The Cary Grant Box Set

No matter how scatterbrained, scheming, stubborn or silly his characters got, Cary Grant was always likeable. Whereas other tall, dark and handsome actors of the'30s, such as Clark Gable, seem like corny, conceited brutes today, Grant has stood the test of time. And so have The Awful Truth (1937), Holiday (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940) and The Talk of the Town (1942), each backed by a solid handful of bite-sized featurettes, with a couple of trivia-packed feature-length commentaries in this five-DVD set. Pairing razor-sharp dialogue with subtle slapstick, Grant was at his comic peak during this period, but I would have preferred Bringing Up Baby over the relatively tame Holiday (both star Katharine Hepburn) and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) over the aviation adventure/romance Only Angels Have Wings. That said, Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth, co-starring Irene Dunne, and Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday, featuring Rosalind Russell, are undoubtedly among Grant's greatest films, truly the cream of the screwball crop. Both feature separated husbands and wives, with potential suitors in the wings, trading toxic barbs until they finally fall back into each others' arms, but the dialogue is so sharp, and, in the case of His Girl Friday's "newspaperman" crew, so rapid-fire fast, and the acting so natural, nuanced and tight that it makes Hollywood's contemporary romantic comedies look like eight-hour Holocaust documentaries. Foreshadowing the darker roles he would go on to play for Alfred Hitchcock, George Stevens' Talk of the Town features Grant as "the town malcontent," a framed, escaped criminal facing execution. Philosophy, politics, violent crime, goofy comedy and a run-around romance make for a slightly awkward fit here (whereas His Girl Friday weaves the dramedy together brilliantly), but that's part of what makes this film, the set's most obscure, so oddly intriguing. (Columbia/Sony)