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[whitespace] Cary Grant
Self-Image Even Cary Grant wanted to be Cary Grant.

The King Returns

The Stanford Theater reveals the complete Cary Grant

By Richard von Busack

ALL THE CINEMATIC POMP of today--the foreign weeper, the prestige Oscar-grabber, the indie shoegazer--faces the presence of Cary Grant and takes its proper--that is, second--rank. Grant's several-decade-long performance as the most perfect man in the movies outlasted any other actor's run. His position is unchallenged 15 years after his death. And yet here was an actor whose regal perfection was balanced with accessibility. He always made you aware of the low performer wrapped in the aristocratic hide. The unplaceable accent--Bucks County, Penn., or Buckinghamshire, England?--was too cultured to be American, too rough to be movie-British. It was all the mask of Archibald Leach, son of a Bristol garment-factory worker and a mother who retreated to a sanitarium. Leach-into-Grant was the movies' most successful transformation, and it was only enhanced by the sense Grant gave that it was, after all, just an act. "Even I want to be Cary Grant," he once said.

On Jan. 17, the day before Grant's birthday (in 1904), Palo Alto's Stanford Theater begins a complete retrospective of the actor's work, from 1932's This Is the Night to the 1964 comedy Walk Don't Run. This ambitious series of 72 films starts with Grant's early days as a contract actor at Paramount and ends with Grant as the embodiment of the careless, handsome man of middle years, a plausible romantic lead for much younger actresses like Audrey Hepburn (Charade) and Leslie Caron (Father Goose).

Between these brackets are some of the best movies ever made. These include: His Girl Friday, a comedy that celebrates our freedom of the press while skewering the pompousness and squalor of the newspaper world; Gunga Din, a witty burlesque of war movies that taught the Indiana Jones movies every move they made; Notorious, with Grant in Rio as a secret agent who's a sort of gentleman pimp; and North by Northwest, about the shaking up of a glib adman by a gorgeously paranoid, continentwide conspiracy--not to mention comedies like Topper (March 2-3), The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story.

The first segment of the retrospective, covering the years 1932-37, encompasses all of Grant's lesser-known work: clapped in a mock-turtle shell and singing an ode to "Beautiful Soup" in the 1932 version of Alice in Wonderland (Feb. 7-8); as the faithless Pinkerton in a 1932 prose version of Madame Butterfly (Jan. 26-27); and Suzy (Feb. 23-24), in which Grant plays a handsome French flyboy romancing American chorine Jean Harlow.

Except for Notorious, postwar caddishness didn't interest Grant much; he turned down the parts of Harry Lime and James Bond. He is best remembered onscreen as a man whose friendly reluctance to take anything seriously is rubbed off by some lovely woman. Within the limits of the classic era of the American movie, Grant summed up the comforting and inspiring side of royalty--you felt like a classier person just for watching him.

Cary Grant, the Complete Films, Part One: 1932-1937 runs Jan. 17-March 3 at the Stanford Theater, 221 University Ave., Palo Alto (650.324.3700). The films screen Thursday-Sunday. The first double-bill (Jan. 17-18) features 'This Is the Night' and 'Sinners in the Sun'; the next double-bill (Jan. 19-20) is 'Merrily We Go to Hell' and 'The Devil and the Deep.'

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From the January 17-23, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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