Thursday, July 2, 2015

Introducing...Cary!

We return to the land of the pre-code with This is the Night (1932). We are introduced to Gerald Gray (Roland Young), a wealthy man-about-town who is having an affair with Claire Mathewson (Thelma Todd), seemingly under the nose of her athlete husband, Stephen (Cary Grant).  When Stephen returns suddenly, and finds his wife with Gray and packing, the pair fabricate an excuse for the trip Claire is obviously planning - Claire will be accompanying Gray and his wife to Venice.  Stephen decides this will be a perfect interlude with his wife, and an opportunity to meet Mrs. Gray.  The very unmarried Gerald must find a wife, and fast.  He hires Germaine (Lili Damita) - a young innocent who needs a job, and manages to convince Gray and his best friend Bunny West (Charlie Ruggles) that she is a woman of the world.  Will Stephen be convinced that Germaine is Gray's wife, or will he decide she is a better choice for himself than Claire?

Had this not been the first film of Cary Grant, it is likely it would have been forgotten long ago.  It's pretty silly, in a number of ways.  In fact, Grant himself loathed the film and the character of Stephen, who he considered to be a nitwit.  Following the premiere of the film, he was afraid he would be typed as the cuckolded husband for the rest of his career.  He got quite drunk, and decided to leave film entirely.  However, several of his friends, including Orry-Kelly, persuaded him to stick it out.  (Thank heavens).  He would make a total of seven films in 1932, including Blonde Venus (starring Marlene Dietrich), Hot Saturday (with Nancy Carroll), and The Devil and the Deep (with Charles Laughton).  The following year, he launched into the role of the male lead - a position he would never relinquish in his 34 year film career - in Mae West's She Done Him Wrong.   For more on Grant and the film's background, see this TCM article.
It's also somewhat hard to envision the slight, balding, nebishy Roland Young as the love interest of not one, but two, women.  Can one really imagine preferring him to Cary Grant? It is a stretch, but the films asks us to do so (without, I might add, much success).  Young was far better used in movies such as Topper, Ruggles of Red Gap and especially Give Me Your Heart, where he played a successful suitor, but of a more age and temperament appropriate woman.  Young was already 45 when the film was released, and frankly looks older.  His career began on the London stage, continued into silent and talking films, the Broadway stage, and into television.  In fact, his last appearances were in 1953 - the year he died - on the television show The Doctor and in the film That Man from Tangier.  A gifted actor, This is the Night just does not show him to advantage. 

Lili Damita is fine as Germaine, but it's difficult to understand her attraction to Gerald, given that there is no real romance between them. Even the ending of the film has them staring into each others eyes, nary a kiss to be seen.  She began her career in France, and came to America as sound burst on the scene.  Her career was not especially long, and she is best remembered now for her seven year marriage to her much more renowned second husband, Errol Flynn (she was previously married to Michael Curtiz).  She made her last film in 1938.  Her only child, Sean Flynn disappeared in Cambodia in 1970, where he was working as a photojournalist.  Damita spent several years trying to locate him, sadly to no avail.  For more information on her, visit this New York Times obituary.
With all the hanky-panky in the film, it's no wonder the Hays Office complained about it.  Never mind the blatant affair between Gray and Claire. The continuing motif of Claire losing her dress in public is quite risque (And given the dresses Claire almost has on, it's apparent there is nothing much under them).  The entry from the AFI catalog goes into more detail on Paramount's issues with the film's content.
The film was based on a Broadway play, Naughty Cinderella, which ran from November of 1925 to February of 1926. The part of Gray was played by English actor Henry Kendall, who also appeared in a number of films, including Hitchcock's Rich and Strange.  The play was also made into a silent film, Good and Naughty, with Pola Negri as Germaine and Tom Moore as Gray.  We can't really recommend the film especially, but it is fun to see Cary Grant begin his illustrious career (after all, even Shakespeare had clunkers!)

A small treat: Robert Osborne introducing the film during a month-long tribute to Mr. Grant.
 

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