Cary Grant - The Vault Collection

Cary Grant – The Vault Collection

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Cary Grant – The Vault Collection

In this era of self-isolation, what do film critics do when confined to home? They watch movies, of course. Silly question.

But what movies? That is the challenge. After 36 years as senior film critic of The Toronto Sun, I have seen thousands of movies and collected countless more on DVD and Bluray.

Now, even in semi-retirement, I am keen for more but unable to go to cinemas. So my private collection is solace and sustenance — along with fine French wines and my wife Rachel Sa’s delightful company.

The decisions? We watched a wide range from Jayne Mansfield’s bombshell debut in The Girl Can’t Help It to the latest Stars Wars episode, The Rise of Skywalker. But we did find one obsession for nightly viewing: The 18 black-and-white titles in the historic box set, Cary Grant: The Vault Collection.

The series kicks off with his 1932 debut in a lightweight romantic comedy, This is the Night. The Venice plot is thin and Grant, the former Archibald Alec Leach, gets fifth billing.

But he instantly makes it obvious he is leading man material for Hollywood. His qualities include devastatingly good looks, easy charm, self-effacing humour, oddball comic timing, a mid-Atlantic accent and a suave demeanour that barely whispers of his torturous upbringing in Bristol, England.

These 18 movies range from 1932, in the bawdy pre-code period, through 1936, when censorship repressed sexual innuendo. Together, they present “a star is born” story writ large. When he retired in 1966, Grant was a living legend.

I recall attending a Hollywood movie party in 1984, just two years before Grant died, aged 82. Descending a staircase, I felt every eye from below burning through me. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Grant’s beaming face and cleft chin and suddenly realized I was invisible. The legend was so close I felt his breath. Others were spellbound. I was speechless.

In the early 1930s, he was just another handsome guy trying to make good after honing his talents in Vaudeville.

It was hit or miss. Grant excelled if the leading lady matched his charisma, energy and luminosity. So we marvel even today when he is paired with the sultry Marlene Dietrich (Blonde Venus), the irrepressibly naughty Mae West (She Done Him Wrong, I’m No Angel) and the witty Joan Bennett (Big Brown Eyes and Wedding Present).

Opposite lesser talents, the results are often mediocre (The Woman Accused, Enter Madame!) or awful (Kiss and Make-Up, Ladies Should Listen).

There are also outliers, including a poignant WWI thriller, The Eagle and the Hawk. Fredric March steals the limelight with a riveting antiwar soliloquy. When Grant needed to defer to greatness, he did.

The reward was greatness in his own right in later films from Bringing up Baby (1938) — the screwball comedy with Katherine Hepburn — to Charade (1963) — the comic spy thriller with Audrey Hepburn.

Lest we forget, there were some great Alfred Hitchcock films in between, including North by Northwest. Legend indeed!

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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