Why I'd like to be … Cary Grant in Charade

Gentlemanly and intelligent with a hint of vulnerability, the Cary Grant of Charade is the perfect version of the great man himself

Why I'd like to be … Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
Why I'd like to be … Julie Christie in Billy Liar
Why I'd like to be … Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous

Seriously? This series has got to instalment 6,485 and no one, not one person, has chosen Cary Grant? That the qualities of cinema's leading man solicit nothing more than a ¯\_("/)_/¯ from the internet generation (and Xan Brooks) is a dispiriting indictment. It's also, however, an opportunity. An opportunity for me. An opportunity to have my name published next to Grant's on a piece of search engine optimised content. This means the next time somebody idly asks Google for the identity of the contemporary equivalent of the man born Archibald Alexander Leach, I'm right in there. Probably behind Hugh Grant, but definitely ahead of Joey Essex.

I would like to be all Cary Grants, all the time, but the Cary Grant I have chosen is the one I have watched most recently, the Cary Grant of Charade. It's a late Grant. He was 59 when it came out in 1963, and made only two more films before his death. He stars as Peter Joshua, an American in Paris fascinated by Audrey Hepburn's widow Reggie Lampert. Or maybe it's her money he's after? Clue: it's the money. Or is it?

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In a slight reprise of his masterly turn in Hitchcock's Suspicion, you're never quite sure whether Joshua is a good or bad guy. Unlike in Suspicion, however, you're permanently hoping he's good. There's a couple of reasons for this, the first being that the ageing Joshua carries an air of vulnerability. When he wins a fight with an undeniable baddie in a hotel room, he ends up shoved down the back of the bed. As he gets up to console a petrified Reggie, you can almost hear him creak.

The second reason is the main one, though: when Joshua shows his good side, it's a perfect version of Grant. Joshua is witty, but without being caustic (unlike, say, Walter Burns in His Girl Friday). He's knowledgable, wise even, but wears it lightly (unlike, say, Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace). He fancies Reggie, but he keeps his hands to himself (actually, that's most Grants).

All in all, the Grant of Charade, this distilled Grant, is a gent. He's a kind of man that you rarely saw in the cinema and hardly ever do nowadays (yeah, OK, George Clooney, but the comparison only reinforces Grant's distinctiveness). Neither alpha nor beta male, he is an impossible halfway stop between Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart. His main strengths lie not in his physicality or strength of will – though he possesses both those qualities – but in his intellect and empathy. From the time I first watched The Philadelphia Story and bought myself a Grant postcard to sit on my bookshelf (I was 24, it was a window ledge), I've thought that that's the kind of man I'd like to be.

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Suffice to say, I'm not that man. Even Archie Leach wasn't that man (though his most famous real life witticism – "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant – even I want to be Cary Grant" – suggests he may not have been far off). But I do get distinct pleasure from seeing that man on screen. Not only pleasure, in fact, but a sense of comfort. As the world I live in seems to become coarser, cruder and more frenzied, Grant's calmness, his implicit rectitude, remind that another way of behaving is possible.

Cary Grant was not just one of Hollywood's greatest stars, he was also an exception. His was a masculinity that didn't quite match. You could discuss that, and maybe issues of sexual identity too, but I'll leave it unspoken – safe in the knowledge that Grant would do the same.

Why I'd like to be … Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
Why I'd like to be … Julie Christie in Billy Liar
Why I'd like to be … Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous


Paul MacInnes

The GuardianTramp

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