Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Directed by: Leo McCarey.
Written by: Viña Delmar, based on the play by Arthur Richman.
1937. 91 min. Not Rated.
With: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D'Arcy & Cecil Cunningham.
DVD Features: "In Love with Cary Grant" & "Inside The Awful Truth" featurettes. Trailers. French & English subtitles.

Directed by: Howard Hawks.
Written by: Charles Lederer, based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur.
1940. 92 min. Not Rated.
With: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart & Helen Mack.
DVD Features: Commentary by Variety film critic & Hawks biographer Todd McCarthy. "On Assignment: His Girl Friday," "Howard Hawks: Reporter's Notebook" & "Rosalind Russell: The Inside Scoop" featurettes. Trailers. English & French subtitles.

Directed by: George Cukor.
Written by: Donald Ogden Stewart & Sidney Buchman, based on the play by Philip Barry.
1938. 96 min. Not Rated.
With: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton, Henry Kolker & Binnie Barnes.
DVD Features: "Cary at Columbia" featurette. Deleted scenes photos. Trailers. French, Korean, Spanish & Portuguese subtitles.

Directed by: Howard Hawks.
Written by: Jules Furthman.
1939. 121 min. Not Rated.
With: Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth & Thomas Mitchell.
DVD Features: "Angels: Made in Heaven" featurette. Previews. English & French subtitles.

Directed by: George Stevens.
Written by: Irwin Shaw & Sidney Buchman, Dale Van Every, based on a story by Sidney Harmon.
1942. 117 min. Not Rated.
With: Cary Grant, Jean Arthur & Ronald Colman.
DVD Features: "Talking About Talk of the Town" featurette. Trailers. English & French subtitles.

These five discs offer an excellent sense of the icon’s comedic range, its two crowning jewels being the biting comedy-of-manners Holiday, the collection’s only DVD debut, and the marital screwball The Awful Truth. In the latter, a high society New York couple divorce out of spite. During their two-month countdown to divorce, Grant crashes his estranged wife’s date at a nightclub. In a turn that could have bordered on smug, Grant makes it clear why he’s a cad. The look of love he gives co-star Irene Dunne, captured not in a close-up but a medium-wide shot, could melt anyone. And to make this womanizer even more accessible, Grant accepts his many comeuppances with abandonment. Both films showcase the former vaudevillian’s ease with pratfalls, double-takes, and flips.

Holiday’s free-spirited Johnny Case (Grant) shares the spotlight with Katherine Hepburn’s black sheep blueblood Linda Seton, a role she understudied 10 years earlier in the Broadway production. After a whirlwind courtship, Case meets his fiancée Julia’s family, and is gob smacked at their immense wealth. It’s only a matter of time before he realizes he is in love with the other sister. As his betrothed, the relatively unknown Doris Nolan is subtle, slowing revealing her true colors as her daddy’s material girl. This great ensemble also features Lew Ayres as the sisters’ dejected and soused younger brother and the ubiquitous Edward Everett Horton. Charming and melancholic, Holiday lifts choice selections of the play’s dialogue, breezing by in comparison to the more loquacious Grant-Hepburn-George Cukor-Philip Barry banter-fest, The Philadelphia Story.

In Howard Hawks’ machismo melodrama Only Angels Have Wings, a more elusive, rough and tough Grant commands a ragtag team of aviators in a banana republic. Into this male bastion strays wise-cracking blonde Jean Arthur. His relationship with the female interloper is more dry eyed and cynical than the film’s sentimental male bonding. Although packed with exciting aerial footage (and a crash landing or two), Angels ironically doesn’t have the fleetness as the set’s other dialogue-driven films. On the other hand, a double espresso is needed to keep up with the rapid-fire exchanges of Hawks’ no-holds-barred muckraking comedy His Girl Friday. Grant is in charm-offensive mode, winning back his star report – and ex-wife – played by Rosalind Russell.

Remarkably, Russell has more screen time than top-billed Grant, as does Jean Arthur in her second pairing with him, the overly long The Talk of the Town. Falsely accused of arson, Leopold Dilg (Grant), an ethnically ambiguous street-corner agitator, hides in the attic of a harried New England schoolmarm (Arthur) just as she rents her home to ivory tower law professor Ronald Coleman. Part romantic triangle, part Capra-esque hokum, all coast on star power. Directed with a light touch, Dilg’s innocence or fate is never in question.

DVD Extras: All discs include featurettes about seven minutes in length, each providing concise production histories – sometimes too much so. It’s mentioned in “Cary at Columbia” that Holiday was based on a real New York socialite, leaving it at that. Todd McCarthy’s tersely encyclopedic commentary for His Girl Friday, the set’s only such offering, is a repeat from the comedy’s 2003 DVD release. Last year’s edition of Bringing Up Baby (Warner Home Video) offers a much more informative and personal look into Grant’s career and life in the documentary Cary Grant: A Class Apart, which includes Grant’s third wife, Betsy Drake, saying, “Why would I believe that Cary was homosexual when we were busy f*******?” Kent Turner
February 17, 2006



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