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Matinee Thursdays Presents: The Films of Cary Grant

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March 13, 2014

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Epiphany Library

Night and Day

Starring Cary Grant, Alexis Smith and Monty Woolley, 130 minutes

Faced with the challenge of writing a screenplay based on the life of fabulously wealthy, fabulously successful composer Cole Porter, one Hollywood wag came up with a potential story angle: "How does the S.O.B. make his second million dollars?" By the time the Porter biopic Night and Day was released, the three-person scriptwriting team still hadn't come up with a compelling storyline, though the film had the decided advantages of star Cary Grant and all that great Porter music. Roughly covering the years 1912 to 1946, the story begins during Porter's undergraduate days at Yale University, where he participated in amateur theatricals under the tutelage of waspish professor Monty Woolley (who plays himself). Though Porter's inherited wealth could have kept him out of WWI, he insists upon signing up as an ambulance driver. While serving in France, he meets nurse Linda Lee (Alexis Smith), who will later become his wife. Focusing his attentions on Broadway and the London stage in the postwar years, Porter pens an unbroken string of hit songs, including "Just One of Those Things," "You're the Top," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Begin the Beguine," and the title number. The composition of this last-named song is one of the film's giddy highlights, as Porter, inspired by the "drip drip drip" of an outsized rainstorm, runs to the piano and cries "I think I've got it!" The film's dramatic conflict arises when Porter is crippled for life in a polo accident. Refusing to have his legs amputated, he makes an inspiring comeback, even prompting a WWI amputee to remark upon his courage! Corny and unreliable as biography, Night and Day is redeemed by the guest appearances of musical luminaries Mary Martin (doing a spirited if disappointingly demure version of her striptease number "My Heart Belongs to Daddy") and Ginny Simms, the latter cast as an ersatz Ethel Merman named Carole Hill. Jane Wyman, seen as Porter's pre-nuptial sweetheart Gracie Harris, also gets to sing and dance, and quite well indeed.

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