#76 Notorious

Watched: January 15 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Alicia Huberman’s (Bergman) father is convicted of treason and his daughter naturally throws a party with ice and Cary Grant. As would we if Grant were available. However, she throws in a DUI for good measure, which we would not. After the drunken drive, it turns out that Devlin (Grant) is some sort of government agent and he has a job for the former party girl. After a gruesome hangover (wonderfully filmed, by the way) the two fly to Brazil to start her assignment.

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“So, what exactly is this assignment?” “Well, we shall fall in love and then I shall ask you to prostitute yourself. You know, for patriotism. USA! USA!”

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The two fall in love and then the orders come through. In Devlin’s defence, he was not aware of the exact nature of his new love interest’s upcoming job before recruiting her, but he does not exactly help her out once the government asks Alicia to put the moves on an old friend of her father’s who used to be in love with her. Instead, he encourages her to use all her “womanly viles” to get the information they need from former German Nazi leader Alex Sebastian (Rains – no longer invisible).

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“Yes, my good Nazi friend, of course I’d rather marry you than have a sultry affair with Cary Grant. Isn’t my enthusiasm evident?”

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The reason Alicia is recruited is partly because of her previous relationship with the subject of their investigation, but it is just as much due to her former reputation as a sexually active, hard drinking socialite. While Alicia herself feels she is over this period of her life, her past is enough to condemn her in the eyes of the government agents who pressure her into taking on the assignment. She is even persuaded to go so far as to marry Alex.

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Marrying another man puts yet another strain on their relationship for some reason

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Further complications ensue when, after an intense espionage scene during a party, Alex and his evil mother realise that their new family member is in fact a spy. They start poisoning her, but pride and pent up anger towards her handler Devlin stops her from being upfront with him about her condition, instead blaming her reduced state during their next meeting on a hangover. How will the lovers get out of this pickle?

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We strongly suspect that the filmmaker is trying to tell us that something may be wrong about the coffee.

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This Hitchcock classic is every bit as tense and chilling as you would expect, and the character of Alicia is someone it is easy to sympathise with. She just wants to be treated like a person and make a new life for herself, but all the men see her as a thing – less than proper because of her past (sexual) frivolity and her family. Even her new beau falls into that trap, although to give him his due he does defend her to his colleagues. He just cannot seem to do this to her face.

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He has no problem doing other things to her face though

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Although Alicia, played beautifully by Swedish icon Bergman by the way, is through with her rebellious and flirtatious past, that’s all men want from her and that is all they see. So she obliges. It is interesting that even though Hitchcock has a reputation for having been a dick to women, his female characters are usually very sympathetic and strong. However, they are always put through hell, and they are usually made weak by feelings of love, which may be symptoms of misogyny in itself. Or the stories of his hatred for women may be somewhat exaggerated. Who are we to tell?

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Instead, let’s focus on the story of two ridiculously gorgeous people falling in love and overcoming personal, international, and political obstacles to be together. Yay!

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What we learned: Once you’ve lived up to a certain persona, people won’t let you forget it and move on. Also, if you’re going to infiltrate an enemy organisation, you need nerves of steel (and don’t make stupid key mistakes).

Next time: The Big Sleep (1946)

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#65 Arsenic and Old Lace

Watched: December 14 2016

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massay, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant), against his convictions, is getting married to Elaine (Lane). While they get hitched, his sweet old murderous aunts (Hull & Adair) entertain his new father-in-law along with Teddy “Roosevelt” (Alexander), Mortimer’s insane brother. And the body of their latest victim.

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Murderous and adorable!

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On their way to their honeymoon, Mortimer and Elaine stop by Dark and Godless Brooklyn to greet their relatives, and Mortimer stumbles across the dead body in the window seat and panics. Naturally. He is then completely shocked to find that his lovable aunts committed the deed and not only this one! They have so far killed 12 men and had Teddy bury them in the cellar.

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“But… They looked so peaceful after we poisoned them. So relaxed. We can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong!”

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While Mortimer tries to sort out the mess and have Teddy institutionalized to take the blame (without serving prison time), another brother shows up to further complicate things. Jonathan (Massey) is also insane, but more in the I’ll-kill-you-and-everything-you’ve-ever-loved kind of way and not the bugle blowing, stair charging way of innocent Teddy. He also brings his own plastic surgeon, Dr Einstein (Lorre – who does not age!). Oh, and their very own body to be disposed of.

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Guess who was the inspiration for Einstein’s latest surgical miracle?

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Mortimer, as the only sane member of the family, desperately tries to make everything right while also protecting his more loveable relatives. And the results are very silly, very funny and also strangely suspenseful. Grant’s face is EVERYTHING in this film, and aunt Abby (Hull) is one of the most adorable murderers in history. Poor Lane doesn’t really get much to work with though, despite her being billed second on the poster (though, we realise, not the one we chose to go with for this blog..). She’s mainly there to serve as another complication for Grant and perhaps to represent sanity in this insane world.

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As if Cary Grant isn’t perfectly capable of representing sanity on his own!

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly and hilarious farce which we absolutely loved. The spinster sisters living together weren’t in any way a glimpse into our own futures at all! No sir. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford a house like that…

What we learned: Brooklyn is not part of U.S. proper. Also, inbreeding is never a good idea…

Next time: Double Indemnity (1944)

#57 Suspicion

Watched: October 28 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, Auriol Lee

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 39min

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Shy, bookish introvert Lina (Fontaine) keeps running into charming (but creepy) playboy Johnnie (Grant). After parrying his first advances, she overhears her parents discussing her inevitable descent into spinsterhood and starts pursuing him instead. She rapidly goes from indifferent and interesting to lovesick and stalkery, all in the name of avoiding becoming a spinster.

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“I’d better marry the man who assaulted me on our first date. The alternative is just too horrible!”

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Back from their honeymoon, she realises he’s completely broke, living well above his means, and intends to live off of her income and future inheritance. Being a sensible woman (apart from marrying this guy) she suggests he gets a job. So he sells her family heirlooms to gamble instead.

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“Do you mean to say you love these chairs that have been in your family for generations and which your father gave us? Well, if I had known that I never would have sold them, monkey face!”

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Lina also starts to suspect her handsome, charming husband may have murderous intents, especially when his rich friend Beaky (Bruce) dies in a freak accident in France while Johnnie is out of town. It doesn’t help his case that he asks a lot of questions about untraceable poisons to Lina’s crime writer friend Isobel Sedbusk (Lee) and then starts feeding Lina suspicious drinks.

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“Just trying to be a good husband. God, I can’t do anything right, can I?”

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Suspicion is as suspenseful mystery from the king of the genre, Mr Alfred Hitchcock, and it is fun to see Cary Grant play a villainous character. Joan Fontaine is great as well and actually won an Oscar for her portrayal of the confused, helpless and scared Lina. The film has a great soundtrack and sound effects, and normal, everyday actions, such as carving a chicken at a dinner party, turn very dark and menacing due to the extreme tension throughout. Lina gradually covers up her neck (Johnnie’s favourite part of her body) as her suspicions grow, and the lighting in the film perfectly illustrates her state of mind (like some filmatic mood ring).

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The use of light and shadow is amazing in general – not just as Lina’s mood ring

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Despite the abrupt and slightly unsatisfactory ending, this is a great, tense mystery film. We loved the ’40s fashion as well – it is nigh impossible to look bad in those clothes.

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The typical “nerd attire” in the 1940s is particularly good, especially compared to its more modern counterparts

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What we learned: never marry a man who calls you “monkey face.”

Next time: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

#50 His Girl Friday

Watched: October 28 2016

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy

Year: 1940

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Pop the champagne, people! We have reached #50! *sounds of corks popping and (two) people cheering* And what a way to celebrate – with our favourite comedy on the list so far, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday.

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Featuring two familiar guys and a girl who can give them a run for their money any day!

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Newspaper editor Walter Burns (Grant) learns that his ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Russell) is getting remarried and he’ll have none of it! Not necessarily out of jealousy (although that plays a part in it), but because bad-ass newswoman Hildy is planning on marrying boring insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy) and retiring from being awesome. So he does the only reasonable thing he can think of: he ropes Hildy into doing one last story for him while continuously getting Baldwin arrested for various offences.

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“Seriously, where on earth did you get that hat, and can you get me one too?”

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Despite Hildy’s insistence that she is done with the news business and is looking forward to a quiet existence with Bruce and his mother, she is clearly in her element tackling other newsmen, law officials and a convicted murderer.

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Including her at one point physically tackling a guy, but we can’t find any pictures of that, so here’s one of her just being generally awesome instead.

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The dialogue is incredibly fast and funny with lots of overlapping lines (which probably has a technical film term with which we are unacquainted). Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell have wonderful chemistry and despite new boyfriend Bruce not being a bad guy at all (in fact, he’s rather sweet) we are rooting for them from their first scene together.

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Poor Bruce is so clearly out of his league with these two

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When you take the dialogue, the chemistry of the two stars, the funny and occasionally farcical plot and add one of the best female characters we’ve seen so far, you get movie brilliance. Despite being over 75 years old, His Girl Friday never seems dated and it will continue to stand the test of time.

What we learned: we’ll take a kick-ass career over safety and starting a family any day. Also, characters played by Ralph Bellamy tend to look like Ralph Bellamy.

Next time: Pinocchio (1940)

#44 Bringing Up Baby

Watched: September 17 2016

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant

Year: 1938

Runtime: 1h 42min

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Screwball comedies are always fun, and Bringing Up Baby is no exception. This was another rewatch which we enjoyed as much as the first time around (despite our dislike of having wild animals as pets).

Paleontologist David Huxley (Grant) is trying to assemble a Brontosaurus skeleton and also secure a 1 million dollar donation to his museum. Meanwhile, his path keeps crossing that of heiress Susan Vance (Hepburn) who, after several chance encounters, falls madly in love with him and comes up with increasingly complicated excuses to keep him near.

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You can see why she likes him. It takes a man secure in his masculinity to pull off this look.

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Susan, believing David is a zoologist, talks (read: cons and guilts) him into helping her transport her leopard, Baby, to Connecticut, and the scenes with them singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” to soothe the (relatively small) cat are among the funniest in the film.

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“Are you sure this is going to work? Because right now she looks at me like I’m lunch…”

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There are mix ups, wardrobe malfunctions, romance, snappy dialogue and everything else you’d want in a farcical screwball comedy. Grant and Hepburn are adorable – their performances and chemistry really make the film, and Hepburn is amazingly good at balancing being annoying with being wonderfully charming. In the end, Susan saves David from a entering into a disastrous marriage, and he finally has all the bones he needs to finish his Brontosaurus. All in all, a happy ending, and we had a blast with this one.

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“Well, fellas, I’m not gonna brag, but despite the connotations of this pose, I will fight the temptation to make a dick joke. You’re welcome.”

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What we learned: when a man is wrestling a leopard in a pond he is in no position to run anywhere. Also, there’s an abundance of leopards in Connecticut in spring.

Next time: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

#42 The Awful Truth

Watched: September 18 2016

Director: Leo McCarey

Starring: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, Cecil Cunningham

Year: 1937

Runtime: 1h 31min

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After jealous misunderstandings and unexplained absences, Lucy and Jerry Warriner (Dunne and Grant, respectively) decide to get a divorce.

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“Meet Lucy and Jerry Warriner. Toast of the upper crust, headliners on the society pages… And oh yes, they’re getting divorced!”

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While waiting for their divorce to be finalized, Lucy moves in with her glorious aunt Patsy (Cunningham) and strikes up a romance with oil-rich idiot Daniel Leeson (Bellamy) who lives next door with his mother. Meanwhile, after a short affair with a showgirl, Jerry strikes up a relationship with socialite Barbara Vance, much to Lucy’s dismay.

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“You know as well as I do she won’t make you nearly as happily unhappy as me.”

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Through their shared custody of their dog, the soon-to-be divorcees are forced to meet each other on a regular basis, and they take every opportunity to try to sabotage each other’s affairs, with hilarious consequences. In addition, Aunt Patsy is always at hand with wonderfully snarky remarks.

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Aunt Patsy embodies snarkiness and delightful dance moves – all the things we aspire to possess!

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This was a new one for us, and a new favourite at that. Irene Dunne and Cary Grant were both great (they remind us strangely of Frank and Sadie Doyle, though without the supernatural complications), but our new role model is easily Cecil Cunningham’s Aunt Patsy. That girl was life! The Awful Truth is funny, charming, and has plenty of gorgeous outfits, and we loved it completely.

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What we learned: actually, what we didn’t learn was what the hell Jerry was really doing when he was supposedly in Florida??? Also, Aunt Patsy taught us the definition and consequences of rebound guys.

Next time: Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)