Cary Grant films on TCM: Gender-bending comedy classic I Was a Male War Bride, reactionary adventure flick Gunga Din
More Cary Grant films will be aired tonight, Dec. 15, ’14, as Turner Classic Movies continues with its Star of the Month presentations.
On TCM right now is the World War II action drama Destination Tokyo (1943), in which Grant finds himself aboard a U.S. submarine, alongside John Garfield, Dane Clark, Robert Hutton, and Tom Tully, among others.
The behind-the-camera debut of screenwriter Delmer Daves (The Petrified Forest, Love Affair) – who, in the following decade, would direct a series of classy Westerns, e.g., 3:10 to Yuma, The Hanging Tree – Destination Tokyo is pure flag-waving propaganda, plodding its way through the dangerous waters of Hollywood war-movie stereotypes and speechifying banalities.
The film’s key point of interest, in fact, is Grant himself – not because he’s any good, but because we can get to see him (mis)cast against type as a tough submarine commander. It’s always odd to see debonair Cary Grant in a John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart role.
I Was a Male War Bride
Just as odd is seeing the very mid-Atlantic Cary Grant playing a Frenchman. But that’s what he is in Howard Hawks’ hilarious comedy I Was a Male War Bride (1949) – with Grant as the gender-bending “I” of the title. If you ignore the fact that he sounds as French as Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot, Grant is simply flawless as Women’s Army Corps officer Ann Sheridan’s husband, who is about to be imported into the U.S. as a “war bride.”
Equally flawless is Sheridan herself, one of the most pleasant and most capable performers of the studio era; one who deserved to be better appreciated then and who deserves to be better remembered now.
Gunga Din and brave colonialists
George Stevens’ Gunga Din (1939) is a great-looking but more than a little appalling adventure yarn about British soldiers (Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Victor McLaglen) assisted by their faithful Indian pet – that’s the title character (Sam Jaffe in brown makeup) – as they save the British Raj from dark-skinned evil forces.
Oh, of course. One can always enjoy the rowdy fun and forget the film’s blatant racism and pro-colonialist stance – that is, if jokes and pranks for 12-year-olds are your idea of fun. But to each their own.
The Front Page revamp, Gunga Din revamps
As an aside, Gunga Din was officially inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 poem of the same, but the film is basically screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s stage hit The Front Page with a colonial Indian setting. Curiously, Grant would reprise his (and McLaglen’s) role the following year, in Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, which featured Rosalind Russell in the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. role, and Ralph Bellamy as the fiancé (Joan Fontaine, totally wasted, in Gunga Din).
As another aside, Gunga Din would be partially remade at MGM in 1951, as the Tay Garnett-directed Soldiers Three (the title of a collection of short stories by Kipling), starring Stewart Granger, David Niven, and Robert Newton in the title roles, all three under the command of Walter Pidgeon.
A Gunga Din reboot, John Sturges’ Sergeants Three, set in the Old American West and released in 1961 via United Artists, starred Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford, with Sammy Davis Jr. as the Gunga Din character.
Additionally, Steven Spielberg’s 1984 blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, starring Harrison Ford, borrowed several elements from the 1939 movie – including its racism and ethnocentrism. No wonder it was such a huge hit.
He-man Cary Grant: Only Angels Have Wings
Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939) features Cary Grant in another he-man role. Unsurprisingly, Grant is just as unconvincing as in Destination Tokyo.
Much more interesting in this lame adventure drama are Jean Arthur as the American woman stranded somewhere in the Andes, and veteran Richard Barthelmess (Broken Blossoms, The Patent Leather Kid), who steals the show as Rita Hayworth’s older husband and who also happens to be a “cowardly” pilot.
Only Angels Have Wings has an indelible place in movie history, as it features reigning Columbia Queen Jean Arthur and her successor, Rita Hayworth. Arthur would be gone from Columbia in the mid-’40s.
More Cary Grant films: The Pride and the Passion & Once Upon a Honeymoon
A box office disappointment at the time of its release, the 1957 comedy Kiss Them for Me (1957) is probably one of the weakest movies in Stanley Donen’s career.
I haven’t seen the semi-historical war drama The Pride and the Passion, another 1957 Cary Grant release, but it promises to be one of the funniest movies of Stanley Kramer’s career. What with Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren as rebel Spaniards, and Grant as a British officer who falls for Loren’s fiery Juana.
Like Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be, Leo McCarey’s Once Upon a Honeymoon was much criticized upon its release. But unlike Lubitsch’s 1942 anti-Nazi comedy, McCarey’s 1942 anti-Nazi comedy has never achieved classic status. Yet I find this political romantic comedy quite enjoyable, with Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, and suave villain Walter Slezak in top form.
Like John Huston’s We Were Strangers (1949), Richard Brooks’ Crisis (1950) is a curiosity in that it’s a darkly political / philosophical, post-World War II Hollywood movie with a – in this particular case unspecified – Latin American setting. Gone were the days of the Good Neighbor policy and Carmen Miranda musicals.
To its credit, Crisis attempts to raise serious issues about ethics, and the mix between the personal and the political. Unfortunately, screenwriter-turned-director Brooks approaches such complexities in a half-assed manner.
Now, in all fairness, let’s not forget that Crisis was an MGM release that came out at the height of the anti-Red hysteria. And that, compounding matters, Cary Grant is badly miscast as the American doctor who is coerced into saving the life of a ruthless dictator (José Ferrer).
Would that be his professional duty? Or should he botch the operation? Most importantly: Why should anyone give a damn at the end?
As mentioned above, Crisis marked screenwriter Richard Brooks’ directorial debut; a harsh taskmaster (except to his star), he was reviled by the crew. Besides Grant and José Ferrer (who, ironically, would find himself at odds with the rabid nationalists of the House Un-American Activities Committee), the Crisis cast includes Paula Raymond (in a role Nancy Davis – later Nancy Reagan – wanted to play), and silent era veterans Gilbert Roland (Camille, opposite Norma Talmadge), Antonio Moreno (It, opposite Clara Bow), Pedro de Cordoba (Carmen, opposite Geraldine Farrar), and Ramon Novarro (Ben-Hur, in the title role).
Totally cast against type, Novarro delivers the film’s most memorable performance as a self-serving, unscrupulous military man.
Cary Grant films: TCM schedule (PT)
5:00 PM DESTINATION TOKYO (1943). Director: Delmer Daves. Cast: Cary Grant. John Garfield. Dane Clark. Alan Hale. Robert Hutton. Tom Tully. John Ridgely. Warner Anderson. William Prince. Faye Emerson. B&W. 135 min.
7:30 PM I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (1949). Director: Howard Hawks. Cast: Cary Grant. Ann Sheridan. Marion Marshall. B&W. 105 min.
9:30 PM GUNGA DIN (1939). Director: George Stevens. Cast: Cary Grant. Victor McLaglen. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Joan Fontaine. Sam Jaffe. B&W. 117 min.
11:45 PM ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939). Director: Howard Hawks. Cast: Cary Grant. Jean Arthur. Richard Barthelmess. Rita Hayworth. Thomas Mitchell. B&W. 121 min.
2:00 AM KISS THEM FOR ME (1957). Director: Stanley Donen. Cast: Cary Grant. Jayne Mansfield. Suzy Parker. Leif Erickson. Ray Walston. Color. 102 min.
4:00 AM ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON (1942). Director: Leo McCarey. Cast: Ginger Rogers. Cary Grant. Walter Slezak. B&W. 115 min.
6:00 AM THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION (1957). Director: Stanley Kramer. Cast: Cary Grant. Sophia Loren. Frank Sinatra. Color. 132 mins. Letterbox Format.
8:15 AM CRISIS (1950). Director: Richard Brooks. Cast: Cary Grant. José Ferrer. Paula Raymond. Gilbert Roland. Signe Hasso. Ramon Novarro. Leon Ames. Antonio Moreno. Pedro de Cordoba. B&W. 96 min.
Cary Grant films’ schedule via the TCM website.
Cary Grant I Was a Male War Bride image: 20th Century Fox.
Image of Paula Raymond, Ramon Novarro, Leon Ames, and Cary Grant in Crisis: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Image of Rita Hayworth and Cary Grant in Only Angels Have Wings: Columbia Pictures, via Silver Embers.
Image of Victor McLaglen and Cary Grant in Gunga Din: RKO.