Cary Grant’s penultimate film, and last romantic lead (he segued to Daddy Cupid for WALK DON’T RUN/’66), really holds up, just like the man himself. A minor work from Peter Stone, fresh off scripting CHARADE/'63, Grant’s last classic, it’s a featherweight gloss on THE AFRICAN QUEEN/’51 with boozy loner Grant tamed by starchy Leslie Caron; WWII in for WWI; and a gaggle of war-displaced girls as an extra obstacle. It should all be too cute for words, but Ralph Nelson, who normally helmed well-intentioned issue-oriented stuff, finds a holiday spirit, and manages to coax out just enough threat, character arcs & well-timed cracks to justify the generous running time. The girls & Caron are delightfully impossible (who knew Leslie had comedy chops?), but the film is all Grant’s. The part doesn’t call on his full resources, none of the closed, dark menace and measured restraint of the ‘40s here. This is the good-humored Grant everybody wanted to be, or copy. And how they tried. At the time, 'they' included Rock Hudson in MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT/’64, with Howard Hawks as guide; Greg Peck in Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE/’66; and Paul Newman under Hitchcock in TORN CURTAIN/’66. Later decades would see their new leading men touted as the next Grant: Burt Reynolds in ‘80s; George Clooney now. Hugh Grant got a little closer, but only to ‘Cary Lite.’ Then you see the real thing, even in what amounts to a modest encore, and they all come off as margarine to butter.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Lenser Charles Lang does even better by Grant then he did in CHARADE; helped by having Grant start out as a beachcomber bum before he cleans up. The end result is perfectly devastating. And with only one 'soft' lens shot in the pic.