Stars rarely get to choose when they want to retire. Usually, the phone stops ringing, or they slide down the credits until no one can remember who they once were, or they end up in terrible international co-productions, or like Tyrone Power (Solomon and Sheba) they die on the job or, like Spencer Tracy, because of it. Cary Grant, on the other hand, went out at the top, or near enough. If you are more generally familiar with Grant through Hitchcock thrillers or Charade (1963), you might have forgotten his comedy expertise, or that his entire output in the 1960s, including this one and excepting The Grass Is Greener (1960) were box office hits, not forgetting he ended the 1950 with three outstanding winners in Houseboat (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Operation Petticoat (1959) so there was no doubting his marquee pulling power.
He was a master of the double take and the startled expression and he needs that here in what is sometimes a pretty funny farce. The set-up is peculiar. Sir William Rutland (Cary Grant), a businessman landing in Tokyo two days before the 1964 Olympic Games with nowhere to stay and ends up – platonically, I should add – on the couch of Christine (Samantha Eggar) and later sharing his room with Steve (Jim Hutton), an athlete equally lacking in the forward planning department. (Excluding the Olympics, of course, the film has a similar concept to The More the Merrier, 1943).
There’s no great plot and no great need for one. Grant’s main purpose is to play Cupid to Hutton and Eggar and steer her stuffy fiancé, an ambassador going by the moniker of Julius D. Haversack (John Standing), out of their way. But it says a lot for Grant’s talent that not much plot is required. He is just so deft, whether he is playing top dog or being beaten at his own game by a rather resilient Steve, who shows quite a talent for quick-fire verbal duels..
There is only a wee bit of stereotype, overmuch bowing mainly and a Russian shot-putter, but some other Japanese customs are more interesting, yellow flags to cross the road, for example. There are a couple of brilliant visual gags, one involving trousers, another Sir William getting locked out of the apartment, and a terrific payoff in a Japanese restaurant. It might seem odd – to fans of Grant – that he delegates romance to Steve but the age different between Christine and Sir William was over 30 years. Instead, he ensures that romance between Christine and Steve runs its true course, which while that is satisfying enough, is a bit like removing John Wayne from the final shootout in a western. Oh, and there is a reason for the Olympic Games setting.
Grant appeared so eternally young that he could probably still have pulled off the romance especially as his interaction with the pernickety Christine (she and fiance equally matched in this department) carries all the Grant romantic hallmarks. Imagine Doris Day in the role of Christine and you have a solid romance that would work well despite the age difference, as it had in the previous films pairing the stars.
You could argue Grant was pretty young for a swansong, certainly by Hollywood standards. He was only 62 and had two decades left, it turned out, to live. He was far more sprightly than many stars of his age and with the right vehicles could probably have gone for at least another six or seven years. His peer John Wayne had starring roles well into his seventies, but James Stewart’s last top-billed picture (Fools Parade, 1971) came when he was 63. So it was probably an astute decision of Grant, who had seen the likes of Gary Cooper and Clark Gable make unexpectedly early mortal exits, the former aged 59, the latter 67. Grant was 62 when the film appeared so quite rightly delegates romance to Hutton, which is a shame because his (non-romantic) interaction with the pernickety Christine. Except for thrillers, Grant did not need great directors, he knew comedy inside out and here the accomplished Charles Walters (High Society, 1956) has the sense to let him get on with it.
Samantha Eggar (The Collector, 1965) was a rising star but it seemed a mistake to take on a role that made obvious comparisons with Doris Day. Jim Hutton (Major Dundee, 1965) is a revelation, not the dour dog of later The Hellfighters (1968) and The Green Berets (1968), but showing true comedic talent. In his movie debut, Sol Saks delivered the screenplay based on the original The More the Merrier story which had earned Robert Russell and Frank Ross an Oscar nomination.