Favourite Films

His Girl Friday - Howard Hawks (1940)

OK. I have to 'fess up here to being a huge Cary Grant fan. I think all of the adjectives that he's been labelled with during his career (suave, witty, urbane, charming...) have stuck for one very good reason. They're all true! Well... I say that. Of course, I never met Cary Grant in real life unfortunately and let's face it, the guy was an actor. So I suspect only those that knew him well, know where the reality of the man parted ways from the persona he portrayed. They say, you should never meet your heroes. I would have loved to have met Cary Grant, I don't think he would have disappointed in at the very least meeting those expectations of the 'consummate all-round good guy' and the 'quintessential English gentleman'. The quote of his that most makes me smile, is one where he acknowledges the fact that the line between who he was and the characters he played had blurred:

"Everyone wants to be Cary Grant — even I want to be Cary Grant"

The only one, other than Archie Leach who's ever come close to being Cary Grant, is probably George Clooney, but alas the trappings of modern day Hollywood, have probably hindered him from doing so.

In this list of mine, there are three films starring Cary Grant, I could quite easily have filled it all with his movies. I don't think he ever made a bad film. There are loads of his films that are not quite my cup of tea, but I could still sit and watch them. There was just something about what he brought to the screen that made anything he did so completely watchable.

Anyway, enough of the fawning.

This is definitely one of my favourites of his. I suspect there's probably a review somewhere that calls this a 'sparkling screwball comedy' or something similar. But it's not 'just' a comedy. Toward the end it darkens considerably in order to get it's messages about capital punishment, corrupt government officials and the failing legal system across. The reason it works as both a genius of a comedy though and as an documentary piece, is wholly to do with Rosalind Russell's feisty and intelligent Hildy Johnson in my opinion. Russell's character matches Grant's Walter Burns — probably in hell for the way he treats some of the other characters in this film — joke for joke, quip for quip and barb for barb. One of the early scenes, sees them arguing ten to the dozen and talking over the top of each other. Neither of them willing to give way and listen to the opinion of the other. How many takes did it require to get that right! You could see the two characters being married, but the marriage lasting ten minutes. They are much too similar to be able to live under one roof these two. But similarly, they can't stand to be outside of each other's orbit.

There are numerous sub-plots, any of which could have made a film on its own! Such as the fact that Johnson needs Burns to sign their divorce paperwork as she wants to remarry. Burns wants to win his ex back away from what he sees as a life of drudgery as her husband to be is the dull and insipid insurance salesman, Bruce Baldwin. The lengths he goes to in order to insure she doesn't leave to get married to him, lead to some true comedy gold.

Absolute genius! They really don't make 'em like this anymore.

To Have and Have Not - Howard Hawks (1944)

Another Howard Hawks film from the around the same period as His Girl Friday, but so completely different in tone and perspective that you would never think these films were only four years apart and directed by the same man. This one was the film that brought 'Bogie' and 'Bacall' together for the first time. They never looked back.

It's has a bit of a complicated plot (moreso, than the Hemingway book upon which the film was based, in my opinion), probably due to the change in locale and the introduction of the pro-German Vichy France elements. At it's core though, it's about a good man who through circumstances beyond his control, is forced to make some very difficult choices. Many of Bogart's characters were like this, tough as nails, morally ambiguous and resourceful, but it's the pairing with Bacall in her debut movie that raises this movie above 'just OK'.

Her breakout scene is the now infamous '...you know how to whistle, don't ya, Steve?'

It's hard to believe that she was just nineteen when she made this movie and basically redefined the word 'smouldering'. The pairing was electric, and went on to repeated in several of the films that the couple made together.

Rio Bravo - Howard Hawks (1959)

The third of my Howard Hawks picks. This one a western. Just goes to show the breadth of this man's work. A comedy, a melodrama and a western. He did everything. I believe there're even a few musicals and sci-fi films scattered around and about his resumé. Whether or not it's fair to say his western's are what he is most well known for, films like Rio Bravo are what drew him to my attention. With a name like Howard Winchester Hawks, that could only be said to be quite apt.

I have my Father to thank for my love of Westerns. There were many, many, many Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons spent infront of the television in my youth, and my parent's choice of entertainment was mostly westerns and detective films, so I grew to love the Western by a subtle process of osmosis.

Rio Bravo is one of my favourites though. Simplistic in plot, the classic White Hats versus Black Hats. Once more, it's the cast and pitch perfect direction that lift this film above the ordinary. From Dean Martin's drunkard Deputy 'the Dude', to Ricky Nelson's gung-ho and confident gungslinger cum-trail guard 'Colorado' (who — and I kid you not, breaks into song part way through the film — and even that, corny as it sounds, works within the context of the film), Walter Brennan's cantankerous second Deputy 'Stumpy' and Angie Dickinson's excellent and morally compromised 'Feathers'. We never do get to learn her proper name, I believe.

This film became the template for many others that would come much later, such as the stunningly excellent original Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter — 1976) as well as another Wayne favourite of mine El Dorado, to name but a few.

As I say above, Rio Bravo was remade several years later as the equally good El Dorado (again starring Wayne and directed by Hawks), with some of the parts swapped around and a slight change in the 'Black Hats' and their motivations. Introducing Robert Mitchum with an excellent turn as the drunk Sheriff this time around, James Caan as the young (in a twist) not-gunslinger 'Mississippi', Arthur Hunnicut as the cantankerous old Deputy Sheriff 'Bull' and Charlene Holt's 'Maudie' as the love interest for the Wayne character. There's not much to split these two films apart, they are both highly entertaining westerns, but in my opinion the original 'Rio Bravo' has the slightest of edges.

North By Northwest - Alfred Hitchcock (1959)

I wonder how many people realise that North by Northwest isn't actually a proper compass destination. It doesn't really matter does it. North by Northwest just trips off of the tongue doesn't it?

With it's finale on the face of Mount Rushmore and the crop duster chase scene, this is one of Hitchcock's most iconic movies, probably along with Psycho with it's shower scene and Vertigo with that infamous climb up the Mission Tower to ultimate calamity. Who knew so much jeopardy could result from a (albeit less than innocent) case of mistaken identity. One of the things I love about this film is the fact that quite early on the 'un-named Government agency' that is running the undercover operation utilisiing Eva Marie Saint's character discuss the situation very civilly and then casually decide to let poor Roger twist in the wind in order to protect their agent in place and to see what happens!

What does happen is a frantic cross-country chase where the villains chase Roger, who is simultaneously chasing the man that they think he is, in order to set things straight. The macguffin that we're let in on by the above 'unnamed agency' is: the man doesn't exist! Even so, Roger O Thornhill or ROT as he refers to himself (the O stands for nothing, by the way) manages to stay one step ahead of the villains whilst smooching his way cross country with Saint's somewhat shady Eve Kendall.

Very few people could take such a simple conceit — mistaken identity — and 'successfully' and so entertainingly spin it out to encompass all of the things that happen in this film, but Hitchcock - a master of pacing and of building 'plausible' suspense is probably one of the few.

Another film who's ultimate wit and charm doesn't seem to be dulled by repeat viewings, much like, His Girl Friday (previously mentioned) or Charade (upcoming). This is undoubtedly one of Grant's most memorable roles.

Charade - Stanley Donen (1963)

Does this film qualify as the best Hitchcock film, never made by Hitchcock!

It has so many twists and turns, double and triple-crosses that you don't know whether you are coming or going half of the time. As a writer it was the plotting of this twisty-turny tale that immediately grabbed me. A star-studded cast (of mainly villains — James Coburn, George Kennedy (who makes what has to be one of the best entrances in ANY film, ever), Walther Matthau and the Mr. Sneezy-alike Ned Glass). Hitchcock's direction could never be termed 'slick' in my opinion, but Stanley Donnen's approach to the Hitchcock-ian thriller, definitely is that.

Again though, it's Grant's effortless characterisation of a man, who right until the end you don't know where he stands, paired with Audrey Hepburn's innocent and guileless Regina Lampert that lifts this film to stratospheric heights. They both get to show off their comedy chops, as well as deliver some complex characterisations as well as proving why they were two of the best romantic leads in hollywood at that time. I don't know how many times I've seen it now (must be twenty-plus!), but each and every time I get hooked in by the story, the brilliant characters and the excellence of the cast as a whole.

The final chase scene is as tense now as when I first saw it.

All of that and it also boasts one of the funkiest opening credits courtesy of Maurice Binder (who designed the titles for most of the James Bond films) and a score by Henry Mancini.

What's not to love?

My Top 10 Books

  • Splinter of the Mind's Eye

    Splinter of the Mind's Eye

    I vividly recall going along to a Christmas Day gathering at one of my aunt's in 1978. All of the

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My Top 10 Films

  • His Girl Friday

    His Girl Friday

    OK. I have to 'fess up here to being a huge Cary Grant fan. I think all of the adjectives

    Read More
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