Whether he starred in screwball comedies, spy thrillers, or dark romance, Cary Grant possessed an effortless charm that seemed so easy. A combination of drop-dead gorgeous looks, physical grace, and understated wit made him irresistible. Movie critic Chris Vognar wrote “You could put this guy in the middle of a hailstorm and he’d act as if he just sauntered into a cocktail party.”
Grant could even throw an insult well. He rarely stormed or chewed up the scenery in a movie, he would merely raise an elegant eyebrow and deliver some politely dismissive aside. Enough said.
I’ve never been a big fan of his broad comedies (Bringing Up Baby, I was a Male War Bride, Monkey Business), but I like his romantic comedies like Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday. In both those movies he plays a less-than-admirable hero, wending his way through a series of rivals to get the girl. Citing Chris Vognar again, “He had the stuff to make you cheer for a snake and feel good about it.”
Okay…..let’s cut to the chase as to why Cary Grant is indelibly carved in my brain as the ultimate romantic hero. I can sum it up in four words: North by Northwest and Notorious. Both are Hitchcock movies, both unforgettable. North by Northwest (1959) had a bit of the screwball comedy in it, but mostly it was a great adventure story mingled with a romantic twist. I love the way Grant relies on his wit, intelligence, and physical abilities to get himself out of one scrape after another. In all honesty, it isn’t the greatest love story. I never really bought that he fell hook, line, and sinker for Eva Marie Saint, but that is the screenwriter’s fault, not Grant’s.
But Notorious (1946) is his masterpiece. It is Grant’s darkest role, and he is magnificent. There is no sign of the suave, debonair Grant in Notorious. He is curt, cutting, and hard-edged the entire movie as he wrestles with loyalty to his country with his reluctant love for Ingrid Berman. Grant is drawn against his will towards Bergman, and it is a fascinating to watch his portrayal of love warring with mistrust, loyalty, and deception. Unable to give voice to his feelings, Grant’s tormented face tells it all.
I’m not sure I would adore Cary Grant so much were it not for Notorious. Without that movie I think he would have seemed too perfectly suave. I want to see a hero who has a weakness for a woman, and Notorious delivers it beautifully.