It Is To Laugh

After all the heavy stuff last weekend, I was ready for some rather lighter fare. Namely, classic screwball comedies from the ’30s and ’40s starring Cary Grant. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that a suave and sophisticated leading man like Grant, one of the greatest legends of the Golden Age of Hollywood, had the most success with comedic roles. Grant never won an acting Oscar, and his two nominations were for serious roles in movies few people have seen. Well, over the course of the week, I re-acquainted myself with four of his best and funniest from the first decade of his three+ decade career.

The Awful Truth (1937)

Leo McCarey, who had worked with W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers and was responsible for the pairing of Laurel and Hardy, directs Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in this zany story of fractured love. Lucy and Jerry Warriner allow suspicion of infidelity to creep into the midst of their marital bliss, and before you know it they’re sitting in divorce court arguing over who will get custody of their dog, Mr. Smith (played by Asta of the Thin Man movies). As they wait for the details to be finalized, they both find new significant others to make each other jealous, then attempt mutual sabotage.

Favorite funny moment: Jerry, having foolishly told his new fiance that the phone in his room was answered by his nonexistent sister rather than his soon-to-be-ex-wife is mortified when Lucy shows up at the small gathering of in-laws pretending to be his sister (who has obviously already had a few too many drinks).

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

For many people this is the definitivescrewball comedy (despite bombing in its initial release). Howard Hawks, who dabbled with great success in several genres (comedy, war drama, musical, noir, western, etc.), directs Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in barely-controlled chaos. Dr. David Huxley is a scientist who studies dinosaur bones and is looking to score a huge grant for his museum from wealthy Elizabeth Random. Elizabeth’s niece Susan Vance is a scatterbrained free spirit with a talent for getting herself and anyone near her into the most awkward situations imaginable.

After five minutes with her, David soon finds himself wandering around her aunt’s house in a woman’s bathrobe and pretending his name is Bone, all while he follows the dog George (also Asta, see above) around in hopes of finding the extremely valuable dinosaur fossil he has buried and helps Susan keep Baby, a domesticated leopard, under wraps. Hilarity and bizarre circumstances ensue.

Favorite funny moment: Oh, there are probably too many moments to pick just one. Grant’s comic timing is flawless as always and Hepburn’s airhead act is roll-on-the-floor-laughing funny. Still, to avoid copping out, let’s go with Susan pretending to be a notorious gangster in order to escape from the bumbling constable (watch for the fun reference to The Awful Truth!).

His Girl Friday (1940)

Howard Hawks directs again, but this time it’s Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in a fast-talking look at the newspaper business. Grant plays Walter Burns, an editor who will stop at nothing to get the scoop, even if it means marrying his star reporter Hildy Johnson. But now Hildy has divorced him and is leaving the newspaper business to settle down quietly with the oafish Bruce Baldwin . . . unless, that is, Walter can con her back into the newsroom with the lure of writing one last explosive expose on the impending execution of a hapless factory worker by the corrupt city officials. Grant is in top form here as he and his co-stars fire out snappy dialogue over, around, and above each other. The wit is as hilarious as it is sharp.

Favorite funny moment: Walter plots feverishly to smuggle a roll-top desk concealing a fugitive out of an upper-story room as every character in the movie inadvertently gets in his way. This is probably my favorite movie of the four.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

This movie, based on a Julius Epstein screenplay, was directed by Frank Capra, the man behind such beloved classics as It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life. Cary Grant stars alongside a bizarre battery of eccentric characters played by the likes of Peter Lorre and Josephine Hull. The comedy is dark, but not as dark as you might think. Mostly it’s just extremely funny.

On the eve of his marriage to the minister’s daughter from next-door, Mortimer Brewster discovers that his beloved maiden aunts have been poisoning elderly gentlemen and having his crazy uncle (who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt) bury them in the cellar. His efforts to cover up their misdeeds and keep them out of an asylum are complicated by the arrival of his sadistic, serial-killer brother Jonathan and the sniveling quack Dr. Einstein.

Favorite funny moment: Dr. Einstein makes an interesting discovery when he accompanies Uncle Teddy down into the cellar to survey “the Panama Canal” . . . also Uncle Teddy’s frequent re-enactments of the charge up San Juan Hill.

These four classic films really have very little in common outside of sharing a leading man and containing plots and situations that are fantastically unbelievable. Well, that and the promise of great entertainment. Check them out sometime if you want (or need) a laugh.

~ by Jared on June 15, 2007.

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