Judge Dylan Charles enters the twilight zone of Cary Grant's career.
Our review of Operation Petticoat (1959) (Blu-ray), published August 5th, 2014, is also available.
"How dare he make love to me—and not be a married man!"—Indiscreet
Submerged with 5 Girls…No wonder the S.S. Sea Tiger turned a Shocking Pink!—Operation Petticoat
Variety is the spice of life!—The Grass is Greener
Adult Sophisticated Comedy!—That Touch of Mink
I love Cary Grant—in a completely platonic way.
His trademark accent and fast-talking ways, plus an ability to handle a range of genres from Hitchcockian suspense to comedy to drama, helped solidify his place as a leading man in Hollywood for decades. Most striking of all, when he said he was going to retire from acting, he actually did retire from acting.
Lionsgate's Cary Grant 4-Disc Collector's Set contains some movies from later in his career: Indiscreet, Operation Petticoat, The Grass is Greener, and A Touch of Mink. It's time to see if this is a worthy treatment to the most dreamy man to hit the silver screen.
Facts of the Case
Lionsgate saw fit to arrange all the movies in chronological order, so here we go through time:
• Indiscreet: Anna Kalman (Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca) is a famous English actress. She has never managed to find the right man, but is instantly smitten with Philip Adams (Cary Grant). Unfortunately, it turns out he's hiding something from her and it's a hell of a secret. Hijinks ensue.
• Operation Petticoat: Cary Grant is Matt Sherman, captain of The Sea Tiger, a junker of a sub that saw better days before the Japanese took a swing at her. His unscrupulous supply officer, Nicholas Holden (Tony Curtis, Spartacus) becomes the least of his troubles when he is suddenly burdened with a cluster of Army nurses. Army nurses of the female variety. Hijinks ensue. Again.
• The Grass is Greener: Lord Victor Rhyall (Cary Grant) and Lady Hillary (Deborah Kerr,) are living a tranquil life using their stately manor as a tourist trap, when Charles Delacro (Robert Mitchum, Angel Face) enters their lives. Soon there's a tug-of-war over Lady Hillary that's only complicated more by Hillary's friend Hattie Durant (Jean Simmons, Angel Face). Guess what ensues. That's right, hijinks.
• That Touch of Mink: Powerful business man Philip Shayne (Cary Grant) accidentally splashes Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day, The Pajama Game) when his car hits a mud puddle. This fairly innocuous event sets off a chain reaction that can only culminate in either a double homicide or marriage.
It's interesting to note that Lionsgate not only put these movies in chronological order, but also in order of descending quality—from the witty, sparkling script of Indiscreet to the almost unbearably cutesy, plot hole-filled mush that is That Touch of Mink. None of these movies really matches up with the best Cary Grant had to offer. There's no His Girl Friday buried in here. Or even a Charade.
Indiscreet is more proof that Grant is always best with an actress of equal strength and presence. Bergman is vivid and shining as the lonely actress and is more than capable of holding her own against Grant's witty, unstoppable banter. It's in the last thirty minutes or so, when Bergman's character is planning her elaborate revenge, that Indiscreet comes together as a cohesive whole.
While I was expecting Operation Petticoat to be both nauseatingly cutesy and appallingly sexist, it managed to find some kind of happy medium in being inoffensively offensive in its portrayal of women and showing the lighter side of submarine warfare.
It helps that the sub is shown to be less than competent before any women even show up, so instead of the women characters being the sole source of all Sherman's troubles, they're just one small fraction.
There's no real counterbalance to Cary Grant's poor over-overburdened Sherman. His love interest is not really a character and possesses the sole defining characteristic of being clumsy. That's not to say that Joan O'Brien doesn't have any screen presence or she's a poor actor, but when the script just calls for the actor to be ditzy and bump into things, there's not much to work with.
The only real opposition to Grant is Tony Curtis's Holden, the vaguely effeminate, extremely unscrupulous supply officer who spends most of the movie either hitting on one of the nurses or trying to circumvent all the Navy's pesky rules.
While Operation Petticoat really is nothing more than fluff, it's at least coherent, competently made fluff with characters who have reactions and motivations that are at least based on reality. Such is not the case of The Grass is Greener—or That Touch of Mink for that matter, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Grass is Greener starts off on an odd note, with a bunch of babies standing in for the actors during the credits. I assumed that this meant the movie was about babies and prepared for the worst. Turns out there's not a single child in the whole movie—which is one of the few good things about it.
The whole movie is centered around the affair that Deborah Kerr is having. However, the whole thing is so rushed into and we have so little introduction to the characters involved, that's it's hard to give a damn about any of them. Within minutes of meeting Robert Mitchum's Delacro, Kerr is supposedly in love with him. This is even harder to swallow given the awkward and frankly odd conversation that they have. I can't identify with her character because I have absolutely no clue what she sees in Mitchum, as lovable as he may be.
Grant's reaction to the whole thing is so repressed and so intellectual that it's hard to identify with him either. His reaction, in fact, promotes a distancing view of the events that are going on in the movie. Rather than drawing the audience into this world, it asks viewers to distance themselves emotionally and try and work through this all rationally.
The only character who has any real life and acts like someone you may meet on the street is Jean Simmons' Hattie. She's a pure ball of energy who, in the course of a five-minute conversation with Grant, removed her shoes, put them back on, removed her necklace, and then put that back on and then ended up using one of her earrings as a hairpin. Peculiar, yes, but after Cary Grant's methodical intellect and Robert Mitchum's usual languid acting style, Jean Simmons is a wonderful change of pace. Thank God for her.
But then things get so odd in the second act, with such a contrived reconciliation scenario, that the audience is left behind once again, in spite of Jean Simmons.
This leaves us with That Touch of Mink.
I'd like to point out now that these four movies form the tail end of his career and that there would only be a few more movies before he retired from the business for good. That Touch of Mink, you contributed to Grant's early retirement; to hell with you.
That Touch of Mink is just an awful little film. I was so worried that Operation Petticoat would offend my liberal sensibilities that I left my guard down for the others—and then I got hit with this one. It has a fairly distasteful view of women, showing them as needy, clingy, indecisive, and incapable of any real action. Doris Day's character is batted about between the three other players, nothing more than a pawn in all of their games. Once again the audience is presented with a cast of characters that is just impossible to identify with.
Once again, Cary Grant is matched up with someone who isn't really his equal. Her character bumbles around destroying parts of his life until he's reconciled with the notion of being with her. There's no real reason why he should be attracted to her. It seems like we'll have to wait till he meets up with Audrey Hepburn in Charade before there's anything worth seeing.
Will the indecisive, ditzy, and bland Doris Day get together with the rich businessman who's a pretty decent fellow, except for his womanizing ways? Do we care? Probably not.
Screwball comedies only succeeded when there's a character present that the audience can identify with in a sea of zaniness. We could identify with Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace, so the audience had something to ground themselves when things went completely haywire. In That Touch of Mink, there are only bland, one dimensional cutouts who provide nothing to center the audience when the fecal matter hits the oscillating unit.
Lionsgate has done nothing to these movies, it seems. There are no special features to speak of, save a single trailer for That Touch of Mink and information on the cast for the aforementioned movie. It doesn't even look like much work has been done with the transfers. They definitely show their age.
All in all, this is hardly a showcasing of Cary Grant's best work. It's the twilight period of his career and it shows. Indiscreet and Operation Petticoat are the best of the lot, still retaining Grant's trademark charm and style. The other two are wastes of his and the audience's time.
That Touch of Mink is hanged for animal cruelty and The Grass is Greener sentenced to lethal injection for criminal misuse of talent; the rest are let off without even a slap on the wrist.
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Scales of Justice, Indiscreet
Perp Profile, Indiscreet
Distinguishing Marks, Indiscreet
Scales of Justice, That Touch of Mink
Perp Profile, That Touch of Mink
Distinguishing Marks, That Touch of Mink
• Cast Information
Scales of Justice, Operation Petticoat
Perp Profile, Operation Petticoat
Distinguishing Marks, Operation Petticoat
Scales of Justice, The Grass Is Greener
Perp Profile, The Grass Is Greener
Distinguishing Marks, The Grass Is Greener
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