It’s really impossible to do a definitive list of must-see Cary Grant movies. He made dozens of classics over a long career, most of them good, several great, and very few forgettable. Apart from Cary Grant’s collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock, I like his screwball comedies and light romantic roles best. So here’s a completely subjective list of must-see Cary Grant comedies, each one a delight.
For my money, the best screwball comedy ever made, with rapid-fire overlapping dialog and hilarious performances from Grant, spunky Rosalind Russell and a sublimely bland Ralph Bellamy. In this crackerjack remake of Ben Hecht’s play about the newspaper biz, The Front Page, Grant plays the editor, an irresistible rascal, and Russell plays his star reporter and ex-wife trying to quit the ink-stained life and marry an insurance salesman. Plot twists, priceless bits of physical comedy and terrific supporting performances keep His Girl Friday crackling along, Superb.
Here Grant is an absent-minded professor, painstakingly putting together dinosaur bones from his archeological dig. Katharine Hepburn is the ditzy heiress whose terrier (none other than Asta of Thin Man fame) steals the last bone he needs. And the “Baby” of the title turns out to a pet leopard. Another screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby speeds along at a breakneck pace through silly plot twists and pleasantly nonsensical proceedings. A failure at the box office when it was released, it stands today as a classic comedy, with two great stars in top form - Hepburn far fizzier than usual, and Grant, usually so suave, befuddled and flustered instead. Charming.
3. ‘Topper’ - 1937
George and Marion Kerby (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett), a wealthy, carefree couple, take one joyride too many in their fabulous roadster and suddenly find themselves ghosts. Stuck in limbo until they do a good deed, they decide to bring a little joy into the staid life of their very proper banker, Cosmo Topper, and manage to have a bit of posthumous fun for themselves. Bennett is lovely in daring, pre-code costumes, and Grant is his suave and sporting self. Full of silly, ghostly sight gags, and send-ups of the stuffy, it’s another screwball comedy that kept depression audiences richly entertained. (It also spawned a later TV series.)
Another pairing with Katharine Hepburn, this time in a Philip Barry play about wealth, society, materialism and following your dreams. Grant plays a young businessman who just wants to make enough money to take a little “holiday” and discover himself. He falls in love, finds out that the girl is filthy rich, and is equally surprised to discover he’s really in love with her younger sister (Hepburn). Grant is less smooth and more easy-going, making use of his early acrobatic training to do “a back flip-flop.” Hepburn is bright, warm and engaging in a movie that ought to be seen more often. A gem.
Grant’s only pairing with the other Hepburn - Audrey - is reminiscent of his lighter Hitchcock roles. Hepburn is a suddenly widowed beauty being pursued by a nasty bunch of American gangsters in Paris, and Grant is her mysterious protector - or is he? Twenty-five years older than his pretty costar, Grant keeps the romance light, and Walter Matthau turns in a great performance in this fun, frothy caper film. Hepburn asks and answers the question that perfectly sums up Cary Grant: “Do you know what’s wrong with you?” “What?’ “Nothing.” Indeed.
I don’t know that "angelic" is the first adjective that leaps to mind about Cary Grant, but somehow he makes a believable angel, albeit one named Dudley. Sent from heaven to help beleaguered bishop David Niven and his gorgeous wife Loretta Young, the earthy angel charms the socks off everyone in the household except the bishop. Another holiday movie about the true meaning of Christmas and the values we’re supposed to hold, it proceeds with a light touch. Sweet holiday fare.
Okay, it’s not a great film, but I have a soft spot for this patriotic comedy casting Grant as the long-suffering commander of a wounded, belching, Pepto-Bismol pink submarine limping across the wartime Pacific. He’s trying to keep control of the machinations of his exec (Tony Curtis), a social-climbing hustler who wants to get back to the admiral’s staff at Pearl Harbor, and he’s dealing with five Navy nurses who've been stranded on his sub. It‘s trite, clichéd, and more than a little smarmy with ‘50s attitudes toward women in uniform and in general. I don’t care. I love it anyway.
Grant turned down a fifth film with Hitchcock to do this odd, sweet little movie about the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, his last movie. He plays a British businessman who can’t find a hotel in the overcrowded city, and winds up sharing a spare room in the apartment of a proper young woman (Samantha Eggar) who’s engaged to a snobby British diplomat. Enter a young American Olympian (Jim Hutton) who really doesn’t want to discuss exactly which event he’ll be competing in. Grant, suave and irresistible to the last, plays matchmaker. A slight film, but absolutely endearing.