I’m beginning to think we should proclaim December 2020 Cary Grant month to celebrate the mightiest of legends, Archibald Leach. First, we had Scott Eyman’s biography: Cary Grant- A Brilliant Disguise hitting shelves, then Kino Lorber released a delightful collection of some of the actor’s earliest works, and finally the Criterion Channel also dropped a brand new collection, spotlighting 12 of Grant’s best comedies. So, in response to all of this Cary Grant goodness flooding my consciousness, I wanted to wax poetic about my favorite of the suave performer’s many films.
Without futher ado, here are my top 5 favorite Cary Grant movies:
5.) Father Goose (1964)
This may be one of Grant’s last films, but it’s certainly one of my favorites. The feature spotlights Grant as Walter Eckland, a n’er-do-well who gets suckered into World War II, serving as an enemy plane spotter on a deserted island. His seemingly quiet life is interrupted when he rescues a tutor (Leslie Caron) and her seven young pupils from the clutches of the enemy.
This is one of the earliest Cary Grant movies I remember watching. Truthfully, my grandfather was a plane spotter in World War II, so it instantly struck a chord with me. However, Trevor Horward’s delightful performance didn’t hurt either.
Father Goose is a fascinating entry into Grant’s filmography being that Eckland is quite a departure from the actor’s usual star persona. Rather, the script seems almost a comment on the typical ‘Grant character’. Walter Eckland is not a likable guy for most of the movie, far from it in fact. As the story goes on though, his guard comes down, and we’re eventually able to learn more about just who this man is. This slightly rebellious, suave teacher who Eckland once was is more of ‘Grant character’ than the man he is now. Is the alcoholic, embittered Eckland the future for a man like Roger O. Thornhill?
Ultimately, coming just two short years before the actor retired, Father Goose is a sweet, but layered examination of the Cary Grant star persona and is definitely worth a watch.
Father Goose is available to stream on The Criterion Channel.
4.) Monkey Business (1952)
Monkey Business is a feature I’m always surprised I don’t hear spoken about more. The early 50s comedy features an all-star cast, with Grant starring as Barnaby Fulton, a scientist working to find a youth serum. Ginger Rogers co-stars along with Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn and Hugh Marlowe. The movie pairs Grant with the legendary director Howard Hawks, and as most classic film fans know, the results when those two work together are delightful.
The strength of this movie is in the performances, particularly Grant and Rogers. They have fun with the manic pace of the picture, and throw themselves into the physical comedy of the script with ease. The picture is also a must see for fans of Ginger Rogers. While the actress had no trouble with comedy, she shines in the random, fast-paced Hawksian tone of Monkey Business. It’s a bit of a different performance for both, but it works oh-so-well.
Monkey Business is available across a number of different streaming sites as a rental.
3.) Bringing Up Baby (1938)
I have a very complicated history with Bringing Up Baby. While it is now one of my all-time favorite Grant performances, I initially hated the Howard Hawks comedy after my first-time-watch. I don’t quite remember what didn’t work for me, only that it took me a long time to finally revisit it. This has only happened to me a few times in the past (Rebel Without a Cause being another). Perhaps it results from being in a different stage in life, or having new experiences which finally allowed me to appreciate the comedy.
This movie crafts a fascinating, even manic pace. Grant in particular runs circles around his other roles. I mean this literally… Grant reaches new levels: physically, mentally and verbally. In fact, I will go as far as to say, that Bringing Up Baby is worth it for Cary Grant alone. Once you add in Katharine Hepburn and the always delightful Charles Ruggles, there is so much here to love.
If you’ve only watched Bringing Up Baby once, why not give it another shot this December.
Bringing Up Baby is streaming on HBO Max.
2.) Operation Petticoat (1959)
This might be an unconventional pick for this list, I’m not sure. Operation Petticoat is probably one of the first Cary Grant films I ever watched as a baby classic Hollywood fan. The World War II comedy is a delight and a joy… okay, this isn’t really a rarity in Grant’s career. Furthermore, I know I’ve said this before (and about other movies), but I’m always surprised I don’t hear this film talked about more.
Grant is his usual smooth self this time around as the captain of a navy submarine. All seems to be going swimmingly until his crew find themselves living in uncomfortably close quarters when they rescue a group of navy nurses from a war zone.
The combination war/sex comedy is a fun one and very much taps into a similar vibe as something like McHale’s Navy. I guess it should actually be said that the 1964 situation comedy actually had a bit of an Operation Petticoat vibe. Take a look! They even use a lot of the same stock footage.
Meanwhile, the supporting cast is impressive to say the least, featuring: Arthur O’Connell, Tony Curtis, Dick Sargent and Gavin MacLeod. Classic TV fans should also keep an eye out for a very young Marion Ross.
Operation Petticoat is available to stream with the Cary Grant collection on the Criterion Channel.
1.) Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
I’ve spoken often of my love for Arsenic and Old Lace. The movie not only holds a spot as my favorite Frank Capra film, but also as a criminally under-appreciated Cary Grant starring role.
This is, admittedly, more of a Halloween movie. However, I will stop to watch it anytime I find it playing. Grant is particularly good as theater critic Mortimer Brewster, a newly married man who discovers his unconventional family aren’t quite the people he thought them to be. Grant walks a fun line, managing to capture much of his Bringing up Baby zaniness, while still serving as the obligatory ‘straight man’ in this colorful cast.
Grant’s supporting players are equally responsible for this joyful movie. John Alexander gives one of my favorite performances of all time as Teddy. He’s one who often pops up in my classic TV watching, and it always delights me to see the chameleon like character actor. Meanwhile, fans of Edward Everett Horton, Peter Lorre and Jack Carson should likewise add this one to their lists. It’s a fun little gem, and is well worth the time.
Arsenic and Old Lace is available as a rental through a variety of streaming sites.
All in all, I’m not entirely sure when I first discovered the amazingness that is Cary Grant. He just feels like one of those performers who has always been there. While he didn’t often venture away from his stock character, it never felt tired or over-used. Grant was inherently fresh, stylish and incredibly likable. This is why he continues to live on as one of the all-time greats.
What’s your favorite Cary Grant movie? Shout them out in the comments!
Podcaster, film historian, and general lover of all things classic film and television. Studying the contributions of women behind the camera in classic television.
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