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18 of Cary Grant's earliest films have been released in a new DVD box set

Posted April 30

A couple of my favorite old Hollywood stories are actually just quips that demonstrate the wit and charm of Cary Grant, the versatile leading man and top box-office draw who starred in comedies and dramas for some 35 years — and during that entire time was adored by women and envied by men the world over.

In an interview, he responded to a question by telling a reporter, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

The second may actually be apocryphal — but it shouldn’t be. Grant was supposedly alone in his agent’s office when a fact-checking inquiry came over the Teletype: “How old Cary Grant?” Grant purportedly got on the machine and responded: “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”

Many of Grant’s biggest hits have continued to endure as popular entertainment in the 21st century, including his four Alfred Hitchcock films: “Suspicion” (1941), “Notorious” (1946), “To Catch a Thief” (1955) and “North by Northwest” (1959). And, of course, the Hitchcock-like “Charade” (1963).

Grant also stood out in the ensemble adventure “Gunga Din” (1939), and for a time in the early days of home video, his lush soap opera “An Affair to Remember” (1957) was the No. 1 most requested title that had not made it to videotape.

Among Grant’s most popular comedies are “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), “His Girl Friday” (1940), “My Favorite Wife” (1940), “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944), “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” (1947), “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948) and “Operation Petticoat” (1958).

He even stars in a Christmastime staple, “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947).

Today, modern actors are still compared to Grant by critics who consider him the perfect example of what a smart, dapper, sophisticated and self-effacing leading man on the big screen should be.

But even Cary Grant had to start somewhere. And if you’re interested in his beginnings, in those very early films that initiated his climb to stardom, consider “Cary Grant: The Vault Collection” from Universal Home Entertainment, a box set with 18 of his earliest pictures from 1932 to 1936 in glorious black and white on six discs.

Yes, you read that right. He made 18 movies in four years back when the studio system was king. Actually, Grant appeared in 25 movies over those four years, but only 18 are collected here.

Included is his very first film, a romantic-comedy puff piece called “This Is the Night,” in which he is fourth- or fifth-billed — depending on which part of the credits you notice — after Lili Damita, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young and Thelma Todd. But from the moment he enters, about 10 minutes in, Grant dominates the screen, playing an outraged husband who catches his wife in an affair, with ensuing shenanigans designed to cover it up.

Among the more famous titles here are Grant’s two appearances opposite Mae West in “She Done Him Wrong” (Oscar-nominated as best picture) and “I’m No Angel,” along with the Marlene Dietrich musical drama “Blonde Venus.”

Grant is also at home in three exciting action films: “The Last Outpost,” in which he is caught in a romantic triangle (with Gertrude Michael and Claude Rains) during World War I; “Devil and the Deep,” in which a mad submarine commander (Charles Laughton) accuses subordinate Grant of having an affair with his wife (Tallulah Bankhead), although it’s actually someone else (Gary Cooper); and the vivid and still relevant anti-war film “The Eagle and the Hawk,” with Grant trying to help fellow World War I aviator Fredric March, who is cracking up under the stress of battle (with Carole Lombard providing romantic interest).

Grant seems a bit less suited to the detective in “Big Brown Eyes,” the huckster in “Kiss and Make-Up” and the blinded pilot in “Wings in the Dark.” But even these films are worth watching — as are the rest of the obscure comedies and dramas in this set, some of them quite good despite the low budgets and less-remembered co-stars.

And there are five films here that have never been released on home video: a rendition of “Madame Butterfly” without Puccini’s music; a murder yarn, “The Woman Accused”; a gangster picture, “Gambling Ship”; and the romantic comedies “Ladies Should Listen” and “Enter Madame!”

Grant fans will be in hog heaven, of course, but anyone who enjoys old movies will find much to enjoy.

Many of these films are also instructive to film-history buffs interested in pre-Production Code pictures with material that was considered rather racy at the time but that would easily earn a G or PG rating today.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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