Cary Grant – Not a One Note Actor: The Versatility of Cary Grant

I took part in a discussion about actors and acting. Someone mentioned that they didn’t like Cary Grant, because he always played the same role. This suprised me, because one of the reasons I consider Cary Grant the greatest actor ever is because of his versatility.

One of the reasons I think people see Cary Grant as being one note is because his entire persona was an act. As Cary Grant (formerly Archibald Leach) famously said, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” It was an act that he perfected, and a role that he frequently played in films -the debonair, sophisticated, but surprisingly humorous man. Playing this guy over and over again could justify a description of him as a one note actor. But, throughout his career, he played in films that subverted the persona and sometimes threw it out completely. Here are a list of a few of his films that show the many faces of Cary Grant.

Suspicion: Alfred Hitchcock was a master director, and managed to turn the typical Cary Grant character on his ear. In this film, it was with just the slightest shadings. On the surface, Johnnie Aysgarth could easily have been named “Cary Grant” because he embodies everything that people expect from the name. He’s charming and funny and he makes women swoon. But, hiding just under the surface is a hint of menace. There’s a scene where Johnnie watches his friend choking, and he coldly says that there’s no point in doing anything to help, because he’ll either recover or die.

What makes it even more sinister is that right before, Johnnie was joking and teasing and being perfectly delightful. Suspicion is a flawed film. There have been different theories as to who was reluctant to have Cary Grant sway too far from what the audience expected from him, and it compromised the story. But, it helped Grant’s acting and the character of Johnnie. What made him dangerous and creepy wasn’t that he was a maniac or even a hateful person. It was the fact that he was so engaging with just a shade of evil that made this character scary.

Bringing Up Baby: This movie paired Cary Grant with Katharine Hepburn. They made three other films together. In this movie, Grant kept one of the essentials of the Cary Grant character. He’s funny. But, this time it is in a completely different way from usual. The character of David Huxley isn’t someone who is so confident in himself that he can make a prat fall look like someone conducting a symphony. David is your typical absentminded professor.

He’s not suave, he’s not sophisticated, and he’s completely bewildered by the madcap Susan Vance (Hepburn). When David falls over something, it comes off as awkward, as it should. There was still a certain charm from the character but it’s not the charm of a man who knows he’s charming the way the usual Grant type character would know.

Father Goose: This was later film of Cary Grant’s. It was actually the second to last film he ever made. By this time, the worries that were present in Suspicion were gone. Walter Eckland wasn’t anything you’d expect from Cary Grant. He’s a slob, he’s crude, he’s rude, and to top it off he’s a drunk. And, even though he falls in love with Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) and grows as character through that, he never changes his underlying character. Throughout, he is still “the filthy beast.”

The Awful Truth: This movie is probably the film that showcases the Cary Grant style at its fullest. Jerry Warriner is sophisticated, classy, and goes through some ridiculous situations trying to keep his soon to be ex wife (played by Irene Dunne) from getting engaged to someone else. But, even in the most embarrasing situations that he finds himself in, it’s easy to imagine him sipping champagne and entertaining high brow society.

So, those are just a short list of films where Cary Grant played different types of characters. Like these films sometimes he dropped a factor of the Cary Grant style, sometimes he kept all of them, and added a twist, sometimes the only thing he had in common was the fact that he looked like Cary Grant. But, one note, he was not.

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