takers?

Hildy: [entering the room] I’ll take that bet. Geez. It’s getting so a girl can’t leave the room without being discussed by a bunch of old ladies…

Newsman: Oh, don’t get sore, Hildy. We were only saying a swell reporter like you wouldn’t quit so easy…

When Hildy’s got a scoop, nothing on earth can compete.  She’ll see her fiancé rot in prison, her future mother-in-law kidnapped by a thug.  She’ll wrestle a gun away from a lunatic killer, lie to the cops.  And marry Grant all over again.  But who can blame her?

(2 March 2011)


Claude Rains’s mother.  Madame Anna Sebastian.  Oh My God, is that woman scary!  With her crown of tightly-braided hair and her severe expression, she comes across as cruel and rejecting. RainsandmotherHard to believe she gave birth to a son like Alex, a man who could harbor an unrequited passion for years — and who can blame him?  Ingrid Bergman’s Alicia is stunning and complex, a woman with a past who wants nothing more than to put her notoriety behind her and redeem herself through love.  Unfortunately, the man she loves, Cary Grant’s Devlin, just can’t get beyond that past of hers.

Poor Alex.  He brings Alicia home to meet his mother, barely able to contain his delight at having snared her, but Madame Sebastian pours cold water on her son’s happiness right away:  “Wouldn’t it be a little too much if we both grinned at her like idiots?”  Of course, she suspected Alicia all along.  In the scene where Alex confesses his gullibility and voices the fear that his sinister colleagues will kill him for his mistake, Madame Sebastian shoots for the heart.  “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity,” she snaps.

On top of this, she smokes like a Nazi!  You know how they hold a cigarette, pinched between the thumb and two fingers, not resting in the V between the index and middle fingers the way decent people smoke?

Okay, I got that out of my system.  Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.  What a grown-up romance they have in this picture.  Neither of them is “nice;” they don’t “meet cute.”  Alicia’s drunk, in addition to being a fallen woman, and the daughter of a Nazi to boot.  Devlin crashes her party, wrestles with her, knocks her out, manipulates her into accompanying him to Rio to work for Uncle Sam.  Then they fall in love and Devlin wrestles with himself, betraying Alicia at every turn.  She loves him still, and redeems herself, almost dies in the process.  But it’s worth it.  Oh, yes.  Totally worth it.

(5 January 2011)