Gunga Din

Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr laughing

There’s a lot going on in Gunga Din, the high point of a certain kind of Hollywood film-making. Released in the golden era’s “annus mirabilis” of 1939, it’s an exotic, oriental white-man’s-burden kind of adventure adapted from a Rudyard Kipling story, but locked away in there something is grumbling away. All is not as it first appears. There are two main storylines, connected together by a familiar trio of bromantic soldiers – the lover (Douglas Fairbanks Jr), the joker (Cary Grant) and the fighter (Victor McLaglen) – three sergeants in Queen Victoria’s army in India sent out from their base to find out why the vital telegraph system keeps going down. It turns … Read more

The Awful Truth

Lucy and Jerry have a cocktail

When The Awful Truth won the best director Oscar for Leo McCarey in 1937, McCarey straight-up said it wasn’t the best directed film of the year. It wasn’t even, he said, his best directorial effort of the year – he rated Make Way for Tomorrow more highly (and so has posterity). It’s easy to see why. Make Way for Tomorrow tackles a serious issue, with subject matter that’s even more relevant now than it was then – ageing parents abandoned by adult children. But The Awful Truth can claim a stake on glory, a more frivolous though still valid one, being the first time that the full Cary Grant persona – a balletic … Read more


Cary Grant, Roland Young, Constance Bennett

Dying is a lot of fun in the Topper films, a trio of light-hearted comedies kicking off in 1937 with Topper, which starred Constance Bennett, Cary Grant and Roland Young, then continued in 1938 with Topper Takes a Trip and bowed out in 1941 with Topper Returns. From the star names you might expect Cary Grant to be playing Topper but in fact it’s Roland Young, a specialist at fuddy-duddy roles, as the banker whose painfully ordered domestic existence is skittled by the arrival in his life of two ghosts – played by Grant and Bennett. They play the Kerbys, a fun-loving, hard-partying, vair vair rich couple clearly inspired by The Thin Man’s … Read more

Blonde Venus

An exquisitely lit Marlene Dietrich draws on a cigarette

The fifth collaboration between director Josef von Sternberg and star Marlene Dietrich, Blonde Venus is a film that’s been strangled at birth, hacked at, mutilated, and then dressed up nicely and put out there as if all was still well. It’s a strange and unsettling story, if you can pick its story out from what’s left after the censors got at it, of a woman whose husband needs a lot of money for a life-saving medical procedure and sells her body to raise it. The four-square Herbert Marshall plays the husband, a chemist who’s been hurt through exposure to radium and needs to leave the USA and go to Germany for an experimental … Read more

North by Northwest

Cary Grant pursued by a plane in North by Northwest

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 31 October Mount Rushmore completed, 1941 On this day in 1941, the sculpture of four US presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln – was finished on a granite face near Keystone, South Dakota. Sculpted from a mountain known to the Lakota Sioux as the Six Grandfathers, the depiction of the four presidents was masterminded by Gutzon Borglum and carved (after dynamiting to remove the big stuff) by up to 400 workers, each head measuring around 60 feet (18 metres). The gigantic frieze was conceived and created for reasons of promoting tourism, rather than overarching patriotism, and … Read more


Cary Grant in Charade

It’s the early Sixties, and the high artifice of the Hollywood studio system is suddenly being challenged by the supposedly more believable movie-making styles of a younger, hipper generation, among them the French Nouvelle Vague. Does Stanley Donen, an arch exponent of pure Hollywood artifice (he directed Singin’ in the Rain, for proof), take this sort of thing lying down? He does not. Instead he heads right into the heart of enemy territory, Paris, and makes a romantic suspense film that is stylistically and thematically all about artifice. The plot is, or appears to be, about the hunt for stolen money. Audrey Hepburn may or may not be a doe-eyed grieving widow. Cary Grant, who … Read more