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After the huge success of the World War II service comedy, Operation Petticoat (1959), where he played a submarine commander, Cary Grant was anxious to get back to playing the sort of debonair and sophisticated characters he was famous for. Since he was one of Universal's most popular stars at the time, he was able to handpick his next project which turned out to be The Grass is Greener (1960). Based on the popular London stage play by Hugh and Margaret Williams, it marked the second collaboration between director Stanley Donen and Grant (Their first was Indiscreet (1958), the third was Charade, 1963) and was a sterling example of what the British call a 'drawing-room farce.'
The central premise of The Grass is Greener concerns a British earl (Grant) and his wife (Deborah Kerr) and their efforts to maintain their palatial estate in the style to which they were once accustomed. This means exploiting their mansion as an attraction for paying tourists in order to afford the necessary gardeners, cooks, and servants - a situation that is not that uncommon in contemporary England. Romantic complications soon follow when a visiting Texas oilman (Robert Mitchum) falls in love with Kerr and a former girlfriend of Grant's - Jean Simmons - enters the scene.
Since Grant realized that The Grass is Greener was a risky venture for Universal (stage play adaptations rarely become major commercial hits), he became actively involved in the film's production. Grant had final approval on the cast, persuaded Noel Coward to serve as the musical director (The score includes such Coward gems as "The Stately Homes of England" and "Mad Dogs and Englishmen"), and even got permission to film in Osterley Hall, the stately home of his ex-wife Virginia Cherrill during her marriage to the Earl of Jersey.
In the biography, Cary Grant: A Touch of Elegance by Warren G. Harris, writer Richard Gerham recalled that during the filming of The Grass is Greener, Grant acted "more like a man in his mid-twenties than one in his mid-fifties. He was all over the place as he worked, bounding from the camera to the set and back to a lectern that stood at one side holding his script." Equally complimentary was Deborah Kerr who remarked, "I have never known a man to apply himself so seriously and so ruthlessly to the job at hand. It was only because he could take his job so seriously that he was such a fine comedy actor. You would have to get up very early in the morning to steal a scene from him. I never did. But he played fair. Comedy is a cutthroat business and many Hollywood actors play it rough, expecting you to take care of yourself. But Cary never cheated....He was an absolute genius at comedy timing. He believed in being always what it was his audience expected him to be, and that was why he achieved such enormous success."
Producer: Stanley Donen, James H. Ware
Director: Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Hugh Williams (also play), Margaret Williams (also play)
Cinematography: Christopher Challis
Costume Design: Hardy Amies, Christian Dior
Film Editing: James B. Clark
Original Music: Noel Coward
Cast: Cary Grant (Victor Rhyall), Deborah Kerr (Hilary Rhyall), Robert Mitchum (Charles Delacro), Jean Simmons (Hattie Durant), Moray Watson (Sellers).
by Jeff Stafford