The NYT has a brief but noteworthy piece up about Cary Grant, a “real leading man.” It has some lines worth pondering in an age when masculine movie characters can be hard to come by:
But the winners and Grant’s performances in them are such an important constituent of our feelings about American movies and about an entire style of American life in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s that we forgive any number of failures. The character he created and then lived in for decades, a seemingly effortless production that was actually the result of years of practice and refinement and discipline, was an ideal of the ascendant American male (as observed by a young immigrant vaudevillian): urbane but athletic, absurdly handsome but self-effacing, a joker who could be a bit of a cad, even a little cruel, but would always do the right thing in the end. As Kael formulated it, he was the man women wanted and men wanted to be.
That might be the best reason to watch Grant today. Kael noted in 1975, during his lifetime, that it was impossible to imagine Grant in the macho action and crime films that were beginning to dominate Hollywood. It’s equally impossible to imagine him in the soggy, misogynistic, stealth-macho geekfests that pass for romantic comedy now. Watching him is to be reminded of a time when intelligence, grace and self-containment were their own rewards. The 21st century, so far, hasn’t deserved him.