Saturday, February 17, 2007

CARY GRANT: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION (RKO/SELZNICK/WARNER BROS. 1940-1948) Warner Home Video


Cary Grant: The Signature Collection effectively brings together some stellar examples of the enduring suave, urbane sophistication and light-hearted good charm that was Cary Grant. The set is comprised of 3 hilarious comedies - My Favorite Wife (1940), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947); one leaden musical - Night and Day (1946) and a thrilling WWII drama, Destination Tokyo (1943) - uneven fodder at best. 


Garson Kanin’s My Favorite Wife is the most delightful of the three comedies. It stars Irene Dunne (previously costarred with Grant in The Awful Truth 1937), as Ellen Wagstaff Arden – presumed dead in a boating accident. Unfortunately for hubby, Nick (Grant), Ellen is very much alive, having been rescued and brought home after 7 long years stranded on an island.


I say unfortunately, because Nick has recently remarried terribly mantrap, Bianca Bates (Gail Patrick). Realizing that he still loves Ellen and therefore cannot commit to his new marriage, Nick is driven to distraction when he learns that Ellen had company on the island; a paragon of viral masculinity, Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott).


Daffy and delightful, the film keeps its humor light and airy. The screenplay by Leo McCarey and Samuel and Bella Spewack becomes positively picaresque if one considers that Scott and Grant were housemates in real life - an association that once erroneously suggested to some fans that Grant might possibly be gay.


In the mid-1960s, 20th Century-Fox purchased the rights for a remake ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ that was to have starred Marilyn Monroe. Monroe died before completing the film and the project was eventually revamped with limited appeal as the Doris Day vehicle, Move Over Darling.


The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer stars Grant as middle age playboy and art expert, Richard Nugent, who gives a lecture at a local high school where senior editor of the school paper, Susan Turner (Shirley Temple) becomes quite smitten with him. Appearing in the court of Susan’s sister, Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy), a straight-laced gal of the black robes, Richard finagles his way out of pending charges during a bar room brawl by performing a little bit of community service. He will break Susan of her infatuation of him by proving to her that she should be in love with fellow classmate and wannabe boyfriend, Jerry White (Johnny Sands). Sidney Sheldon won an Oscar for this screenplay – quite delightful but rather dated by today’s standards.


Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is a sort of 1940s The Money Pit - about a couple of cramped New Yorkers, Jim (Grant) and Muriel (Myrna Loy) desiring their little plot in the country and coming up increasingly short on time, money and patience as their dream house turns into a nightmare. Melvyn Douglas is in it too, as Bill Cole, Jim’s attorney and ‘sort of’ friend who actually has modest designs on Muriel. Hinged together by some truly amusing vignettes – including one involving Italian contractor, Mr. Zucco (Tito Vuolo), this is a sprite little programmer that is sure to amuse. 


I still, as example, recall the delightful Louise Beavers cast as the Blanding's maid, Gussie, rescuing Jim from financial ruin at his advertising agency by coming up with the effective campaign slogan for Wham-ham. "If you ain't eatin' Wham, you ain't eatin' ham!" See the film if you aren't already chuckling.


Destination Tokyo is a stark shift from all the aforementioned lighthearted playfulness. Grant proves with this film that he can do serious and make it stick, playing Capt. Cassidy (a variation on his tough, hard-nosed pilot in Only Angels Have Wings) commander of a submarine during WWII. Cassidy’s mission is to gather information for the coming Doolittle Raid. Much more of an ensemble patriotic piece than a Cary Grant movie, John Garfield co-stars as Wolf the torpedo man with a bitter grudge against the Axis powers. A tad weighty on war time propaganda by today’s standards, the film is nevertheless quite stirring in its’ flag waving patriotism.

Finally, and regrettably, there’s Michael Curtiz’s Night and Day (1946) an unusually dense and dull musical biography of legendary composer, Cole Porter (Grant). The film fictionalizes Porter’s life all out of proportion. Melodramatic clich├ęs abound as Cole seeks his father’s approval to be a song writer and tries to prove his love to estranged wife, Linda Lee (a very wooden Alexis Smith).


The uncharacteristic heavy handedness with which Curtiz treats all these plot devices is quite disappointing. But even more disheartening are the claptrap mishandlings of Porter’s illustrious songs. Save Grant and Ginny Simm’s delightful ‘You’re The Top’ and perhaps Mary Martin’s ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ the staging of the musical set pieces is dull, dull, DULL!


Each of these films has been given an upgraded digital transfer. But the results are suspect at best. The most pristine in the lot are My Favorite Wife and The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer. Here, the gray scale has been nicely balanced with a minimal amount of either film related or digital artifacts. Both Destination Tokyo and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House have a very slight, though nevertheless more obvious age related artifacts and contrast levels that appear a tad on the darker side. But the absolute worst looking transfer of the lot is reserved for Night and Day.


The only Technicolor film in this set, the original three strip negative is often horribly mis-registered for distracting halos that make the entire image quite blurry and out of focus. Colors on the whole are flat, with lower than expected contrast levels. The audio in all cases is mono and adequately represented. Save a few brief short subjects there are NO extra features!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
My Favorite Wife 4.5
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer 4
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House 4
Destination Tokyo 4
Night and Day 2.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
My Favorite Wife 4
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer 4
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House 3.5
Destination Tokyo 3.5
Night and Day 2.5

EXTRAS
2

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