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.