This weekend Showtime debuts “Becoming Cary Grant,” a documentary about the great actor’s life and career. Watch the trailer and you’ll see that it’s about identity, with the grown man working hard to keep up the image of someone that didn’t quite match who he felt he really was but felt pressure to maintain. That’s dark subject matter for someone who often portrayed a breezy, lighthearted spirt on-screen. He most assuredly took on more serious roles – often under the directorial guidance of Alfred Hitchcock – but is widely known for the flamboyant, slightly klutzy but always charming playboy he often portrayed.
I already flashed back to the campaign for His Girl Friday, my favorite Grant film, so this week we’ll use the occasion of that documentary to look back at one of those more lighthearted roles in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The story has Grant playing Dick Nugent, an artist on whom the teenage Susan Turner (Shirley Temple) develops a crush. When she’s found in his apartment by her older sister Margaret (Myrna Loy), a judge, Nugent is told he has to put the kibosh on Susan’s feelings for him. The best way to do so, they decide, is for him to go along with things until her crush fades away and reality sets in. But complications ensue, of course, with predictably comedic and romantic results.
The poster is terrific as an example of selling the high points of the movie as well as how design has (and hasn’t) evolved. Grant, Temple and Loy all appear at the top of the one-sheet, Temple’s arms around Grant while Loy is positioned as if she’s throwing a bit of shade at the couple while Grant looks a bit bewildered at the goings-on. They’re all shown as if they’re cut-outs on the page, with white backgrounds around them against the soft blue field. The title and cast list are below them while at the bottom is another photo of Temple and Grant, this time with her pulling on his neck like a romantic hanger-on. In the other corner is the jalopy that features into the story but which is just kind of…here…without any context or explanation.
While the artwork and overall look of the poster shows the kind of style that was prevalent at the time of release, the way it looks like a junior high school student pasted photos cut from a celebrity magazine makes me think we haven’t evolved all that much in the last 70 years in terms of poster design. This is the 1947 equivalent of today’s posters that look cobbled together via mediocre Photoshopping of disparate stills into a single, sometimes incoherent image. Not every movie featured Saul Bass-level artistic imagination, some were just put together as best as possible with a clear eye on the stars and whatever approved stills happened to be laying around.
In typically sensationalistic fashion the trailer starts out by warning the audience to “Get set for a shock” as it announces “Here comes a new Cary Grant” before introducing is to the major players. The narrator then takes over to lay out the story of Susan’s infatuation with Dick, making it clear Grant is going to get into a variety of cockeyed comedic situations. We get a bit of the doomed crush the young girl has on the older man but the focus is mainly on the budding romance between Dick and Margaret.
It’s funny, playing into the fact that much of Grant’s comedic sensibility comes from him being the odd-man out, befuddled by the ridiculousness happening around him. But there’s also the dashing, romantic Grant that’s on display here with the romance with Loy. She herself is a prominent part of the trailer, showing just the kind of role she’s going to play as she tries to protect her younger sister while falling under the spell of the man she’s protecting her from. If anyone gets short shrift here it’s Temple, with the story of her crush falling to the back burner. Mostly, though, the trailer promises a comedy that will make the audience laugh with a bunch of actors they know and love.
That’s the central theme of the entire campaign here, that it’s the stars that will make the audience come out. Grant is at his most comedic and charming and Loy is wonderful as his foil in the story while Temple…well, the promise seems to be to come out and see a teenage version of the child star.