Tuesday, July 05, 2011

CARY GRANT'S FINAL FILM WAS THE 1966 LIGHTWEIGHT COMEDY "WALK DON'T RUN". I had resisted seeing it for . . . oh, decades . . . probably because I assumed it would be rather dismal since it was the film that put paid to a sparkling movie career. Somehow, I reasoned, it must be an embarrassing mess to cause Cary Grant to swear off moviemaking for all time. Nothing could be further from the truth as WALK DON'T RUN is a nice if inconsequential farce which nevertheless still provides the kind of role which Cary Grant always excelled in; and he certainly does so here. If I say WALK DON'T RUN is a film for which the term "fluff" was invented, you may think I'm dismissing the film but I'm not. After all, some of the most enjoyable movies ever made could be termed "fluff" as they're merely pure entertainment. But there's nothing at all wrong with that and too many movies aren't entertaining at all (especially nowadays) so that's actually quite a complement for a film which doesn't pretend to be anything else.
WALK DON'T RUN is really a remake of the 1943 George Stevens comedy THE MORE THE MERRIER starring Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea which deals with the housing shortage during World War II. Here we have the scene shifted to 60s Tokyo during the Olympic games. Businessman Sir William Rutland (Cary Grant in a role which refreshing calls for him to be British) arrives in Tokyo two days before scheduled for a business transaction. Since his reservation is for Sunday and this is only Friday, he has no hotel room. He toddles along to the British embassy where he meets typically wet civil servant Julius D. Haversack (a delightful John Standing) who proves no help at getting "Bill" accommodations. While waiting, Rutland happens to see a card tacked to a bulletin board advertising an apartment to share and heads on over. The apartment renter is a pretty though repressed young lady named Christine (Samantha Eggar) who is none to happy about a man turning up to share her tiny apartment. Rutland, in his patented Cary Grant manner, charms and befuddles Chris into allowing him to rent half the apartment before she even knows what's hit her. Chris is VERY organised and quickly draws up a morning bathroom schedule literally down to the minute; she will be in the bathroom from such-and-such a time to such-and-such a time and to shower and then Rutland may go in to shave for about 5 minutes when Chris will then return to brush her teeth and then vacate so Rutland can shower when HE has to vacate so she can return to the bathroom to apply her makeup and so on and so on. Needless to say, the organised Chris has no trouble at all keeping to the schedule while Rutland is totally at sea. You can imagine the farcical opportunities rampant in such a set-up and Cary Grant manages to keep them all fresh and charming. The rather uptight Eggar and easygoing Grant allow for much abrasive fun.
While in town for a business meeting, Rutland comes across a member of the US Olympic team named Steve Davis (Jim Hutton) who never quite admits what exact sport he'll be competing in the Olympics. Steve has arrived 2 days early as well and the Olympic committee has nowhere for him to stay either. While Steve comes back to Rutland's digs to use the phone, he slowly but irrevocably manages to sublet half of Rutland's half of the apartment (in much the same way Rutland bamboozled Chris). When Chris returns, she finds not one but TWO unwanted men sharing her apartment. Oh, what will people think?!?! Naturally it also turns out that the civil servant Haversack just happens to be Chris' fiancee. However, it's obviously not a love match and Sir Bill slowly determines that Steve is a much better match for Chris and proceeds to maneuver them towards each other at every opportunity. Traditional setting for a lighthearted (mild) sex farce and that's indeed what we get.
WALK DON'T RUN is a charming little film which is nothing more than that. It must have seemed somewhat old-fashioned even upon it's release in 1966 but is nonetheless charming for it. This was director Charles Walters' last theatrical film as was as Cary Grant's; Walters would do television work in the next 10 years. However, Walters had an extensive directorial career helming musicals like GOOD NEWS (1947) with a collegiate June Allyson, EASTER PARADE (1948) with Fred Astaire & Judy Garland, SUMMER STOCK (1950) with Gene Kelly & Judy Garland, HIGH SOCIETY (1956) with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra & Louis Armstrong as well as Esther Williams starrers DANGEROUS WHEN WET (1953) and EASY TO LOVE (1953), THE TENDER TRAP (1955), PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1960) and THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (1964). Cary Grant, of course, is a joy to watch in anything and he is accompanied by a pair of very charming and watchable costars in Samantha Eggar and Jim Hutton. At the time, young Hutton was touted as something of a "new Jimmy Stewart" and there are moments when he does come over very Stewart-like. In fact, at one point in the film some Japanese children tune in a western movie on TV and we see an actual clip of Jimmy Stewart (dubbed into Japanese and looking like it's taken from one of the Anthony Mann pictures). This was surely an in joke! Samantha Eggar manages to deftly convey her character's repressed Britishness; in fact Grant and Hutton have a lengthy discussion concerning her obvious virginity which Eggar overhears and is none too pleased with. However, Eggar manages to also bring a warmth and humour to the part so that Chris is never once seen as cold, frigid or humourless. She's just matched up with the wrong guy, that's all. Now "Sir" John Standing as Haversack is fun as the clueless civil servant who seems oblivious to everything happening around him. Standing, of course, is the well-respected stage and screen actor descended from not only a bevy of illustrious acting Standings but also the son of the delightful Kay Hammond (superb as the ghostly Elvira in BLITHE SPIRIT). Standing is still active today recently appearing in V FOR VENDETTA as well as memorably playing the creepy (and rapidly aging) Jason Mountolive who summons everyone to his creepy satanic mansion in the creepy Katharine Ross spooker THE LEGACY. Wow . . .creepy! And now we move on to Cary Grant whose fatherly attentions are only one step below his angelic interference in THE BISHOP'S WIFE! He subtly maneuvers everyone in the cast like Bobby Fisher wrangling chess pieces. Incidentally, look for a young George "Sulu" Takei during the police station scene. Grant plays his part all the way through with great humour and charm (there's that word again); he seems to be enjoying himself immensely and in no way thinking of chucking his entire movie career. At different points in the film, he naughtily whistles the theme songs from CHARADE and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER; a lovely self-referential touch even more effective considering this would be his last film. Grant was in his early 60's when he starred in WALK DON'T RUN and apparently thought that he could no longer pull off leading roles; neither did he think his fans would accept him in supporting roles. So he gave it up. But the Cary Grant here is just as vibrant as he ever was; in fact, he's actually in astounding physical shape. He repeated gets locked out of the apartment and is seen climbing up trellis work and rooftops like he was still in IT TAKES A THIEF. Stripped to the waist wearing only a towel in a public bath, Grant shows doubters that he's in great physical shape and later, during a "walking race" he appears in better shape than Jim Hutton (whose huffing and puffing hopefully is acting because he looks like he's about to keel over)! One can only wonder what a career Cary Grant could've had in the next 20 years had he not given it all up; there would've been no end of comedy uncles, fathers and grandfathers he could have brighten the screen with as well as dramatic older roles. Sadly we'll never know. But this light confection of a movie is how he chose to go out; and while it's not as important or spectacular a film to end such a storied career, it is a pleasant little comedy with which to take our cinematic leave of him.

2 comments:

Weaverman said...

A fun movie. This came out while I was working at Columbia and I'm pretty sure that it was Grant's visit to London in connection with the opening that was responsible for me, for a few flleting moments, to be in the presence of this great star.

Cerpts said...

You lucky dog!