If you miss Cary Grant as much as I do-and I mean not only the movie star, the actor, the man, but also the kind of civilized style and ebullient, urbane and witty persona the name calls to mind-there are two good opportunities to see the original article. Both were made by Grant’s favorite director (they did five pictures together), the legendary “gray fox of Hollywood,” Howard Hawks: The major attraction, and one of the fastest, most irreverent and enduringly fresh of screwball romantic comedies, is the 1940 classic, His Girl Friday [ Tuesday, Jan. 27, WLNY, 55, 3 A.M. ]. This was the third Hawks-Grant picture in two years (preceded by Bringing Up Baby and Only Angels Have Wings ) and was based on one of the certifiable masterworks of the American stage, Ben Hecht’s and Charles MacArthur’s newspaper tour de force , The Front Page (filmed twice under that title), but altered here by Hawks-with the aid of Hecht and the brilliant Charles Lederer-from a male reporter-male editor battle of wits to a female reporter-male editor battle of sexes, the two having once been married. Grant never again played a character with quite this kind of larcenous panache or sense of irrepressible mischief. Rosalind Russell gives her finest and most defining performance as his ex, about to leave the Chicago newspaper world and settle down with an insurance man in Albany, played of course by that ultimate second lead, Ralph Bellamy-to whom there’s a very funny direct reference in the film-as there is to Grant’s real name, Archie Leach. The famously long screenplay-at 180 pages (the average being 120)-plays in an unbelievably swift 92 minutes; in fact, it’s probably a trifle too fast for the TV screen and can wear you out if you’re not fresh and ready for the run. The final Hawks-Grant collaboration (after 1949′s hilarious I Was a Male War Bride ), came three years later with the scientist-youth potion comedy Monkey Business [ Tuesday, Jan. 27, AMC, 46, 11:30 P.M. and Wednesday, Jan. 28, 4:30 A.M. ] and was unfortunately the weakest of the five, but the French New Wave counted it among their favorites nevertheless and certainly it has more good things in it than most comic pictures, especially memorable for the scene featuring Grant with Marilyn Monroe in her first really successful comedy performance as aging professor Charles Coburn’s ultra-nubile secretary. The trouble is that these scenes with Grant and Monroe are so much fun and have so much electricity that co-star Ginger Rogers’ stuff pales in comparison. Still, the picture has marvelous Grant-as-absent-minded-professor sequences; he has accidentally (or rather, a lab monkey of his, has) invented a youth potion to disastrous results. Underneath everything, believe it or not, is a celebration of maturity in marital relationships.
The Renoir Watch: One of my all-time favorites by Jean Renoir is the one backstage musical he made, and it’s certainly the finest of these, 1955′s French Cancan [ Friday, Jan. 23, CUNY, 75, 10 P.M., and Sunday, Jan. 25, 3 P.M. ]. A fictionalized, and in many ways stylized, version of the creation of the famous Parisian nightclub, the Moulin Rouge, it stars Jean Gabin as the unstoppable, untamable entrepreneur-showman who attracts and creates stars and brings back the cancan. On a serious level, the film questions the ability (or even the advisability) of “normal” citizens having love relationships with show business people. But it’s the most joyous examination of that theme, and simply gorgeous to look at, featuring a rare appearance and song from Edith Piaf and the most dazzling, breathtaking cancan sequence ever filmed.
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