Five things to watch this weekend – 9-11 August

It’s a right old Cary on this week, as we pick out five from Bristol’s finest for your weekend viewing.

Matthew Thrift

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Where’s it on? BFI Southbank

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Cary Grant would star opposite Katharine Hepburn four times in the space of five years, three of those for director George Cukor. Sylvia Scarlett was the first of their collaborations, a gender-bending yarn spun out of a trio of luck-trying hustlers. A mockneyed Grant is Jimmy Monkley, self-described “gentleman adventurer”, while Hepburn is the titular Sylvia, hair cropped to effect ‘Sylvester’ – a means to smuggle herself into England with her ne’er-do-well pops (Edmund Gwenn) on the run from a bad debt in their French hometown. If Grant is still trying his screen personality on for size, finally coming close to one that fits, following a series of lacklustre supporting roles (“He suddenly seemed liberated,” said Cukor), Hepburn seems to be stretching hers at the seams before it was even consolidated. As often shrill as it is spiky, and hardly cohesive, the film remains, for the most part, a delight, its startling sexual ambiguities placing it way ahead of the curve.

The Awful Truth (1937)

Where’s it on? Criterion Blu-ray

The Awful Truth (1937)

The Awful Truth (1937)

“No, things are the way you think I made them. I didn’t make them that way at all. Things are just the same as they always were, only you’re the same as you were too, so I guess things will never be the same again.” Cinema’s premier battle of the sexes comes courtesy of erstwhile Laurel and Hardy director Leo McCarey, who claimed responsibility for forging the Grant persona with The Awful Truth. McCarey transplants his former Stan & Ollie slapstick to a series of upper class apartments and dining clubs, improvising with his cast through a series of deftly connected and ingeniously staged set-pieces. Grant and Irene Dunne are the married couple seeking divorce, unable to resist meddling in each other’s newfound affairs. How much of Grant’s emergent confidence ought to be credited to the McCarey school of direction matters little in the event, but it sure paid dividends here and in the films to come.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Where’s it on? Criterion Blu-ray

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

A year after Bringing Up Baby (1938), Grant re-teamed with director Howard Hawks for the second of their five collaborations. The filmmaker’s supreme adventure film, Only Angels Have Wings, epitomises the Hawksian mode, emphasising the group dynamic in the South American mountain town of Barranca, launch site of a dangerous mail run through the skies, where men and women are only as good as the jobs they do. Hawks would go on to relax and expand the hang-out movie late in his career, but its roots are right here. The empathy for each and every character – delineated via a rigorous set of moral and behavioural codes – is as equitable as it is boundless; the performances – with the exception of Jean Arthur’s new arrival, Bonnie – are masterclasses in emotional evasion. Simply put, it’s one of the great American films.

His Girl Friday (1940)

Where’s it on? Criterion Blu-ray

His Girl Friday (1940)

His Girl Friday (1940)

The two Hawks films on our list evince the director’s sure hand across multiple genres. His Girl Friday couldn’t be more different to Only Angels Have Wings, and neither could Grant’s performance as silver-tongued newshound Walter Burns. Adapated by Charles Lederer from Ben Hecht’s stage play The Front Page – whose 1931 screen version is included as an extra in this Criterion set – Hawks insisted his writer flip the gender of Hecht’s leading man Hildy Johnson, gifting the role to Rosalind Russell as one half of cinema’s greatest double-act. Famous for its hyperspeed, overlapping dialogue, the film is a miracle of formal engineering, as Hawks stages a masterclass in blocking through every axis of the frame. There’s a manic energy to His Girl Friday’s screwballing, manifest in movement and dialogue rather than the camera and the cut. Orson Welles and Gregg Toland are celebrated for their deep focus work on Citizen Kane (1941), but Hawks had laid down the gauntlet more than a year earlier.

Charade (1963)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Charade (1963)

Charade (1963)

Hitchcock knock-offs rarely come as fun and assured as this 1963 number from Singin’ in the Rain (1952) director Stanley Donen. Cary Grant plays Peter Joshua… or is it Adam Canfield? Or Alexander Dyle, or Brian Cruikshank? Whoever he is, Reggie Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) believes him the only one who can protect her from the rogues’ gallery insistent that she’s the custodian of her late husband’s $250,000, snagged in a robbery. When Grant meets… Oh, who are we kidding? The labyrinthine plot matters little here. Charade is all about getting – and keeping – its leads on screen together so the romance can unfold. Cary was never Cary-er, Hepburn never as adorably guileless. Sure, it wants for the Hitchcock touch in its set-pieces, which Donen, with the occasional hat-tip, appears to know all too well. Elevated by its Parisian location work, it makes for an effortlessly charming couple of hours’ viewing.

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