Sunday, February 03, 2008

Nothing romantic or comic about it

So moi's been overdosing on Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn for three straight weekends now. And just surfaced after watching Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday back-to-back to find AO Scott reading my mind over at the Times.

Our parents and grandparents had Rock Hudson and Doris Day — such delicious subtext! such amazing office furniture! — or Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Or Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Or Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Or even, in “That Touch of Mink,” Cary Grant and Doris Day. But you get the point. We have Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey.

So true. So sad!

And yet, while the romantic comedy has almost always trafficked in happy endings, that happiness is rarely accompanied by a sense of risk or exhilaration. When you think of, say, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn — or even Doris Day and Rock Hudson — you recall the emotional combat of two strong-willed, independent individuals ending in mutual conquest. Love, in those old pictures, was a dangerous and noble sport that required skill and cunning as well as commitment. It required movie stars whose physical appeal was matched by verbal dexterity and a vital sense of idiosyncrasy. They were not real of course: Who ever met anyone like C. K. Dexter Haven and Tracy Lord, the central pair in “The Philadelphia Story?” They were better.

And it's not just the romantic comedies. This seems to be the fate of all comedies, romantic or not. I mean, whoever makes anything like Arsenic and Old Lace nowadays? As Scott says, Coarseness at the expense of subtelty and wit, and mistaking grossness for honesty. That's all it is now.

Anyway, enough. Gotta watch Desk Set before calling it a night.


Space Bar said...

sigh...truly. now why have i never done a post about how much i love cary grant?

and i need to replace my arsenic and old lace!

Cheshire Cat said...

Me too, I love Cary Grant! But how could one not?

"Bringing Up Baby" is my absolute favorite screwball. How gamely it rises above the depressing reality of the situation. One just knows those two people are going to be utterly miserable together.

Falstaff said...

SB: I take it you saw this

While I agree with most of what A.O. Scott says, I have to say I've never quite warmed to the Tracy Hepburn combination as a comic duo. Half of their movies together aren't even meant to be particularly funny, and those that are are just about average (Adam's Rib was probably the funniest, and even that wasn't all that great).

Plus which, am I the only person in the world who prefers the Matthau Lemmon version of His Girl Friday to the original? Much as I love Cary Grant I'll take Matthau's Walter Burns over Grant's any day.

Space Bar said...

falstaff: i actually hadn't read it. thanks! his girl friday isn't that great, but who the heck was the femal e in it? totally forgettable.

and talking about matthau, have you seen cactus flower? it's the one film where i find bergman bearable.

Falstaff said...

His Girl Friday was Rosalind Russell wasn't it? Whose most memorable role (at least the only one I really remember) was in The Women. Obviously it's a lot harder to attract attention if your co-star is Cary Grant than if it's Norma Shearer and Joan Fontaine.

Haven't seen Cactus Flower. Will. I don't find Bergman unbearable. I just don't see what the big deal about her is.