The universal principle I’m invoking?
The particular manifestation of that principle for today?
Cary Grant stars as Peter — who may or may not be a flimflam man — who aids a widow (Audrey Hepburn) in her mission to recover a fortune hidden by her late husband.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Grant the Actor is that he was so incredibly consistent: so suave; so gently saucy; so ageless; somehow, so simultaneously accessible and distant. He was, in so many ways, a persona rather than a person. (One of my very favorite Hollywood stories is the one where a reporter tells Grant that “everybody would like to be Cary Grant,” and Grant replies: “So would I.” Revealing, especially from a man who revealed so little.)
One of the things I’ve always loved about this film in particular is that Grant is actually playing against his long-established, painstakingly-maintained persona. Unwilling to wander off into doddering insignificance, he called an end to his acting days only three years later, which makes this 1963 turn one of his oldest performances. There’s an astonishing amount of grey on display, particularly in comparison to Grant’s carefully-groomed persona from years past. And particularly in contrast with Hepburn, who was 25 highly-vivacious years younger than he. And he doesn’t seem quite as confident, somehow. Or quite as reliable; quite as consistent; not quite as easy to read. In other words, he introduces just enough uncertainty to the story that the “Flimflam or No?” question works. And just enough for you to wonder how (or even whether) things will work out in the end.
As that picture (and the Bond-ish poster) might suggest, the film’s less predictable in both story and in tone than one might expect, given Grant’s involvement. Bosley Crowther’s New York Times’ review struggled with the tone, in particular, saying that it was “directed in a style that is somewhere between that of the screwball comedy of the nineteen-thirties and that of Alfred Hitchcock on a North by Northwest course.”
That sounds a bit “oil-and-watery” (as well as a touch “damning with faint praise-ish”), but I think that’s actually a very good description. …I just like the combination a lot more than Crowther did. His piece moves from saying that “this light-hearted picture is full of such gruesome violence” to saying that “there’s a lot to be said for it as a fast-moving, urbane entertainment in the comedy-mystery vein” one sentence later, so I’m not really sure what he thinks of it. I just know I like it. (And that he’s dead-wrong about Walter Matthau being “tiredly amusing.” He’s straight-up, flat-out amusing. But he’s also playing a bit against type himself.)
For the completists, and because that axiom’s mine, I thought it only fair to point out the (surprisingly few) other Grant films available on Netflix: His Girl Friday is HERE, I Was a Male War Bride is HERE, and She Done Him Wrong is HERE.