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:

High Society

It’s probably unfair of me to start with this detail, but the opening of “High Society” rubbed me the wrong way.  There’s Louis Armstrong with his jazz band and they’re all in the back of the bus!  Yes, this is the 1950s remake of “The Philadelphia Story,” folks, and the status quo will be upheld, come what may.   All the style of the original has been lost, and they’ve added musical numbers to give Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby a chance to croon, in and around drinking cocktails.  But like a bottle of champagne that’s been sitting around, this one lacks fizz.

Where’s the chemistry, I ask you?  Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn had it.  Frank Sinatra’s just speaking his lines, waiting for the next occasion when he gets to sing with that twinkle in his eye.  And Bing Crosby’s just not up to playing against Celeste Holm — of course, James Stewart’s academy-award-winning performance in the role was hard to top.

Honestly, what were they thinking, remaking a picture that was already letter-perfect?  I feel sorry for Grace Kelly, who was lovely.  This dog was the last film she made before her marriage to Prince Rainier and there’s nothing wrong with her performance.  She just wasn’t Katharine Hepburn.  When she says the boat her ex-husband designed was “yar” you don’t believe she knows what the word means.

Watch Hepburn say it right:

Guys and Dolls

My Uncle Lou was a life-long bachelor who called women “dolls” and spent weekends at the racetrack.  His idea of a hot date was taking a “doll” along to the racetrack on Saturday night.  They’d eat dinner in the cafeteria and then he’d give her $20 to bet on any horse she wanted, but if she won, she’d have to split her earnings fifty-fifty.  Either that, or pay him back the twenty.

When I graduated college, I got a job working in a museum downtown, just a few blocks from his office.  We used to meet for lunch in this deli where all the waitresses knew him.

“Oh, no.  Look who’s back,” one of them would say when he walked in the door.

“Hey, Lucy.  Be polite.  I’ve got my niece with me today.”

“You’re related to him?  You have my sympathy, hon.”

“Just bring me a bowl of soup, wouldya?”

Watching “Guys and Dolls” put me in Uncle Lou’s world.  Okay, he never took part in a floating craps game (to my knowledge), but he knew guys like Nathan Detroit, Harry the Horse, and Nicely Nicely Johnson.  Miss Adelaide was the type of doll he’d have taken to the track, and I’m sure he’d have treated her no better than Nathan did.

But here’s the thing:  Marlon Brando’s Sky Masterson had no place in that world.  Leave the singing and dancing aside — you can see he was trying his best to keep up with Frank Sinatra — it’s like he’s in a different movie.  I mean, the guy needs to lighten up, he’s like grim death every time he walks into a scene.  Not even the lovely Jean Simmons could bring him out of his funk.  Watching him woo her in a Havana nightclub was worse than having a root canal.

One final complaint:  Frank Sinatra should have been the one to sing “Luck be a Lady.”  Here’s Old Blue Eyes in Vegas, singing “Luck be a Lady” the way it was meant to be sung:

(26 December 2010)