Night and Day, 1946, Warner Bros. Starring Cary Grant, Alexis Smith. Co-starring Monty Woolley. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Technicolor, 128 minutes.
It is 1914, and a young Cole Porter (Cary Grant) has just told his grandfather he doesn’t intend to finish law school, but rather, plans to pursue a career writing songs. While this news disappoints the elder gentleman, it comes as no surprise to Cole’s mother, who encourages her son to pursue his dream.
Soon, Cole has written the songs for a Broadway musical, “See America First,” which opens at the same time news of the sinking of Lusitania arrives. Despite the failure of the evening, Miss Linda Lee (Alexis Smith) presents Cole with an engraved cigarette holder, the beginning of a tradition that lasts throughout their eventual marriage.
Shortly after America enters WWI, Cole joins the service. He is injured during battle, and while recovering, writes what will become one of his most famous songs, “Night and Day.” Linda, a Red Cross nurse at the hospital at which Cole ends up, takes another of his songs to French performer Gabrielle (Eve Arden). That song doesn’t fare so well, but with Linda’s encouragement, Cole continues with his music.
Back in New York, Cole pursues his songwriting career with the help of his close friend, Monty (Monty Woolley, as himself). It takes a little time, but eventually, the legend is born.
Night and Day was nominated for one Academy Award, Best Music—Scoring of a Musical Picture, but did not win. Grant had allegedly initially considered the role of Cole Porter in part because he knew that biographies had a strong history with Academy Awards. The distinction of an Oscar had eluded Grant to this point, and it was an honor he very much wanted.
Jack Warner paid Cole Porter $300,000 for the rights to his life story, and granted him script and cast approval, as well as the final decision as to which songs would be included in the movie.
What this fictionalized biopic didn’t, and given the era, couldn’t, reveal is Porter’s homosexuality. Wife Linda was devoted to him but not blind to his male lovers. Her death in 1954 meant the loss of his chief muse and confidante. Because the film was made in 1946 it also couldn’t cover the last years of his life, much of which he spent as an alcoholic invalid.
Night and Day is as much a musical as a biography, and leaves out a great deal of the complexity of Cole Porter’s life that came to light in the decades since his death. Still, for fans of his music, it is a film worth watching.