It’s no secret that I’m a big P. Kael fan. Imagine how stoaked I was when I found one of her most famous pieces, on-line–an appreciation of Cary Grant, The Man From Dream City:
“You can be had,” Mae Wet said to Cary Grant in “She Done Him Wrong,” which opened in January, 1933, and that was what the women stars of most of his greatest hits were saying to him for thirty years, as he backed away – but not too far. One after another, the great ladies courted him – Irene Dunne in “The Awful Truth” and “My Favorite Wife,” Katherine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby” and “Holiday,” Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth in “Only Angels Have Wings,” Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious,” Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” Eva Marie Saint in “North by Northwest,” Audrey Hepburn in “Charade.” Willing but not forward, Cary Grant must be the most publicly seduced male the world has known, yet he has never become a public joke – not even when Tony Curtis parodied him in “Some Like It Hot,” encouraging Marilyn Monroe to rape. The little bit of shyness and reserve in Grant is pure box-office gold, and being the pursued doesn’t make him seem weak or passively soft. It makes him glamorous – and, since he is not as available as other men, far more desirable.
Cary Grant is the male love object. Men want to be as lucky and enviable as he is – they want to be like him. And women imagine landing him. Like Robert Redford, he’s sexiest in pictures in which the woman is the aggressor and all the film’s erotic energy is concentrated on him, as it was in “Notorious”: Ingrid Bergman practically ravished him while he was trying to conduct a phone conversation.
…Everyone likes the idea of Cary Grant. Everyone thinks of him affectionately, because he embodies what seems a happier time – a time when we had a simpler relationship to a performer. We could admire him for his timing and nonchalance; we didn’t expect emotional revelations from Cary Grant. We were used to his keeping his distance – which, if we cared to, we could close in idle fantasy. He appeared before us in radiantly shallow perfection, and that was all we wanted of him. He was the dufy of acting – shallow, but in a good way, shallow without trying to be deep. We didn’t want depth from him; we asked only that he be handsome and silky and make us laugh.
Cary Grant’s bravado – his wonderful sense of pleasure in performance, which we respond to and share in – is a pride in craft. His confident timing is linked to a sense of movies as a popular entertainment: he wants to please the public. He became a “polished,” “finished” performer in a tradition that has long since atrophied.
He was the illest.