Sunday, April 4, 2010

Poll Results: Cary Grant

My, how history has changed! The results of last month's poll question, "With whom did Katharine Hepburn have the best onscreen chemistry?" has given Cary Grant a narrow victory over Spencer Tracy. Of the 62 votes cast:

Cary Grant 32 (51%)

Spencer Tracy 30 (48%)

It's easy to understand why Cary won--he's better looking! Isn't that why he won? No? Okay, I'll maintain the position that his looks had nothing to do with his narrow victory. Grant's four films with Hepburn are all comedies and are well-regarded, even the cult favorite Sylvia Scarlett (1936), which was a critical and commercial flop upon its initial release but has now been credited with being the movie where Cary Grant "found his Cary Grantness"--let's all pause to thank director George Cukor--and the duo's other three movies: Bringing up Baby; Holiday; and The Philadelphia Story are out and out brilliant---another pause to thank George Cukor for those last two movies. There are very few duos who've collaborated on movies in which the films themselves, not just the onscreen chemistry, are regarded as masterworks.

What I've noticed about Kate and Cary's films together is that the Hepburn we get in those films is an actress who had yet to develop into the headbutting career woman, an onscreen characterization present in her movies with Spencer. The 1930s Hepburn was, in my view, more apt to play a wounded or fragile character more often than she did post-Philadelphia Story. The Kate of the 1930s is my favorite as her variety and the scope of her roles makes her endlessly fascinating. Her collaborations with Grant rank among my favorite movies of all time, and while I adore Spencer Tracy, his onscreen work with Hepburn is often too combative and I have to be in a tremendously good mood in order to get into the spirit of their movies.


  1. Well the results were extremely close either way.

    Unpopular opinion but I actually don't really like Kate's movies with Spencer Tracy. My issue is while Kate was shown to be a strong woman in these films, in the end she always seemed to have to be taken down a peg or two.

    I guess this is sort of true in Philadelphia Story as well but I feel it is at least shown that Grant's character had to fix his drinking issue before getting Hepburn back.

    Then there is Bringing Up Baby where Kate pretty much completely overpowers Grant's character personality wise in the film. Overall I also just like the variety of the Grant/Hepburn movies more.

  2. This is a very interesting point, Kim. Almost concentrating on the 30s, I have not a single Film with Hepburn and Tracy. So I looked it up:

    Woman of the Year (1942)
    Keeper of the Flame (1942)
    Without Love (1945)
    The Sea of Grass (1947)
    State of the Union (1948)
    Adam's Rib (1949)
    Pat and Mike (1952)
    Desk Set (1957)
    Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967)

    These are the movies with Hepburn and Tracy and they were all made after the 30s, an era when strong women where shown in films, because it was quite popular. During the 40s the taste changed and this happend not only to Katherine Hepburn. My beloved Jean Arthur changed too (an awkward experience for me). Ginger Rogers became softer as well: In „Once Upon a Honeymoon“ she isn't the stubborn girl she has been during the 30s – she is quite yielding and Cary Grant plays the strong character, who always knows better what to do. The first time I saw this, was 1939 in „Only Angels Have Wings“: Cary Grant dominates as a real macho and Jean Arthurs sophisticated critic bounces downright off.

    I often say to myself too: „Oh no, this isn't that tough girl I always admired.“ But in fact actresses had to adjust. I know Katherine Hepburn not very well, just guess she didn't like it, because somewhere I read she was quite emancipated. In „Bringing Up Baby“ Grant played a very confused man (no wonder if Kate dominated), but thinking of „Holiday“ or „Philadelphia Story“ I'd say 'draw'. Considering „The Awful Truth“: Here is Cary Grant absolute dominated by Irene Dunne (she knows better, is wittier and he has finally to give in).

    Indeed the female Hollywood type was much softer and more yielding in the 40s, than in the 30s. Kind of going back to the roots of traditional clich├ęs. - By the way, I'd rather ask Kate, with whom she had the best screen chemistry. Didn't she tell us anything about it?

  3. Could anyone help having screen chemistry with Cary Grant? To my eye, he was the greatest comic actor of all times, who created comical situation even without saying a word, simply listening to the others and provoked intellectual smile rather than a hearty laughter. The same goes for Kate.
    That's high comedy in my book.

  4. I confess, I'm not a fan of the Hepburn-Tracy pairings. I don't like the headbutting, the power play. It's nice to know that I'm not alone. Excellent post!

  5. @ Clarissa Smith yes you are right this is certainly not an issue with just Hepburn/Tracy movies. And maybe this is why I strongly prefer (with a few exceptions of course) the romantic comedies of the 30's and earlu 40's to those that came later. I just miss the stronger female characters of these earlier films.


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