Dazzling and disappointing at the same time, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s “Cary Grant Box Set” serves up one crackling good movie after another without the level of extras they surely deserve. Culled from Grant’s contract years at Columbia, it features screwball gems “His Girl Friday” and “The Talk of the Town” along with the new to DVD “Holiday.” Given these cinematic riches, the paltry bonus features feel stingy. Overall package seemingly backs up critics’ repeated contention that the star continues to be underrated.
No less than Andrew Sarris, David Thomson, Molly Haskell and Peter Bogdanovich sing Grant’s praises in the set’s slender featurettes, pointing to his gift for physical comedy, effortless charm and surprising depth. His devastating good looks didn’t hurt either.
“Cary Grant is so delicious you think, ‘Oh, it’s too easy.’ But it wasn’t easy, it was hard,” Sarris says.
The five films span five years at Col — where he had a contract requiring one film per year, and a concurrent deal at RKO — and clearly demonstrate his range. He ably handles action duties in “Only Angels Have Wings,” brisk romantic comedy in “His Girl Friday” and a mix of screwball and brooding danger in George Stevens’ fizzy “Talk of the Town.”
Of the films, only Howard Hawks’ sublime “His Girl Friday” had been previously released with bonus material, including an informative commentary by Variety critic and Hawks biographer Todd McCarthy. Sony added a fresh featurette about the battle of wills between “newspaperman” Rosalind Russell and her ex-husband editor (Grant), wherein Thomson terms “His Girl Friday” one of the greatest American films ever made.
Grant’s sunnier, but equally grounded, in George Cukor’s “Holiday,” based on a Philip Barry play. Like his later “Philadelphia Story,” the romance revolves around a high spirited society gal, both times personified by Katharine Hepburn. Besides a featurette about Grant’s Columbia years, the disc contains a short docu focused solely on the film’s deleted opener. It’s just another hint at the rich back stories of these films. Sadly, “Holiday’s” restored transfer is occasionally fuzzy.
Hawks’ flyboy “Angels” and “Talk of the Town” each contain one slender featurette, while Leo McCarey’s “The Awful Truth,” another comedy about remarriage, this time with Irene Dunne, boasts two.
Between them, the featurettes cover a lot of territory — Grant’s troubled childhood, vaudeville beginnings and generous work style — but always err on the side of brevity. They leave viewers eager for more stories about the actor and the top-notch directors involved.
“The thing about Grant is that somehow he always worked with the best directors — he worked with Leo McCarey, George Stevens, Howard Hawks and later with Hitchcock — I mean, you can’t get any better than that,” Haskell says, who notes that Grant played their alter egos “so surely there was some symbiosis, a collaboration” between them.
Biographer Marc Elliot says Grant gained dimension — and star quality — working with these directors. “What was so fabulous about Cary Grant at Columbia during this period is that the facets of the diamond are allowed to shine,” he says.
Yes, these films all stand on their own. It’s too bad Sony didn’t provide more features to illuminate their enduring quality.