This "discomfort" to the male spectator position can actually work to heighten the enjoyment of Grant's films. The films where Grant is most clearly a passive object of desire, for at least distinct moments in the film, are comedies and suspense films, genres that depend on spectator discomfort for their effect. Grant's prominent position in classic Hollywood cinema demonstrates that spaces did exist for active female desire--as well as covert male bisexual desire.
Though both Grant's Hitchcock films and his romantic comedies allowed space for a desiring, active woman, screwball comedy may have been more significant in the continued development of strong women on screen. Building on the strength and agency of the female character in this genre, the screwball comedy has served as a model to bring female protagonists into the action genre: Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Siedelman, 1983), Romancing the Stone (Robert Zemeckis, 1984) and American Dreamer (1984), followed by True Lies (James Cameron, 1994) and Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994). In introducing to mainstream cinema the image of women as creative, courageous and determined, these hybrid romance/comedy/action films made these "new" women palatable--and commercial. If the glorious Cary Grant could love the screwball heroine, why shouldn't we all?
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After 12 years as an arts/university administrator, Elizabeth Abele is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English at Temple University. She has presented papers at meetings of the Popular Culture Association, the Shakespeare Association of America, and Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association. She can be reached at