best film: Bringing Up Baby is my top-rated screwball comedy and top-rated Howard Hawks film (three total in the top 100 of all-time). It ekes out as Grant’s best film ahead of North by Northwest by 9 slots. Grant has two other masterpieces: Notorious and His Girl Friday so we’re talking about two films by Hitchcock and two with Hawks—can’t ask for much more. His Girl Friday is on the fringe of masterpiece grade– but the other three are rock solid.

best performance: North by Northwest. There are many facets to Cary Grant’s skill and on-screen personas—I’ll get to that a bit more in the traits section below but his work in North by Northwest is his strongest because it combines the suave leading man with the dexterous comedian. In North by Northwest there are long stretches where Grant is the confident leading man. There are entire films where he’s serious like this — the entirety of Charade, Suspicion and Notorious.  But he’s unquestionably stiffer in these three films (those are still fabulous performances—see slots #3 and #8 below). There are sections in North by Northwest when he gets to show off his comedic side (drunk sequence, scenes with his mother, the set up of them assuming he’s someone else or knows what’s going on and he doesn’t). It’s just enough to show off the actor that was so brilliant in all of those comedies from The Awful Truth on down. The case could definitely be made for Bringing Up Baby as his best work. I’m fine with that- I think I may downgrade him a little because he’s next to Hepburn who is just bat-shit crazy for the entirety of it but still- a talented comedian at the top of his powers here.

stylistic innovations/traits: I touched on it above discussing North by Northwest but there are at least three Cary Grants. There’s the impeccably dressed and debonair —nobody has ever been handsomer—leading man.  That’s one. There’s also the immensely gifted comedian (both physically (with his background as an acrobat) and verbally (with that unplaceable trademark accent). It’s a distant third but be could also play a very decent swashbuckler Errol Flynn-type (Gunga Din, Only Angles Have Wings). I guess you could add a 4th “Cary Grant” and that’s the early 30’s beefcake and pretty face Cary Grant before The Awful Truth. He’s not quite the save confident man he would become here. He’s just a good-looking smooth guy there- not quite yet “Cary Grant”. Grant has a total of 27 archiveable films, two academy award nominations (0 wins) for None but the Lonely Heart and Penny Serenade—(neither are in his top 12 performances at the very least). He worked often with Hepburn (4 times—all before she started working with Tracy), and of course famously shared the screen with Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn.

directors worked with:   Hitchcock (4)—and I’m taking the four Jimmy Stewart films over the Hitchcock Cary Grant films but it’s underratedly close—such a vital collaboration for Grant to buoy his comedic work. Hawks (3) in 1938, 1939 and 1940—masterpiece in 1938, top 10 of 1939, masterpiece in 1940—– Cukor (3), Stevens (3), McCarey (2), and Donen (2)— then once a piece with Capra and Von Sternberg.

Top 10 Performances:

  1. North by Northwest
  2. Bringing Up Baby
  3. Notorious
  4. Only Angels Have Wings
  5. His Girl Friday
  6. The Philadelphia Story
  7. The Awful Truth
  8. Suspicion
  9. Arsenic and Old Lace
  10. Holiday

Archiveable films

1932- Blonde Venus
1933- I’m No Angel
1933- She Done Him Wrong
1935- Sylvia Scarlett
1937- The Awful Truth
1937- Topper
1938- Bringing Up Baby
1938- Holiday
1939- Gunga Din
1939- Only Angels Have Wings
1940- His Girl Friday
1940- My Favorite Wife
1940- The Philadelphia Story
1941- Penny Serenade
1941- Suspicion
1942- The Talk of the Town
1944- Arsenic and Old Lace
1944- None But the Lonely Heart
1946- Notorious
1947- The Bishop’s Wife
1948- Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
1955- To Catch a Thief
1957- An Affair To Remember
1958- Indiscreet
1959- North By Northwest
1959- Operation Petticoat
1963- Charade