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:

Holiday

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.”

“Grand!”

“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!

Suspicion

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.

Milk

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)

Notorious

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)