Judge Brett Cullum broke out his tuxedo and cocktail set for this one...it just seemed appropriate.
Our reviews of The Awful Truth (published April 25th, 2003), His Girl Friday (published December 15th, 2000), Holiday (published March 29th, 2007), Only Angels Have Wings (1939) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published April 14th, 2016), and The Talk Of The Town (published March 21st, 2003) are also available.
Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.
The Cary Grant Box Set gathers five films that feature the suavest actor that ever graced the silver screen: Holiday, which has never seen a release in the United States, Only Angels Have Wings, The Talk of the Town, His Girl Friday, and The Awful Truth. It's a handsome box fit for the one man everybody wanted to be, including the actor himself. Still, it seems a little greedy to release a box set with only one new film added to a mix of movies that have already been in the stores. So is it worth it?
Facts of the Case
A charming nonconformist (Cary Grant) becomes engaged to a very wealthy woman, but soon realizes her earthy sister (Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter) is the better catch.
• Only Angels Have Wings
• The Talk of the Town
• His Girl Friday
• The Awful Truth
All my life, I've been trying to figure out how I can become Cary Grant. Unfortunately, it would take an extreme set of circumstances to produce the person whom we know as Grant. He was born Archibald Alexander Leach to a middle class family in Bristol, England. One day, when he was nine years old, he was told his mother had gone to a resort…indefinitely. The truth, though, was that she had been committed to a mental institution, where she would remain for years without his knowledge. Five years later, he lied about his age, forged his father's signature, and ran off with a group of traveling comedians. The troupe wound up appearing on Broadway. Archibald Leach was asked to stay to appear in another show; later, movie offers came. His biggest splash was with Mae West in a film called She Done Him Wrong. With that role, Cary Grant was born, at the age of twenty-nine. He matured as an actor, perfecting his showy trademark of upper crust British charm mixed with dark good looks and a sly sense of humor. Cary Grant marred five times in his life, but only had one daughter, with Dyan Cannon. Some speculated his deepest relationship was with fellow actor Randolph Scott. They lived together most of the time, and studios found their relationship a troubling publicity nightmare. But whatever happened in his personal life (which has been speculated to be quite a wild and turbulent one), Hollywood and audiences loved him.
Holiday is from 1938, the same year as Bringing Up Baby, which also featured Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. One was a hit, and the other was a flop. No fair guessing which one. Holiday started out as a play, written by the same author who wrote Hepburn and Grant's comeback vehicle, The Philadelphia Story. And it was the ghastliest of all things imaginable—a remake of a 1930 film for which Ann Harding had been nominated for an Oscar. See? Hollywood wasn't all that creative back in the '30s, either. Holiday is an enjoyable romp despite being a remake. It shows both Hepburn and Grant in fine form, even if the story seems a touch light and predictable.
The transfer on Holiday is quite good. It has undergone several preservation and restoration processes, which make it remarkably clear and luminous. Black levels are nicely controlled. There is a slight grain, but it is not distracting. The mono soundtrack is clear and also well-preserved. The extras include a featurette on Cary Grant at Columbia, and deleted scenes only seen in still photographs from Holiday. The featurette is a nice recap of Grant's career in the Columbia days, which includes all the films in this collection; the still photos from a scrapped Lake Placid sequence are only interesting as an oddity.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) feels a little odd next to all these comedies. At first, Grant seems almost miscast as a tough airmail pilot. The film gives Grant a rare shot to play emotional scenes and go outside his suave natural demeanor into more dramatic territory. Even though Jean Arthur is a typical, strong Howard Hawks woman who is real and straight, it was Rita Hayworth, projecting a smoldering sexuality, who rose up to star status from her smaller role as Grant's ex-girlfriend. But the film seems less about the women, and more intrigued with Hawks' vision of the men. The pilots are callous, stoic, and have a sense of duty that is truly remarkable. The male bonding in the movie trumps any romantic intrigue when all is said and done.
The transfer is nice and clear, even with a slight wash of grain. Sound is in the original mono, but quite clear given the age of the film. Only Angels Have Wings has a featurette on the production, which is an interesting look at the story of the film.
The Talk of the Town (1942) is another somewhat dramatic entry in the Cary Grant canon, but it also has the trademark light moments Grant is known for. He gets to play a political radical and criminal hiding out in a schoolteacher's home (Jean Arthur) when he is framed for murder. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It's a surprisingly spry movie despite its sometimes serious meditation on politics and the judicial system. Even though the movie intends to be an outright screwball comedy, the dark tones surrounding it prevent The Talk of the Town from really being able to enter that genre. The film works mainly because of the leads, who handle the material well enough to keep us fully engaged despite the genre confusion.
The transfer is a nice one, but again we see a slight wash of grain over the film. The mono sound is clear enough to preserve the score and dialogue. The Talk of the Town also contains a nice featurette on the film.
His Girl Friday (1940) is easily the best movie in the collection. It simultaneously redefined and ended the screwball comedy by being the best example of the genre. It's a golden piece of fast-played farce, so well delivered and believable it sings like a fine symphony. I think it could be its own box set, or at the very least the most essential Cary Grant film in any serious collection. And guess what? The film is another remake of a play and 1931 film, called The Front Page, which predated this incarnation by only a decade. Key to His Girl Friday was a gender switch for one of the leads, in which Rosalind Russell (The Women) cements the role of a strong Howard Hawks woman.
His Girl Friday gets an amazing amount of extras. Four featurettes and a commentary make it the disc with the most bang for your buck in the entire box. The commentary features Todd McCarthy, film critic and author, who presents a meticulously prepared yet engaging track. The four featurettes include a look at the film, a portrait of Howard Hawks, a discussion of Rosalind Russell, and the origins of the play and movies that came before this version. Unfortunately, this disc exactly mirrors a previous release, down to the commentaries and featurettes. It is separately available on the Columbia Classics label in this exact incarnation.
The Awful Truth (1937) started off as a play, then was made into a couple of silent features, so it's another remake (further indicating Hollywood's creative juices have never been prolific). It's a divorce comedy about two people who really don't want to divorce, but who don't realize that until they almost get remarried. Though it pales next to His Girl Friday, it's still a hell of a lot of fun that had me giggling with glee throughout. It's probably the first film to firmly stamp the Cary Grant signature style of crazy charisma, throwaway fast delivery, and slapstick moments too silly for any serious leading man. Grant almost left the production while it was filming because he was quite frustrated with the way the cast was encouraged to improvise most of their scenes. He was convinced it was going to be a train wreck, but the head of Columbia convinced him to stay. Oddly enough, the movie was a huge hit. And as a result, improvisation became a tool Grant would use throughout his career. Irene Dunne makes a strong impression here; she was even nominated for an Oscar. Animal lovers will note a famous costar in the film—the dog known as Asta from the Thin Man series shows up as Mr. Smith. Cat lovers get equal time, as a funny black feline plays a prominent role in the climax.
Pretty much the same transfer as the other films: some grain here and there, but overall a nice clear look. The Awful Truth has two featurettes—one on the film, the other on the life of Cary Grant.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As noted before, all of these titles, except for Holiday, have already seen individual releases. Sony has not announced any plans to release that film as a single disc here in the United States, so this box set is the only official way to acquire the title without an all-region player. None of the other movies receive more attention than they previously have apart from the new featurettes unique to the set, and it seems the only physical alterations are new pictures of Grant on the front of the discs to make them obviously a part of the collection. Also included are a set of ten very nice postcards, which feature the movie posters and press shots from the films. It's a great package with a lot of loving detail, but it is forcing collectors to fork over an extra chunk of change simply to see some featurettes, a new title, and a handful of postcards. Take one look at the Amazon page for The Cary Grant Box Set, and you will see the anger and frustration of many consumers over this release. Despite all the slick packaging and improved transfers, it seems many are angry after they paid for each Grant release as they came out, and accuse Sony of being greedy. Maybe that is the case, but it's hard to stay angry at the company when you watch all of these films gathered together. I will say the transfers here are uniformly nice and upgraded. Compared to the single title edition of The Awful Truth, the transfer here looks better than the 2003 stand alone release. So one way Sony can justify the new The Cary Grant Box Set is through the upgrades to the visual content. The only title which receives no additional attention is His Girl Friday. If you haven't bought any of these titles before, this set is a no-brainer. It's cheaper than purchasing them one by one, and the extras and transfers on four out of five are superior. So maybe it's time to trade in four releases, and bite the bullet one more time.
Cary Grant was one of a kind, and his legacy endures. Unlike so many leading men of the Depression era, he transcends time, because he's still unique. He'll never be replicated, and nobody could ever live up to his mystique. What a shame you could never hope to create a definitive box set of the man's work, since he spanned three decades and several studios in his life. His work with Hitchcock in films such as North by Northwest will always be best remembered, but there's something to be said about these Columbia productions, which offered Grant the chance to charm us in simple light comedies and character-driven dramas. We may never know exactly who Cary Grant was, because he kept his personal life deeply shrouded in mystery. But thank God for these glimpses of the persona he captured on screen. The Cary Grant Box Set provides us with a great look at his peak work in screwball comedies such as The Awful Truth, Holiday, and His Girl Friday. It also adds a dash of the dramatic with Only Angels Have Wings and The Talk of the Town.
Cary Grant was a style icon. Ian Fleming even based his mental image of James Bond on him—a role Grant turned down when it was offered to him. He was wise enough to know that he was destined to be remembered as a man in a tux without having to carry a gun or drink shaken martinis. Women loved him, and men wanted to be him, without anything more than his silver tongue and his willingness to be goofy now and then. He was the vaudeville clown without a mother turned into the ultimate gentleman. And that was enough for us to last an eternity.
Guilty of making a tuxedo look far too comfortable, and for making suave, cool charm seem attainable. Damn him for making it all look far too easy.
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Scales of Justice, The Awful Truth
Perp Profile, The Awful Truth
Distinguishing Marks, The Awful Truth
• Making-of Featurette
Scales of Justice, Holiday
Perp Profile, Holiday
Distinguishing Marks, Holiday
• Featurette: Cary Grant at Columbia
Scales of Justice, Only Angels Have Wings
Perp Profile, Only Angels Have Wings
Distinguishing Marks, Only Angels Have Wings
• Documentary Featurette
Scales of Justice, His Girl Friday
Perp Profile, His Girl Friday
Distinguishing Marks, His Girl Friday
• Documentary Featurette
Scales of Justice, The Talk Of The Town
Perp Profile, The Talk Of The Town
Distinguishing Marks, The Talk Of The Town
• Documentary Featurette
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