Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hairy Cary! The subtle pompadour is back, as BAM fêtes the one-and-only Mr. Grant

There's never been another male movie star like Cary Grant (that's he at right, as if you didn't know) -- a sexy romantic lead who was also funnier (and subtler) than most comedians. And so good looking. Yet rarely, if ever, did he change his hair style (nor, for that matter, his characterization).  He didn't need to: That barely-rising, pitch-black near-pompadour seemed to suit him to a T, as did every role he undertook. The hair, like his handsome face, was something you could always count on.

No one else has captured the Grant magic, though in our modern era, George Clooney's come closest in his ability to effortlessly combine romance and comedy. Still, there's only one Cary (there he is, above, center, in Once Upon a Time) and for those who want to see him in all his glory -- and on the big screen -- BAMcinématek will accommodate, starting this Friday, July 9, with a 21-day, 20-film salute, its second in as many years. Most of these are movies you'll have seen, perhaps in bits and pieces via television, so the chance to view them screened in a theater may be awfully tempting.

The characters Cary played rarely changed; instead, the actor simply expanded or retracted a bit now and again to show us another, slightly different quality belonging to the Cary Grant who might appear in a wartime comedy (above, center, in the somewhat over-rated I Was a Male War Bride, with Ann Sheridan, right) or a wartime drama (below, left, in Destination Tokyo).  His work for Hitchcock is legendary (and you've probably seen those four films maybe eight or ten times, right?), but what about his early comedies?  Those with Mae West and Ginger Rogers, probably. 

There's at least one film I wager you'll not have viewed: THIRTY DAY PRINCESS (below). One of Grant's earlier movies (from 1934: amazingly enough, this man acted in 14 films in the two years previous to this one!), it also features Sylvia Sidney (below, right) and Edward Arnold, while providing the opportunity to see the actor learning on the job.  His crack timing is still developing, and so, in fact, is his way around the romantic lead.  If he's a bit too hesitant, the actor seems to have innately understood that one simply does not push.  Instead, even if the timing is a tad off, he holds back and charms us -- and his leading lady -- with a sex appeal that's as reticent (and sometimes funny) as it is unstoppable.

If Grant is perhaps the least of this film, everyone else is aces. Thirty Day Princess is Ms Sidney's movie,  and she is simply wonderful in it, playing dual roles as a smart, appealing New York actress and the charming titular princess of a country called "Taronia."  From the mud bath scene that begins the film (don't get excited: the bathers are Edward Arnold and the wonderfully dapper Henry Stephenson), we're in early Hollywood's idea of a tiny foreign kingdom, and a dearer place it would be hard to imagine. The movie is one of those throw-away comedies that were probably produced in record time and left audiences happily contented in the knowledge that Wall Street and Main Street are in the same boat, helping each other like good troupers should.

Among the film's four writers is one, Preston Sturges (shown left), and that fact alone should have buff's salivating a bit. If Sturges, like Grant, has not yet mastered full dexterity here, the film still offers some verbal alacrity.  Visual, too: at one point there's a sudden, very funny roomful of look-alike coppers.  The movie's a little choppy, and the pacing is sometimes off, yet its charm and spirit, like Ms Sidney's, conquers all. Thirty Day Princess -- in a newly struck 35mm print -- open BAM's Cary Grant series this Friday, July 9, with screenings at 4:30, 6:50 and 9:15.

You can find the entire series here.  And getting to BAM is easier than I imagined.  Obtain your directions -- subway, bus, address, etc. -- here.

All photos are from the films themselves, 
except that of Mr. Grant, at top 
-- from 1940 by Scotty Welbourne, © MPTV Image 
and courtesy of -- 
and the photo of Preston Sturges, 
which comes courtesy of Wikipedia.

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