Tag Archives: Cary Grant

Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks)

The first forty-five minutes of Only Angels Have Wings is mostly continual present action. Jean Arthur arrives in a South American port town, looking around–followed by two possible ne’er-do-wells (Allyn Joslyn and Noah Beery Jr.)–and the film tracks her experience. Great direction from Hawks, beautiful cinematography from Joseph Walker. Pretty soon she discovers they’re not ne’er-do-wells but ex-pat American fliers doing mail deliveries.

It actually takes a while to understand the mail outfit, with Jules Furthman’s ingenious script taking its sweet time to reveal everything. Arthur with Joslyn and Beery–then meeting adorable entreprenur Sig Ruman–seems like its doing character introduction on Arthur and maybe some setting setup, but it’s not. Arthur’s going to get character introduction and ground situation stuff done, but not in these opening moments. And while it’s establishing the physical setting, it’s only hinting at it. It’s moving the action to it without actually establishing it. Arthur’s only on layover, after all. Her boat leaves before dawn the next morning.

Instead, Hawks and Furthman are subtly using this time to acclimate the audience to the setting. All that stuff about the town and the boat, it’s not really important, what’s really important is the hotel slash bar slash airport. Ruman’s co-owner is Cary Grant, who shows up about eight minutes in. Hawks and Furthman have already done an extraordinary amount of work in those eight minutes. And there’s no time to establish Grant when he does arrive because it’s time for the mail to go out and so there’s an airplane action sequence. Hawks excels at the airplane action sequences. The miniatures are always spot on, the actual airplane footage is breathtaking (and terrifying).

It’s after the twenty-five minute mark–so twenty minutes left in the opening “prologue”–before real character work on Grant starts happening. There’s a lot of exposition and implied stuff. There’s the entirely functional introduction of Thomas Mitchell during that first action sequence; he’s one of the main characters, but he’s a stranger to Arthur and the audience for the first ten minutes he’s on screen. Because Hawks has got a tense action sequence to do and it comes first.

Once Arthur and Grant finally do start getting talking and flirting, Wings momentarily becomes almost a romantic dramedy. Furthman’s dialogue, Arthur and Grant’s chemistry, it’s a break from everything going on in this microcosm Hawks and Furthman have submerged the audience in.

But Only Angels Have Wings isn’t some short subject about Jean Arthur’s layover with some ex-pat fliers before she continues on her way. It’s not even about what happens when she decides to stay because, well, she just found Cary Grant in the jungle and he’s single. At the forty-six minute mark, the film shifts protagonists. Those first forty-five minutes were to transition to top-billed Grant taking over from second-billed Arthur. Hawks and Furthman have gotten the audience acclimated and it’s time to get into everything else, like Ruman and Grant’s business failing and the constant danger of the mail delivery.

The next section of the film, which really runs to the end as far as pacing goes, but the next big event in the film is the arrival of Richard Barthelmess. He’s got history with Grant and Mitchell, but Grant needs a new pilot, leading right away to some great action sequences. But Barthelmess isn’t alone it turns out, he’s got wife Rita Hayworth with him. And Hayworth’s got some history with Grant.

Furthman and Hawks are able to get away with the one-two punch of Barthelmess and Hayworth and all their baggage with the existing cast and it never comes off contrived. It’s even gently foreshadowed. So the whole thing then becomes about this group of people–Grant, Mitchell, Barthelmess, Hayworth (and the other pilots to some degree)–figuring out how they’re all going to exist in this place. Because even though everyone’s flying around, they’re all stranded. The passenger boat only comes every couple weeks, which means Arthur is still around, moving through the film–mostly removed from the subplots save for her now prickly relationship with Grant.

The film resolves the romance stuff by the end of the second act. Furthman’s script always takes the time to do the scenes right–there’s other stuff going on too, Wings gets away with bubbling up subplots whenever it wants, specifically ones involving Ruman and Mitchell.

Then the third act starts with a bang, only to keep intensifying to almost excruitatingly intolerable levels, both through action and drama. The drama then moves on to echo and resolve items introduced at the beginning and during the character setup. It’s a phenomenal script.

All the acting is great. Grant’s able to toggle between his nearly screwball romance with Arthur to the weight of being this flier in a constantly dangerous situation to being a manager. He’s got a slightly different relationship with every one of his pilots, something the film never stops acknowledging. Arthur gets this big stuff at the opening–in the forty-five minutes–and then has to share the rest of the film, only her story isn’t always the most interesting since she’s basically just waiting, so her scenes have to count. They do. Apparently Hawks hated her performance but she’s what makes Grant work the way he does. She unsettles him.

Barthelmess is awesome. He and Mitchell have the hardest parts in the film, but Mitchell gets to be both lovable and sympathetic. Barthelmess gets neither. Until Hayworth somehow makes him sympathetic. She and Grant have these complex, layered scenes together–basically all of their scenes together–and they give Grant some very different character development.

But never at the expense of Hayworth or Barthelmess. They get their character development too. Hayworth getting it a lot less dramatically than Barthelmess.

And then Ruman’s great. He’s louder than most of the characters in the film, but it makes him lovable. Also great is Victor Killian as the radio operator. He’s never loud; he steals scenes quietly. He and Arthur have this whispering scene and it’s stunning.

Only Angels Have Wings is this fast, complex, beautifully made–everything about the production is stellar, down to the costumes–wonderfully acted strange little big movie. Hawks has all sorts of ambitions, some he realizes on his own, some he needs the actors for. But damn if he doesn’t accomplish them all. Even if he didn’t like Arthur’s performance.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Hawks; written by Jules Furthman; director of photography, Joseph Walker; edited by Viola Lawrence; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Cary Grant (Geoff Carter), Jean Arthur (Bonnie Lee), Richard Barthelmess (Bat MacPherson), Rita Hayworth (Judy MacPherson), Thomas Mitchell (Kid Dabb), Allyn Joslyn (Les Peters), Sig Ruman (Dutchy), Victor Kilian (Sparks), John Carroll (Gent Shelton), Don ‘Red’ Barry (Tex), Milisa Sierra (Lily), and Noah Beery Jr. (Joe).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 100 YEARS OF RITA HAYWORTH BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MICHAELA OF LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD.


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Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawks)

I’m hard pressed to think of a better comedy than Bringing Up Baby. Between Hawks’s direction, Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde’s script, the acting (particularly from Katharine Hepburn, who’s so funny, one just starts laughing when she starts talking to save the trouble of having to laugh after her line), it’s probably not possible to be any better than Baby.

The film opens with a hen-pecked Cary Grant getting his mission for the film–get May Robson to donate a million dollars to the museum. What Grant doesn’t know is how Hepburn’s going to get in his way, for how long and how intensely (not to mention she’s Robson’s niece). So Baby is a perfect blend of screwball and situational comedy. There’s enough room for everything, with Hawks and editor George Hively keeping it moving a brisk pace.

After Grant’s established, Hepburn sort of takes over as protagonist, though once Charles Ruggles shows up as this delightful dip, Hawks hovers between characters. They’re hunting a leopard in New England after all.

Baby is never mean-spirited–except maybe about Virginia Walker as Grant’s fianceé–all of the characters mean well and Hepburn either confuses them or they’re inept (or both). The approach gives the comedy has edge without ruthlessness. And Walker’s barely in it, otherwise dismissing her wouldn’t work.

Some great supporting performances–Robson, Barry Fitzgerald, Fritz Feld, Walter Catlett–it’s a big cast and Hawks handles them masterfully.

Baby is a singular motion picture, brilliantly made, absolutely hilarious.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Howard Hawks; screenplay by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde, based on a story by Wilde; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by George Lively; music by Roy Webb; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Katharine Hepburn (Susan), Cary Grant (David), Charles Ruggles (Major Applegate), Walter Catlett (Slocum), Barry Fitzgerald (Mr. Gogarty), May Robson (Aunt Elizabeth), Fritz Feld (Dr. Lehman), Leona Roberts (Mrs. Gogarty), George Irving (Mr. Peabody), Tala Birell (Mrs. Lehman), Virginia Walker (Alice Swallow) and John Kelly (Elmer).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE GREAT KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON 2015 HOSTED BY MARGARETPERRY.ORG


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She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman)

With her cane and big goofy hat, it’s hard not to think of Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera when Mae West breaks out into her first song in She Done Him Wrong.

While West wrote the film’s source, a play, it seems like the film would play better as a silent. Her acting “style” doesn’t lend well to dialogue and the shock value of her lines would work just as well on title cards.

The film drags—it’s barely sixty-five minutes and Sherman has to pad it with four or five musical numbers. He does manage to give the impression he opened it up though. The film takes place in a night club; the one trip outside stays in memory long enough open the picture.

Somehow Sherman and director of photography Charles Lang can come up with nice camera movements to track West and her swaggering strut, but Sherman and editor Alexander Hall can’t do one nice cut. The film’s editing is atrocious. Every time the shot changes, whether between scene or between angle, it’s hideously jarring.

Some of the supporting performances are good. Dewey Robinson is great as West’s flunky and Owen Moore (in a theatrical turn, which I’m not using as a pejorative term) is excellent as her ex-boyfriend. Noah Beery’s okay, nothing more, and Rafaela Ottiano is weak. David Landau has some moments.

Cary Grant, however, has no good ones.

The film and West (it’s her vanity piece, after all) are a chore.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lowell Sherman; screenplay by Harvey F. Thew and John Bright, based on a play by Mae West; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Alexander Hall; music by John Leipold; produced by William LeBaron; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mae West (Lady Lou), Cary Grant (Captain Cummings), Owen Moore (Chick Clark), Gilbert Roland (Serge Stanieff), Noah Beery (Gus Jordan), David Landau (Dan Flynn), Rafaela Ottiano (Russian Rita), Dewey Robinson (Spider Kane), Rochelle Hudson (Sally), Tammany Young (Chuck Connors), Fuzzy Knight (Rag Time Kelly), Grace La Rue (Frances), Robert Homans (Doheney) and Louise Beavers (Pearl).


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North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)

North by Northwest seems a little like a Technicolor version of an early Hollywood Hitchcock–the regular man combating the bad guys against incredible odds (at an American monument no less), but it’s a lot more.

The film’s a tightly constructed proto-blockbuster; there’s not a bad frame in the film, not an imperfect scene. North moves steadily, its speed sometimes increasing and rarely decreasing. With that barreling pace, it always seemed to be just over ninety minutes. I was shocked to discover it runs over two hours.

It’s hard to imagine the film without Cary Grant, whose comic timing is essential to the picture. There’s one scene where Grant looks at the camera just for a moment and it feels like a throwback to Bringing Up Baby. Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman waste no time establishing Grant’s character (beyond a memorable name). The rest, done with Grant and his secretary talking, takes one short scene.

Speaking of Lehman’s script, he gets in a lot of great jokes. Hitchcock just works them into the narrative; its all so grandiose (even before the finish), there’s more than enough room for them.

The filmmakers get away with so much, for instance, one can’t even hold Jessie Royce Landis’s disappearance against them.

She, James Mason, Martin Landau and Eva Marie Saint, they’re all outstanding. It’s Cary Grant’s film, of course, but the supporting cast–can’t forget Leo G. Carroll (who’s dryly hilarious)–make it even better.

North by Northwest is a perfect film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Ernest Lehman; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cary Grant (Roger O. Thornhill), Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall), James Mason (Phillip Vandamm), Jessie Royce Landis (Clara Thornhill), Leo G. Carroll (The Professor), Josephine Hutchinson (Mrs. Townsend), Philip Ober (Lester Townsend), Martin Landau (Leonard), Adam Williams (Valerian), Edward Platt (Victor Larrabee), Robert Ellenstein (Licht) and John Beradino (Sergeant Emile Klinger).


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