Monday, August 26, 2013

The Five Best Cary Grant Performances

One of the most beloved classic film actors, Cary Grant charmed audiences for four decades, co-starred with brilliant actresses like Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Deborah Kerr, and worked for directors Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, and George Cukor. Is it even possible to sift through his impressive filmography and select his five best performances? Well, yes, it is--because we have done so! As with all of our "Five Best" lists, we look forward to reading your dissenting opinions.

1. The Bishop's Wife.  While this film--required Christmas viewing in our house--has its share of magical moments (e.g., the angel Dudley’s visit with the professor, the ice skating scene, etc.), its greatest asset is Cary Grant’s performance. For once, despite his looks and charm, he doesn't get the girl! Furthermore, his angel Dudley becomes jealous and, in one scene, perhaps a little petty. In the hands of a less gifted actor, this portrayal of an often human-like angel could have posed a problem. But Grant provides all the required character shading and still keeps Dudley immensely likable. That was one of his greatest gifts as a performer.

2. Bringing Up Baby.  One of the highlights of this delirious screwball comedy is watching uptight paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Grant) slip deeper and deeper into increasingly madcap situations--until he just accepts them. While Cary Grant has played his share of free-spirited characters (e.g., Holiday), he's content in Baby to play off Katharine Hepburn's wacky character. He proves to be the perfect yin to her yang. It's a shame they made only four movies together and just this one true farce.

3. Notorious.  If I listed my favorite Cary Grant movies, then North By Northwest would get this slot. However, this is a list of Cary's best performances and so Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious gets the nod. As espionage agent T.R. Devlin, Grant comes mighty close to playing an unlikable character. In the name of patriotism, he recruits a confused young woman (Ingrid Bergman), falls in love with her, convinces her to spy on a Nazi leader, and then allows her to marry the bad guy. In the end, Devlin does the right thing--but the only reason we "forgive" him is because Grant convinces us that his tainted hero is also a pawn in a global game against evil.

4. An Affair to Remember. Leo McCarey's remake of his earlier Love Affair (1939) is too often dismissed as a first-rate romance with soap opera overtones. In fact, it's an extremely well-acted character study of two people who unexpectedly find true love aboard a cruise ship. The clever screenplay, co-written by Delmer Daves, plays with stereotypes--especially Cary Grant as wealthy playboy Nickie Ferrante. Grant peels back his character's public persona gradually, revealing Nickie's warmth, sincerity, and insecurities. The film also provides Grant with one of his finest acting scenes--when Nickie concludes that Terry (Deborah Kerr) has rejected him by not appearing for their Empire State Building rendezvous.

5. North By Northwest. Cary Grant excelled at playing unflappable characters, with the finest example being this classic Hitchcock picture about an innocent man mistaken for a spy and later framed for murder. Thrust into an espionage plot, Grant's advertising executive never seems out of his depth--even when being pursued by a crop duster. When examined on its own, the plot stretches credibility, but that never crosses my mind when watching North By Northwest thanks to Hitchcock's direction and the strong cast--in particular, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and, of course, Cary Grant.

Honorable Mentions:  People Will TalkArsenic and Old Lace; His Girl Friday; Holiday; Gunga Din; Charade; and The Awful Truth.


  1. I think Cary's best performance is his Academy Award-nominated performance in "Penny Serenade." That also happens to be my favorite of his films.

  2. I can't speak to his "best" performances. I'm not good at judging an actor's abilities. My five favorite Cary Grant performances are: Father Goose, North by Northwest, His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, and The Bachelor and The Bobby Soxer. I must admit I've never cared for Philadelphia Story.

  3. Charade, Notorious, North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, Father Goose. The camera loved him like no other actor.

  4. Cary Grant never gave a bad performance. But my votes for "Best" would be "People Will Talk", "Notorious", "Penny Serenade", "An Affair to Remember" and "None But the Lonely Heart".

    1. Well, he kind of DOES give a poor performance or two near the end of his career when he just didn't care any more. He sleepwalks through THAT TOUCH OF MINK and WALK, DON'T RUN.

      Otherwise, I would agree.

    2. Even in those there are bits of the old magic....the business with the coffee pot in WDR...almost a silent routine going on under the dialogue. ...and in ATOM.."sounds like a place where you bring your own light bulbs!"....only Cary could say any line and make it shine....

  5. My late father's favourite Grant performance is from "Penny Serenade". My first Cary Grant movie was "Father Goose". Loved scruffy old Walter!

    My top 5:

    North by Northwest
    Bringing Up Baby
    The Talk of the Town
    His Girl Friday
    Penny Serenade

  6. "Notorious" should be No. 1. By a landslide.

  7. I love the Bishops Wife but not sure its number one. Bringing up Baby should be. Where is Charade?..
    And I love Arsenic and Old Lace but I read he felt he overacted. And yes...My girl Friday.

  8. I happily disagree with all these choices, except for "North by Northwest", but there are enough wonderful Cary Grant performances for dozens of top 5 lists.

    However, this was a delightful post -- very enjoyable reading.

  9. BRINGING UP BABY is number one for me too.
    I would add ARSENIC AND OLD LACE in second place.

    NOTORIOUS would be third.

    HIS GIRL FRIDAY, fourth.


    I always get the vague impression that Grant's 'serious' performances made him either uneasy or out and out embarrassed. Don't know why I say that, but it applies to most of his serious roles except for NOTORIOUS and maybe THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Though in this movie he is not the most likable person on the planet and its hard to believe Grant as an alcoholic. Okay, maybe I'll remove TPS from contention...Maybe not.

    All I can say is that I never get tired of watching Grant in BRINGING UP BABY and ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. Everything else I can take or leave. I'm sorry but there it is. I always believed that Grant should have been (at least) nominated for ARSENIC.

  10. I simply had to run over here the moment I saw "Cary Grant" - I could never choose five. Aside from his obvious charms that still enthrall well beyond his physical beauty, style and grace, Grant was one of our best in all genre of film. IMHO! BUT, if I had a gun to my head I'd have to go with Patti on this one and choose Grant's performance in PENNY SERENADE. He deserved several Oscar nominations, a few for the films you list. However, in PENNY he makes us laugh and breaks our hearts in a film that is all too often overlooked. I have a deep affection for this one so there it is.

    I'll add that as far as a show of comedic force, I'd pit Grant's performance in THE AWFUL TRUTH up there with the other screwballs. But, KUDOS to you, Rick, for even attempting this. As always, a great read!


  11. Yes to THE BISHOP'S WIFE (a Christmas staple in our household as well). One of the delights of Grant's subtle performance is that, even though he shows a trace of jealousy (I wonder if Dudley ever made it to WINGS OF DESIRE?), you're never quite sure that he's not just using the veneer of it to force Henry (especially) and Julia into taking a stand, so to speak, on what's important to them. Nothing makes you realize how much you love your wife, for example, than seeing another man interested in her. Great choice!

  12. No dissent here, though I might switch "Gunga Din" for "The Bishop's Wife" by a hair. Grant was one of the all-time greats. I think Yvette is on to something talking about his serious roles.

    The one Grant film I never want to see again is one of those roles, "None But the Lonely Heart." I thought it would never end.

  13. Great discussion! By my count, these comments include six Cary Grant films I didn't even mention. Some of those omissions are intentional (I'm just not a big fan of PHILADELPHIA STORY; I actually prefer HIGH SOCIETY). For some other films mentioned, I enjoyed the movies very much (especially TO CATCH A THIEF), but wouldn't classify Cary's performance as among his best. It's been especially interesting to see the support for PENNY SERENADE both here and on the Cafe's FB page.

  14. I really enjoyed this blog with all the comments. Cary Grant is truly one of my favorite actors. I was delighted to see you include "The Bishop's Wife" and "Bringing Up Baby". A most excellent post, Rick!

  15. Cary Grant is just awesome all around! North by Northwest is my favorite however! Thanks for posting!

  16. The number of films people have championed here certainly shows how many great performances Cary Grant had. My favourite role of his, in Hawks' 'Only Angels Have Wings', hasn't even been mentioned yet!

    I think my five would be:

    Only Angels Have Wings
    His Girl Friday
    The Philadelphia Story
    None But the Lonely Heart

    He's also great in 'Suspicion', although that film is let down by the ending - and I recently enjoyed seeing him in 'Mr Lucky', a strange mixture of a film but with some great moments.

  17. Mr. Blandings builds his dream house !