As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Just a thought #1

Posted by Hedwig on August 6, 2009

I was reading the famous Kael essay about Cary Grant, “the Man from Dream City“. The excerpt below was a revelation: ironically enough, I finally understand now why I’ve always found Clark Gable (whose mustache Johnny Depp sports in the amazing last fifteen minutes of Public Enemies) infinitely more seductive than the suave, but distant Grant:


The romantic male stars aren’t necessarily sexually aggressive. Henry Fonda wasn’t; neither was James Stewart, or, later, Marcello Mastroianni. The foursquare Clark Gable, with his bold, open challenge to women, was more the exception than the rule, and Gable wasn’t romantic, like Grant. Gable got down to brass tacks; his advances were basic, his unspoken question was “Well, sister, what do you say?” If she said no, she was failing what might almost be nature’s test. She’d become overcivilized, afraid of her instincts–afraid of being a woman. There was a violent, primal appeal in Gable’s sex scenes: it was all out front–in the way he looked at her, man to woman. Cary Grant doesn’t challenge a woman that way. (When he tried, as the frontiersman in “The Howards of Virginia,” he looked thick and stupid.) With Gable, sex is inevitable: What is there but sex? Basically, he thinks women are good for only one thing. Grant is interested in the qualities of a particular woman–her sappy expression, her non sequiturs, the way her voice bobbles. She isn’t going to be pushed to the wall as soon as she’s alone with him. With Grant, the social, urban man, there are infinite possibilities for mutual entertainment. They might dance the night away or stroll or go to a carnival–and nothing sexual would happen unless she wanted it to. Grant doesn’t assert his male supremacy; in the climax of a picture he doesn’t triumph by his fists and brawn–or even by outwitting anybody. He isn’t a conqueror, like Gable. But he’s a winner. The game, however, is an artful dodge. He gets the blithe, funny girl by maneuvering her into going after him. He’s a fairy-tale hero, but she has to pass through the trials: She has to trim her cold or pompous adversaries; she has to dispel his fog. In picture after picture, he seems to give up his resistance at the end, as if to say, What’s the use of fighting?

Many men must have wanted to be Clark Gable and look straight at a woman with a faint smirk and lifted, questioning eyebrows. What man doesn’t–at some level–want to feel supremely confident and earthy and irresistible? But a few steps up the dreamy social ladder there’s the more subtle fantasy of worldly grace–of being so gallant and gentlemanly and charming that every woman longs to be your date. And at that deluxe level men want to be Cary Grant. Men as far apart as John F. Kennedy and Lucky Luciano thought that he should star in their life story. Who but Cary Grant could be a fantasy self-image for a President and a gangster chief? Who else could demonstrate that sophistication didn’t have to be a sign of weakness–that it could be the polished, fun-loving style of those who were basically tough? Cary Grant has said that even he wanted to be Cary Grant.

And for women, if the roof leaks, or the car stalls, or you don’t know how to get the super to keep his paws off you, you may long for a Clark Gable to take charge, but when you think of going out, Cary Grant is your dream date–not sexless but sex with civilized grace, sex with mystery. He’s the man of the big city, triumphantly suntanned. Sitting out there in Los Angeles, the expatriate New York writers projected onto him their fantasies of Eastern connoisseurship and suavity. How could the heroine ever consider marrying a rich rube from Oklahoma and leaving Cary Grant and the night spots? Los Angeles itself has never recovered from the inferiority complex that its movies nourished, and every moviegoing kid in America felt that the people in New York were smarter, livelier, and better-looking than anyone in his home town. The audience didn’t become hostile; it took the contempt as earned. There were no Cary Grants in the sticks. He and his counterparts were to be found only in the imaginary cities of the movies. When you look at him, you take for granted expensive tailors, international travel, and the best that life has to offer. Women see a man they could have fun with. Clark Gable is an intensely realistic sexual presence; you don’t fool around with Gable. But with Grant there are no pressures, no demands; he’s the sky that women aspire to. When he and a woman are together, they can laugh at each other and at themselves. He’s a slapstick Prince Charming.


4 Responses to “Just a thought #1”

  1. Interesting. All the reasons you find Gable more appealing are all the reasons I side with Grant. As a regular shlub, I’d be happy to have the magnetism of either one, but I prefer to be the colder, more elegant and refined Grant to the blunter Gable.

    I like Kael’s piece though. Even though it sounds to me like she also prefers Grant, she makes a strong case for the appeal of Gable in the process.

  2. Hedwig said

    Kael definitely prefers Grant, her whole piece is a love letter to him… Which is exactly why I found it funny that her argument against Gable in comparison made it crystal clear to me that I prefer him instead. But this is not a knock on Grant: he was a great comic actor, who really knew how to use his physicality, and well, he WAS beautiful and elegant, nobody’s going to deny that.

  3. FRANCIS said

    i love what you wrote! i didnt know both of them . but recently i have been growing this 1930’s style mustache and was looking for pictures . i at the moment have the same haircute and stash as grant has .

    and i saw myself perctly when you described him . i definitly play it ”Grant style” when im with a ladie i like .

  4. VChre said

    Nice work. I have to say that the men i know arent that kind of

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