Walk, Don’t Run
We had just seen The More the Merrier, and thought it would be fun to see this one, which is a remake, 23 years later. And it was! There is a housing shortage in wartime Washington/Tokyo during the Olympics. Charles Coburn/Cary Grant inveigles Jean Arthur/Samantha Eggar into subletting her apartment. Later, Coburn/Grant sublets his part to Joel McCrea/Jim Hutton. Hilarious romantic complications ensue, culminating in marriage.
This is one of those rare times when a remake works very well. Which is the better film? I’d have to say the earlier one has the edge, though that’s not to knock this one. Jim Hutton is not as interesting as Joel McCrea. Cary Grant plays it quite differently from Charles Coburn, and rightly so. Coburn was a jolly fat man, and Cary Grant was … well, Cary Grant. Samantha Eggar is no Jean Arthur … but she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of; nobody could equal Jean Arthur.
There are nice bits of business in both movies. Both use a gag about vanishing pants that is very funny. Jim Hutton is an Olympic athlete, but every time someone asks him what his event is, he deftly changes the subject. That’s because he’s competing in the most silly-looking Olympic event there is, except maybe the triple jump: the 50K walk. There’s just no way to look dignified or even athletic in that crazy gait walkers use, though you’d better be quite the athlete if you intend to do it for 50K! While making coffee or showering, Cary Grant whistles the themes from two of his previous movies, Charade and An Affair to Remember. And he is willing to spoof himself. Several references are made to how old he is. He looks in the mirror and worries about the hint of a turkey neck. (He was 61, and looks amazingly good, and in several sequences proves himself about 1000% more spry than I am today at the same age.) He’s done this sort of thing before, as in His Girl Friday, when he says at one point, “The last man that messed with me was Archie Leach …” Archibald Leach was Cary Grant’s real name.
Sadly, this was Grant’s last film. At least, I think it’s sad. He felt he was too old for romantic leads, and decided to get out, unlike some present-day actors I could name who insist on playing opposite actresses 40 years younger than themselves. Still, there was Paul Newman, who worked right up to the end of his life. He didn’t go into supporting roles so much as find roles more suited to an older man. Could Grant have done that? I’m not sure. Paul Newman was a great actor, and Cary Grant was … Cary Grant. He could play Cary Grant to perfection, but that was pretty much it. (He said of that, “I’ve often been accused by critics of being myself on-screen. But being oneself is more difficult than you’d suppose.” He also said, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”) To be sure, playing Cary Grant was enough, more than enough, but I wonder if he could have shifted to old man roles. Well, whatever. He didn’t want to, and that’s that.
There is one scene, early on, that’s a little hard to buy. Grant comes to Eggar’s door, asking to rent the spare room. She says she would prefer a women. Now, does that sound real, ladies? Ask yourself, if Cary Grant was standing in your doorway, would you slam the door? I think not. The only woman I can think of who wouldn’t be interested is a lesbian … and I think even some lesbians would think it over. There never has been, and probably never will be, a male romantic lead like Cary Grant.
There are few people who have ever lived who had the charisma of Cary Grant. I have a small personal experience of that charisma.
When I was working at MGM we were having lunch in the commissary one day. There are two rooms in the commissary, a large one for technical people and extras, and a smaller one for executives and stars … and the occasional writer, like myself. I was with David Begelman, Freddie Fields, Doug Trumbull, and John Foreman, men who had worked around big stars all their lives. The tables around me were filled with similar people, producers and stars. Suddenly a buzz went around the room. It’s Cary Grant! Cary Grant is here! And all at once these powerful men, men impossible to impress, were as atwitter as the most starstruck fan standing outside the ropes at a big premiere. They didn’t jostle or shout, of course, but you could feel it, as he entered the room and passed quickly through, smiling, shaking a few hands. The man hadn’t made a film in twenty years, but he still had more star power than any dozen men on the lot. That was Cary Grant.
There are two supporting roles worth mentioning. Miiko Taka plays Samantha Eggar’s best friend, Aiko. She speaks very good English, probably because she was born in Seattle. She starred in Sayonara as Marlon Brando’s romantic interest. And watch for George Takei as a cop in the police station.