THE CARY GRANT BOX SET (1937-1942). Box sets that celebrate one particular star are generally bogus deals: They claim to be representative of the performer's output, yet what they really plug are whichever random titles the celebrity made for a particular studio. Warner's Cary Grant box set from two years ago was a typically dizzy example -- honestly, is there anyone who would consider Night and Day a cornerstone of Grant's career? -- yet movie buffs seeking a more appropriate representation of the actor's oeuvre wouldn't be far off the mark with this new package from Sony's home entertainment arm. True, The Philadelphia Story, Arsenic and Old Lace and his Hitchcock collaborations are nowhere to be found, but the five titles here offer ample proof of Grant's contributions to our moviegoing merriment.
The Awful Truth (1937) earned an Oscar for Leo McCarey's direction and five additional nods for Best Picture, Actress (Irene Dunne), Supporting Actor (Ralph Bellamy), Screenplay and Film Editing. So who's conspicuously missing from this lineup? Then again, this would hardly be the last time that the Academy took Grant for granted: Despite his illustrious career, he would only receive two nominations, both for largely forgotten dramas. The Awful Truth finds him performing at the peak of his comedic abilities, as he and Dunne (a wonderful sparring partner) play a married couple on the verge of making their divorce final. One hysterical vignette follows another, though I've always been partial to the judge who finds Dunne's courtroom prattle "frightfully immaterial."
Grant teamed up with Katharine Hepburn for two films in 1938, and while Bringing Up Baby has emerged as the acknowledged classic, there's plenty to love about Holiday (1938) as well. Grant plays a young idealist who plans to marry a rich girl (Doris Nolan), only to discover he has more in common with her unconventional sister (Hepburn). Reliable character actor Edward Everett Horton (as Grant's professor friend) and Lew Ayres (as Hepburn's perpetually drunk brother) nearly steal the film from the well-matched leads.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) is a typical Howard Hawks production, which means it's aces all the way. Hawks' world consists of macho guys performing daring tasks, tough women who can hold their own against the boys, razor-sharp dialogue that flies off the lips and a sense that camaraderie matters more than anything else in the world. Angels takes that template and transplants it to an airstrip in South America, where pilots working for a transport company headed by Grant risk their lives on a daily basis flying over rugged terrain in less than ideal conditions. Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth and workaholic Thomas Mitchell (five films in 1939 alone, including his Oscar-winning turn in Stagecoach) lead a solid supporting cast.
Another Hawks-Grant collaboration, His Girl Friday (1940), is simply one of the all-time greats -- if anyone ever elects to place a screwball comedy in a time capsule for 25th-century historians to analyze, it might as well be this one. A remake of The Front Page, this casts Grant as a newspaper editor whose best reporter (Rosalind Russell) also just happens to be his ex-wife -- and she's getting ready to quit her job to marry an amiable hayseed (Ralph Bellamy) from the Midwest. The fast-paced banter sprays the screen like machine gun fire, and Russell (in her best role) more than holds her own against her screwball veteran co-star. Incidentally, one of the best lines -- Grant describing Bellamy's character by stating he "looks like that fellow in the movies ... you know, um, Ralph Bellamy" -- was an ad-lib on Grant's part.
To state that The Talk of the Town (1942) is the weakest film in this set is hardly a criticism when one considers the high caliber of the works on parade here. At any rate, it's still a top-grade production, with Grant cast as a fugitive from the law (he's innocent, of course), Jean Arthur co-starring as the teacher who shelters him and Ronald Colman providing the final point of the triangle as a professor whose rigid interpretation of the law leads to philosophical debates with the more progressive Grant.
DVD extras on each disc consist of short making-of pieces and trailers; His Girl Friday also includes audio commentary by film critic Todd McCarthy.
The Awful Truth: Rating: ****
Holiday: Rating: ***1/2
Only Angels Have Wings: Rating: ***1/2
His Girl Friday: Rating: ****
The Talk of the Town: Rating: ***1/2
Extras: Rating: **1/2
CLASS OF 1984 (1982). Looking back, this cult film has proven to be one of those oddities that upon its original release managed to be retro and futuristic at the same time. On one hand, its roots clearly traced back to 1955, the year Blackboard Jungle hit theaters; Class of 1984 is little more than a Blackboard retread, with mascara-sporting punks replacing mealy-mouthed greasers as the antagonists and Alice Cooper replacing Bill Haley on the soundtrack. But the movie also cast a prescient eye on the future of American education, cynically yet accurately envisioning a high school milieu in which weapon checkpoints could just as easily become the norm rather than the exception. Class of 1984 isn't especially good, but it gets the job done on the trash level, putting our virtuous hero through so many arduous ordeals that even bleeding hearts are screaming for him to obliterate the bad guys by the end. Perry King stars as the mild-mannered music teacher who gets pushed to the edge by a sadistic student (Timothy Van Patten) and his sordid sycophants, and look for a young Michael J. Fox (still sporting plenty of lingering baby fat) as a clean-cut student who finds himself a frequent target of school bullies. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Mark Lester, a making-of feature called Blood and Blackboards, a photo gallery and trailers.
Movie: Rating: **1/2
Extras: Rating: **1/2