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Hitchcock And Grant: Darkness Behind The Charm

Hitchcock and Grant have worked together on four films, and Hitchcock expressed that Grant was the only actor he had ever loved. Refer to the article to find the darkness behind the charm.

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant’s collaboration in four films from 1941 to 1959 brought out the best in each other.Cary GrantCary Grant

Hitchcock uniquely portrayed the darker side of Grant’s suave persona, subtly infusing it with a forbidden allure that evaded censorship.

In return, Grant brought a rare sophistication and elegance to Hitchcock’s works.

The movies Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959) delved into Hitchcock’s themes of secrecy, moral decay, and emotional manipulation.

Hitchcock And Grant

Through this partnership, Hitchcock expanded Grant’s acting repertoire, uncovering a shadowy romanticism beneath his charm, creating a blend of screwball humor and impending peril.

Both men greatly benefited from their collaboration. Notably, Hitchcock persuaded Grant out of early retirement to star in To Catch a Thief, rejuvenating the actor’s career.

Hitchcock And Grant
Darkness Behind The Charm

As their partnership evolved, their shared traits of loneliness, insecurity, modest English backgrounds, unease around women, perfectionism, and appreciation for dark humor formed the basis of their professional relationship.

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The element of danger in Cary Grant was first revealed in Suspicion, a film Hitchcock likened to his earlier work, Rebecca.

However, the movie’s troubled production and uncertain dramatic tone stemmed from Hitchcock commencing filming with an incomplete script.

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant
Suspicion: A missed opportunity.

Hitchcock’s adaptation of Francis Iles’ novel ‘Before the Fact’ featured a surprising casting choice, with Grant playing against his usual type as Johnnie, a reckless and irresponsible playboy who marries the timid Lina (portrayed by Joan Fontaine, who curiously won an Academy Award for her performance).

Post-marriage, Lina discovers Johnnie’s deceitful and extravagant nature, leading her to suspect him of murder based on circumstantial evidence.

The film’s narrative becomes a prolonged charade as Lina vacillates between believing in Johnnie’s guilt and innocence.

However, the revelation that Johnnie is not a murderer undermines the preceding events, rendering Lina’s psychological turmoil absurd.

Had Hitchcock and Grant realized their vision, Suspicion could have been a gripping thriller instead of a missed opportunity.

Regrettably, RKO changed the film, akin to the insensitivity that marred Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons.

In a 1962 interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock expressed his dissatisfaction with Suspicion and disclosed his original ending: “Cary Grant was supposed to bring Joan Fontaine a glass of poisoned milk, just after she finished writing a letter expressing her love for him but her unwillingness to live with a killer.

Grant then enters with the deadly glass, and she asks him to mail the letter to her mother. She drinks the milk and dies, followed by a short shot of Grant cheerfully whistling as he walks to the mailbox to post the letter.”

Hitchcock And Grant
The illuminated glass of milk.

The weakest collaboration between Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant, “Suspicion,” is viewed with skepticism even without RKO’s involvement.

In this film, Grant’s portrayal needs to have the refinement and depth that would later characterize his work with Hitchcock. Additionally, there is a noticeable absence of romantic chemistry between Grant and Fontaine’s characters.

Hitchcock recognized this lack of rapport and ensured Grant was paired with more suitable romantic partners in his future films.

In “Suspicion,” Hitchcock expands Grant’s on-screen persona, initially portraying him in a screwball-comedy style that some find grating.

However, in the latter part of the film, Hitchcock shifts the tempo of Grant’s performance, revealing Johnnie’s darker and more sinister side.

Johnnie is depicted as a seductive and sociopathic threat, reminiscent of characters like Uncle Charlie in “Shadow of a Doubt” and Bruno in “Strangers on a Train.”

The article suggests that Grant could have taken on more daring and emotionally complex roles, akin to Joseph Cotten and Robert Walker, had he and the studios been more adventurous.

The article also emphasizes “Suspicion” as a precursor to a more fulfilling collaboration, “Notorious.”


Notorious is regarded as one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, showcasing Grant’s most compelling dramatic performance. His portrayal of Devlin in “Notorious” is emotionally distant, leaving no room for his usual humor.

Furthermore, the detailed screenplay includes a revealing line by Devlin, “I’ve always been scared of women. I’ll get over it,” offering insight into his character.

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant
Notorious: Grant’s finest dramatic performance.

In Hitchcock’s film Notorious, the portrayal of Devlin, played by Cary Grant, departs from his typical charismatic roles.

Devlin’s character is depicted as a manipulative and unsympathetic figure who exploits Alicia, portrayed by Ingrid Bergman, for espionage purposes.

It contrasts with the more sentimental and patriotic portrayal of love triangles seen in other films like Casablanca.

The dynamic between the characters, particularly the love triangle involving Alicia, Devlin, and Sebastian, played by Claude Rains, evokes empathy for Sebastian, who is depicted as more humane and sympathetic than the cold and calculated Devlin.

The scene where Devlin callously abandons Sebastian to his fate at the hands of Nazis serves to highlight this dichotomy.

While Devlin ultimately rescues Alicia from a difficult situation, his callous treatment of her throughout the film overshadows this act of redemption.

Even his admission of being a flawed and pained individual falls short of genuinely justifying his behavior.

This departure from Cary Grant’s usual affable persona showcases Hitchcock’s ability to portray complex and morally ambiguous characters.

Hitchcock And Grant
A cruel romance.

After “Notorious,” Cary Grant’s potential dramatic shift in his career was overshadowed by a series of comedic roles from 1947 to 1953, with only a few exceptions where he displayed his acting prowess.

This deviation from more severe roles is seen as a missed opportunity for Grant.

Similarly, Hitchcock faced fluctuating success following the release of “Notorious,” with his subsequent major critical and commercial success not occurring until “Strangers on a Train” in 1951.

By the time Hitchcock regained his cinematic prowess, Grant had retired in 1953, partly due to a string of underperforming films.

However, after a two-year retirement, Hitchcock persuaded Grant to return to filmmaking by offering him an irresistible script and the assurance of working with Grace Kelly in a significant portion of the film being shot on the Riviera.

To Catch a Thief

Grant’s return to the silver screen began with “To Catch a Thief,” a Technicolor feature, showcasing Hitchcock’s renewed creativity through the vibrant cinematography and innovative use of the VistaVision process.

Although not particularly suspenseful, “To Catch a Thief” is regarded as one of Hitchcock’s most stylish and sophisticated works, marking a significant achievement during this prolific period in the director’s career.

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant
Grant in his second Technicolor feature.

Indeed, the film’s delicate and airy quality would not have held together without Grant’s impeccable performance. As retired cat burglar John Robie, Grant breathes new life into his on-screen persona.

He embodies not just Robie but the essence of Cary Grant himself – a sophisticated, charming man who exudes confidence. This effortless self-assurance is precisely what Hitchcock aimed for.

The collaborations between Hitchcock and Grant often use sexuality as a tool for seduction and manipulation. To Catch a Thief stands out for the bold sensuality of Francie (portrayed by the stunningly composed Grace Kelly) and her assertive physical desire for Robie.

The unconventional nature of their romance heightens its provocative nature, particularly when Francie unexpectedly kisses Robie in the hotel corridor, fueled by her intense passion.

Like Hitchcock’s approach in Notorious, he skillfully captures Grant from behind during this fleeting encounter, drawing attention to the unseen magnetism. When Grant turns to face the camera, his amused contentment is genuinely priceless.

Donald Spoto, a biographer of Hitchcock, acknowledged To Catch a Thief for its “classic Freudian concept of sex as theft” – a theme that the director further explored in Psycho and Marnie.

Hitchcock notably equates jewelry to women’s bosoms, especially during Robie’s exploits at the gambling tables and the iconic “fireworks” sequence.

When Francie invites Robie to her hotel suite, they understand each other’s intentions: “Look – hold them. Diamonds! The only thing in the world you can’t resist.”

Hitchcock And Grant
Sex as larceny.

The fireworks scene from To Catch a Thief served as Hitchcock’s interpretation of the film counterpart of sexual bliss.

He informed Truffaut that “sex on the screen should be suspenseful.” The suspense is gone if the sexual content is too overt or evident. It is inappropriate to advertise sex.

North by Northwest

Hitchcock’s interest in the contrast between intense emotion and composed demeanor peaked in North by Northwest, his final collaboration with Grant.

Both men were operating at the height of their creativity in this renowned cross-country pursuit thriller.

Screenwriter Ernest Lehman developed a narrative he dubbed “the ultimate Hitchcock film,” integrating a range of concepts and scenes that had not previously found a place in Hitchcock’s works.

Of utmost significance was the creation of the character of Roger Thornhill, a content ad executive written primarily for Grant, who could blend trepidation and despair with a touch of humor.

Without Grant, it is improbable that Hitchcock would have brought North by Northwest to fruition. Once more, Hitchcock exploits Grant’s charisma in a sinister and manipulative manner.

However, Thornhill becomes the target of a series of unforeseeable and malicious events. North by Northwest emerges as Hitchcock’s delayed retaliation against the Grant persona.

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant
The surreal Mount Rushmore climax.

The movie has been likened to an informal continuation of Notorious due to its psychosexual connections and espionage sacrifices.

Unlike previous collaborations between Hitchcock and Grant, North by Northwest transforms into an absurd travelogue.

Thornhill is misidentified as a non-existent individual and spends much of the movie attempting to locate the elusive “George Kaplan.”

The Mount Rushmore climax epitomizes this surrealism, with its bewildering urgency culminating in Thornhill’s moment of truth.

The closing moments serve as moral redemption for Thornhill in his rescue of double agent Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and as a moment of sexual fulfillment, accentuated in the suggestive final shot.

It is appropriate that the ultimate Hitchcock-Grant thriller concludes on a positive note.

Amidst the extensive discussions on Mount Rushmore and crop-duster pursuits, the auction sequence often needs to be noticed. This exquisitely crafted segment is custom-tailored to Grant’s distinct abilities.

The auction scene operates on multiple levels.

Firstly, it incorporates elements of sexual coercion and entrapment — another nod to Notorious — highlighted in the tension among Thornhill, Eve, and Van Damm (James Mason), with Eve emerging as the coveted object.

Also evident is the remarkably mature love-hate dynamic between Thornhill and Eve, who assume conflicting roles throughout the film.

(Saint deserves acknowledgment as Grant’s most exceptional Hitchcockian co-star — sophisticated, sensual, yet composed and perilous. Unlike Francie in To Catch a Thief, Eve’s sexual desire is more understated.)

Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant
“I’ll bet you paid plenty for this little piece of sculpture. She’s worth every dollar.”

Following Eve and Van Damm’s departure from the auction, Thornhill has to rely on his wit and acting abilities to free himself from another difficult situation (similar to Robert Donat’s spontaneous political speech in The 39 Steps).

As Thornhill embarks on his extravagant bidding, the scene evolves into a unique showcase of “screwball suspense” — unconventional humor with an underlying sense of threat that captures the essence of Hitchcock’s tongue-in-cheek thriller.

In hindsight, it’s clear why North by Northwest marked Cary Grant’s final collaboration with Hitchcock. At 55, Grant managed to appear younger than James Stewart in Vertigo, yet he knew his days as a leading man were drawing to a close.

By the time he starred in Stanley Donen’s pseudo-Hitchcock thriller Charade in 1963, Grant could no longer hide his age — approaching 60; he seemed too mature to portray a romantic hero.

Grant declined the lead role in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain because he could no longer embody the persona of “Cary Grant.” Unwilling to transition into character roles, Grant retired for good in 1966.

While directors like Leo McCarey and Howard Hawks helped reveal the full extent of Grant’s comedic talents, Hitchcock unveiled the darkness beneath the actor’s seemingly carefree and sophisticated facade.

Only with Hitchcock could Grant take daring risks. In return, Hitchcock transformed the refined film star into a multifaceted screen icon.

From a director-actor perspective, they were a perfect match.

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Ashish Maharjan
Ashish Maharjan
Ashish, a seasoned editor and author for World Cinema Paradise, intricately weaves creativity with precision in his writing, establishing himself as a prolific content creator. Renowned for clarity and captivating storytelling, Ashish has cultivated a devoted readership, driven by his unwavering passion for words and commitment to excellence.

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