Cary Grant in Becoming Cary Grant (2017)


(director/writer: Mark Kidal; screenwriter: Nick Ware; cinematographer: Jean-Marie Delorme; editor: Cyril Leuthy; music: The Insects, Adrian Utley; cast: Judy Balaban, Mark Glancy, Barbara Jaynes, David Thomson, Voice of Cary Grant: Jonathan Pryce; Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Christian Popp, Nick Ware; Yuzu Productions/Showtime; 2017-US/UK/France)

The revealing film takes us on a penetrating inner trip of the star and his turmoil about who he really is.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The informative documentary is flawed only because it tells us zilch about Cary Grant’s sexuality identity problem and of the time when he lived together with Randolph Scott in the ’30s. But what it tells us when not being elusive is engrossing. It follows his development as a great leading man and someone who could play rather well either light comedy or serious drama.

It’s written and directed with great passion for the subject by Mark Kidal (“Set The Piano Stool On Fire”/”The Juilliard Experiment“), with Nick Ware co-writer and co-producer with Christian Popp. One of the film’s enticing quotes is Grant lamenting, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

The revealing film takes us on a penetrating inner trip of the star and his turmoil about who he really is, as it tries to get into his head. By framing his story around his LSD therapy sessions, once a week for five hours, which he started in the 1950s, under the treatment of Dr. Hartman, who practiced cutting-edge Southern California psychotherapy, we learn how he views himself and how he re-invented himself. Supposedly the tab of LSD enabled him to see clearly enough to give him a rebirth.

Through the star’s own words, he tells us his life story. Jonathan Pryce acts as Cary’s voice and film critic/scholar David Thomson drops many tidbits about his career. There are also readings from his unpublished autobiography, rare videos of him from his early days up to his death from a stroke 1986, and film clips of some of his major films are effectively used throughout.

This sympathetic characterization measures up well for the popular star, who always had a special appeal to the public. His popularity was enhanced by his good looks, his courtly behavior, his air of sophistication, his acting skills and his charm. He seemed like a good guy, who was approachable.

He was born in 1904 as Archie Leach, a lower-middle-class kid from Bristol in the south of England, whose dad was a presser and mom Elsie was a seamstress. She was depressed, not capable of warmth and possessive. She was guilt-ridden that her oldest son died because she slammed the door on him and he developed gangrene. One day when Archie was just eleven his mom never came home and no one explained her absence, which left him never trusting women again. Later on in the film we learn his dad placed his wife in a mental institution in 1915 and Archie (who was named Cary Grant for his film career and legally took the name when becoming an American citizen) finally found out in 1935 when his father confessed on his deathbed and soon had her released, as he paid the expenses for her to stay in a Bristol house.

His father during his childhood left him to live with another woman and raise a family without him in Southampton, while Archie at 14 joined the Penders juggling troupe and toured with them in NYC, staying on at 18 when they returned home. In the 1920s he got work in vaudeville and on the Broadway stage, and a few years later went to Hollywood on his own. There he got a contract with Paramount and over the years in the 1930s developed his acting craft and when he left the studio he became an independent star and only accepted the best roles.

He was most influenced as an actor by directors like George Cukor, Leo McCarey and Alfred Hitchcock. Grant was married five times-Virginia Cherrill, Barbara Hutton, Betsy Drake, Dyan Cannon and Barbara Harris. He had one daughter with Cannon. Some of his notable films (the ones I loved) covered in the film are “Sylvia Scarlett” (1935), “The Awful Truth” (1937), “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), “His Girl Friday” (1940), Penny Serenade (1941), “Suspicion” (1941), “Notorious” (1946), “To Catch a Thief” (1955), “North by Northwest” (1959), “Charade” (1963) and “Father Goose” (1964).


REVIEWED ON 11/11/2018 GRADE: A-