Night and Day
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"Night and Day, you are the one; / Only you beneath the moon and under the sun." These opening lyrics to Cole Porter's pop music standard, "Night and Day," could very well describe Porter himself. He stood high atop the pantheon of American popular music as one of its supreme composers and lyricists. And the film biography, Night and Day (1946), reminds us of a time in America when composers and songwriters were as famous and revered as the music video celebrities of today. During the 20th century, arguably the most creative period in American popular music, music fans were treated to the songs of such gifted artists as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Jimmy McHugh, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers and the Gershwins. But none of them received more accolades than Cole Porter.
Night and Day professes to give us the true story of Cole Porter; but in reality, it's just a grand showcase for Cole Porter's most famous tunes. Seamless set pieces shot in vivid Technicolor are highlighted by dazzling dance numbers and glamorous fashions, but music is always at the center of everything. Some of the highlights include Cary Grant and Ginny Simms performing a medley of Porter's songs originally introduced on Broadway by Ethel Merman. And, yes, Cary holds his own, especially while warbling, "You're the Top." There's a bright and colorful song and dance mini-operetta performed to "Begin the Beguine." And the inimitable Mary Martin reprises her polite striptease number, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." She initially introduced the tune in the Broadway musical, Leave it to Me (1938). Some of the other songs featured in Night and Day are popular favorites like "I've Got You Under my Skin," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Let's Do It," and "What Is This Thing Called Love." This elegant collection of tunes seems to summarize Porter's sensual approach to life: lush, rhythmic melodies with witty and sometimes risqu¿yrics.
Born into wealth in Indiana, Porter had to struggle very little in his chosen career, but his health was a different matter; he suffered physical hardships and was subjected to over thirty operations in his lifetime. His near crippling leg injuries he supposedly attributed from time to time to his stint with the French Army during World War One. However, most biographers claim that Porter had a creative imagination and that all of his injuries were acquired as a result of a horse falling on him. In actuality he was never a soldier in the French Army, but a member of a relief organization in France during the war, where he spent most of his time organizing and enjoying an endless series of parties. And of course, because Night and Day was made in 1946, there is no mention of Porter's homosexuality or of his actual "war" experiences. Nor was there any hint that his marriage to older divorcee, Linda Howard, was strictly a marriage of convenience. The fact that Linda's ex-husband had been abusive and that Cole was gay made their business-like marriage more agreeable to both. Yet, Linda was always one of Porter's chief supporters, both spiritually and financially, until her death in 1954. Unfortunately, Cole Porter's last years were not happy ones. He finally had to have one of his legs amputated in 1958, and after that he led a lonely and reclusive life. In 1960 Yale honored him with a honorary doctorate. He died in October of 1964 at the age of 72, leaving behind a rich, voluminous musical legacy.
Night and Day was Cary Grant's first film in color, and it gave him a chance to strut in what is essentially a musical. He had turned down all other opportunities to work that year before deciding to do the Porter biography. At the time, his marriage to Barbara Hutton was breaking up and in one last effort to patch things up, he had taken an extended "home vacation" in an attempt to revive his relationship with his heiress wife. However, this did little to keep the two of them from growing apart, especially after Barbara's son, Lance, was taken from the Grant home by his biological father. Feeling isolated and alone, Grant finally decided to immerse himself in acting once again, and agreed to play Cole Porter in Night and Day after repeated encouragements from the actual composer.
Although he hadn't worked in a year, and was suffering from the effects of marital discord, Grant was still able to stir up excitement on the set. Co-star Alexis Smith, who plays Linda Howard, had a fond memory of doing her first scene in the movie with Grant, one in which she and Grant were to kiss one another while standing under some mistletoe. As she remembers in Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best by Nancy Nelson, "The line following the kiss was mine. Well, when we came out of the kiss and I looked at him, I couldn't remember my name, much less my line...I was in a state of shock. It hadn't been very long since I'd been a schoolgirl, sitting in the balcony at Saturday matinees on Hollywood Boulevard, swooning over Cary Grant."
Not all the memories from making Night and Day were pleasant ones. Being a perfectionist by nature, Grant created some problems on the set. According to Charles Higham and Roy Moseley in Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart, Grant caused difficulties for the makeup staff and felt little rapport with director Michael Curtiz, the same man who had directed Casablanca (1942) and had earned the reputation as a stern taskmaster. Grant also had a problem with the script, which would undergo many changes; several of them initiated by Grant. He complained about dialogue, characterizations and even the most minute details of the studio sets. According to Higham and Moseley's book, Alexis Smith remembers Grant reprimanding Curtiz concerning a shirt that Grant was asked to wear: "Do you see these cuffs? There's a quarter of an inch showing. It should be an eighth of an inch." This could sound like someone using his power for petty purposes. But to Smith this wasn't just some celebrity taking advantage of his stardom, this was a fine actor who was totally dedicated to his art and craft. As she later recounted, "I would rather have him be fussy about a quarter of an inch on a cuff and give the performance he did, because it was that care and attention that carried him through everything he did. His acting wasn't an eighth of an inch off."
Still, there were additional problems during the making of Night and Day. Monty Woolley suffered from a severe bladder problem; the cameraman, Bert Glennon, walked off the set when he overheard Curtiz criticizing his daily rushes; and an oppressive heat wave lowered the morale of almost everyone involved. Yet, despite all the problems, Night and Day opened to long lines at the box office. According to Warren G. Harris in Cary Grant, A Touch of Elegance, "In a period when the average movie ticket cost forty-one cents, Warner Brothers earned four million dollars in rentals." It was Grant's biggest moneymaker up to that time.
Producer: Arthur Schwartz
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Jack Moffitt, Leo Townsend, William Bowers, Charles Hoffman
Costume Design: Milo Anderson, Travilla
Cinematography: J. Peverell Marley, William V. Skall
Editing: David Weisbart
Music: Max Steiner
Art Direction: John Hughes
Cast: Cary Grant (Cole Porter), Alexis Smith (Linda Lee Porter), Monty Woolley (as himself), Ginny Simms (Carole Hill), Jane Wyman (Gracie Harris), Eve Arden (Gabrielle), Alan Hale (Leon Dowling), Dorothy Malone (Nancy), Victor Francen (Anatole Giron), Tom D'Andrea (Bernie), Henry Stephenson (Omar Cole).
C-129m. Closed captioning.
by Joseph D'Onofrio