Blu-ray Review: Cary Grant Collection | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, July 24th, 2021  

Cary Grant Collection [Ladies Should Listen/Big Brown Eyes/Wedding Present]

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Sep 14, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

By 1941, Cary Grant was an Academy Award nominated A-list star, known for his smoldering good looks, crack comedic timing and winking, urbane demeanor. Like many stars of the Golden Age, Grant’s stardom was preceded by years in the studio system trenches, playing repetitive roles in assembly line programmers. Kino Lorber’s new Cary Grant Collection features three of his early leading roles from the mid-1930’s, two of which co-star Joan Bennett. In addition to tracing Grant’s growth as a comedic leading man, the set also doubles as a primer in the evolution of the screwball comedy subgenre over the course of the decade.

1934’s Ladies Should Listen is a clear case of both Grant and the screwball genre being primed for success but not quite figuring out the formula. The story of a telephone operator at a fancy Parisian apartment complex who falls in love from afar with a philandering American, the plot is screwy enough to qualify but the execution is sorely lacking. Grant would codify his screen persona in 1937’s The Awful Truth; a petulant wise-ass whose irritable pettiness and carefree sarcasm made him effective as both straight man and foil. In Ladies Should Listen, Grant’s Julian De Lussac is an empty-headed playboy, although the character lacks the sly self-awareness that he would bring to later roles. His boyish enthusiasm is ever-present and there are a few funny scenes, the standout being when he pretends to shoot himself to keep a girl from dumping him over the phone. There’s also some fun bits that feel leftover from the pre-Code days, specifically one “unattractive” woman’s attraction to Grant leading her to say she’d like to be “crushed to a pulp” by him. Still, there’s no plausible reason - beyond him looking like Cary Grant - for the female lead to fall in love with him, and at 62 minutes the film isn’t properly paced in the way that screwball comedies need to be; it’s over before it can build to true insanity.

Big Brown Eyes is the first of two 1936 films that would pair Grant and actress Joan Bennett. Directed by Raoul Walsh, who would later have his biggest hits directing Bogart and Cagney in The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra and White Heat, the film is a bizarre amalgam of police procedural and romantic comedy. Grant plays a NYC detective on the trail of a gang of jewel thieves while Bennett plays his girlfriend who involves herself in the case. While the film is genuinely funny at points, it’s also a complete tonal mishmash, as exemplified by a scene in which a baby is accidentally killed during a shootout. Grant is never quite convincing as a cop, but the script does allow him some fun bits of business, such as dubbing him over with a woman’s voice to demonstrate his character’s facility with voice-throwing. It’s a microcosm of the film as a whole that this skill never becomes relevant to the plot. As his working-class girlfriend Eve, Bennett makes for an excellent scene partner, keeping pace with the rapid-fire dialogue and pulling off the lovely sneer and perpetually arched eyebrows that were staples of female leads in 30s comedies. Bennett found a second life in the 1940s as a brunette femme fatale in the films of Fritz Lang, but her work with Grant shows that she had the range to be counted alongside Blondell, Arthur and Stanwyck as one of the great glamorous sass-pots of the previous decade.

Wedding Present is the best film in the set and the one that feel like it has fully flowered into screwball comedy. A loose precursor to Grant’s 1940 classic His Girl Friday, the film stars Grant and Bennett as a pair of “almost married” Chicago reporters who are renowned for breaking big stories and driving their editor insane with elaborate pranks. To give you an idea of the pace of the film, the first twenty minutes feature them scamming a story out of a visiting dignitary by getting him drunk during a night out on the town, saving a mob boss from drowning and commandeering a plane to search for a sinking boat on the Great Lakes. The film struggles to maintain this breakneck pace as it goes on, but the sharp script, terrific chemistry between Grant and Bennett, and a terrific supporting ensemble qualify it as an underrated gem. The finale, which involves a drunken Grant disrupting Bennett’s wedding by calling in a fake fire/shooting/epileptic fit is a quintessential screwball ending.



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September 15th 2020

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