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CARY GRANT: MAKING IT LOOK EASY

Cary Grant remains one of the most charming actors to ever grace the screen. Because of that seemingly effortless charm he never received much credit for his acting, but three recent Blu-ray releases attest to his considerable skills. Olive Films has given deluxe treatment to two of Grant’s later hits, Operation Petticoat (1958) and Father Goose (1964). They look great and offer an array of special features that make them all the more enjoyable.

Operation Petticoat (1958) is a prime example of a genre that has vanished from the landscape: the service comedy. Director Blake Edwards was no stranger to this type of entertainment, having directed The Perfect Furlough (1958 ) and co-written Operation Mad Ball(1957 ) for his colleague Richard Quine. Petticoat is set during World War II, with Grant as the skipper of a submarine and Tony Curtis as his scoundrel-like requisitions officer. The screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin (from a story by Paul King and Joseph Stone) is a neatly-contrived farce built on a solid foundation; in fact, some of the incidents involving the U.S.S. Sea Tiger were based on real-life incidents. Edwards was not yet a top-tier director but he knows how to stage a scene for maximum comic effect and Petticoat still earns its laughs today. Feminists might object to the depiction of WAVEs but I think the movie’s high spirts win the day.

Blake Edwards is the subject of a loving tribute featuring his daughter Jennifer and actress Lesley Ann Warren, who worked with him so memorably in Victor Victoria. (He was nothing if not loyal: one of the female officers in Petticoat is played by Virginia Gregg, who costarred in the radio show Edwards created for Dick Powell, Richard Diamond, Private Detective.)

Another segment on the disc spotlights two of the movie’s cast members and might be called Two Survivors: Marion Ross and Gavin McLeod. These endearing show-business professionals offer a vivid picture of what it was like to be working actors in the 1950s, and how they were treated by the movie’s megastars, Grant and Curtis. You will also find newsreel footage of S.S. Baloa, which inspired the movie’s Sea Tiger, and Cary Grant attending the opening of the film at Radio City Music Hall, along with a commentary track by Aussie film critic Adrian Martin and a booklet essay by Chris Fujiwara.

Father Goose was one of 27 Cary Grant movies to open at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan and that’s where I saw it in 1964! Grant enjoyed playing against type in this breezy romantic comedy, also set in World War II with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Peter Stone (who had just crafted the screenplay for Charade) and comedy veteran Frank Tarloff, based on a story by S.H. Barnett. Looking scruffier than he ever had yet somehow still dashing, Grant plays a loner who lives on an island in the South Seas where he is forced to take care of a French schoolteacher (Leslie Caron) and seven young girls in her charge. This is a star vehicle, pure and simple, and it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.

The bonus features on this disc are a mixed bag. David Del Valle offers an upbeat commentary, and there is a good essay in the accompanying booklet by Bilge Ebiri. Biographer Marc Eliot (who wrote a book about Walt Disney titled Hollywood’s Dark Prince) makes dubious claims about Grant’s career, as he does on Operation Petticoat. And the long-estranged son of the late director Ralph Nelson gives what can only be called an odd interview.

But I give full credit to the folks at Olive for seeking out writers, film buffs and people associated with these movies to place them into historical context. They have also provided us with beautiful high-definition scans from the original negatives. Next up in the Olive Signature collection: Letter from an Unknown Woman and A New Leaf. Learn more and make purchases HERE.

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart in A Philadelphia Story

Finally, the Criterion Collection has released The Philadelphia Story (1940), a Hollywood gem that needs no introduction. One bonus documentary traces the inspiration for the character of Tracy Lord, played so memorably by Katharine Hepburn. It calls on the granddaughter of playwright Philip Barry, a Barry expert, and the granddaughter of the woman whose life on the Philadelphia Main Line inspired Tracy Lord’s. Another enjoyable piece spotlights Joan Kramer and David Heeley, who worked closely with Katharine Hepburn on her 1993 television special All About Me and got to know her well. Best of all, Criterion has included a commentary track recorded in 1995 by film scholar Jeanine Basinger. No one is more eloquent and incisive in discussing the star system, and her observations make it a pleasure to revisit the movie in its entirety. She is particularly good in evaluating the contributions of James Stewart (who won an Oscar for this performance) and Cary Grant, who chose the more passive role of C.K. Dexter Haven but still left his indelible mark on the movie. Finally, this release of The Philadelphia Story includes two complete episodes of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Katharine Hepburn and an appearance by her favorite director, George Cukor. There is also a complete Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the movie introduced by that show’s host, Cecil B. DeMille. A restoration demonstration shows just how much better Criterion’s 4K transfer looks than earlier copies of this exquisite-looking MGM release. To learn more click HERE.

Like millions of admirers over the decades, I never tire of watching Cary Grant. It was great fun to reacquaint myself with these three films…and I’m absolutely ready for more.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight.

He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies.

His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia.

He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?)

He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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