From time to time here at Film’s Okay (I Guess), we like to have special posts about entertainers/directors we enjoy or talk about movies that are important to us on the anniversary of their release. September 14, 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of Grace Kelly. The editors of this blog are pleased to bring you this guest post on the legendary performer and humanitarian.
The summer of 2002 was significant for two reasons. I watched Rear Window for the first time and my family went on vacation to Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, we made a pit stop in a Burger King near Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. Inside were huge pictures of old movie stars and one of them was Grace Kelly. I begged my mom to take a picture and while she thought it was silly, she took it anyway. It was the highlight of my day and one of my favorite pictures from that trip. You see, Rear Window was my first Hitchcock film and it was the beginning of my love affair with Grace Kelly. I was completely enthralled by her ability as an actress (I was an impressionable young actress myself) and I soon wished I had a tenth of her talent, poise, and presence. Rear Window is now one of my favorite films of all time, and in the decade since I was first introduced to her, my admiration has not waned but only intensified. I’ve read several books about her, including one about her impact on the fashion world, and I own all but 2 of her movies.
Grace Kelly had a very short but brilliant career. She made 11 movies in 5 years and her first two films, High Noon (1952) and Mogambo (1953), were well received, but she was hardly the main draw. High Noon was certainly Gary Cooper’s movie but she made an impression as his young Quaker bride trying to reconcile her thoughts between violence and pacifism. Mogambo featured an aging Clark Gable and a radiant Ava Gardner, who stole the movie. Gardner and Kelly were excellent foils for each other as they vied for Gable’s affection. Mogambo is truly the only film Kelly ever did where her character was hard to root for, but she pulled it off with aplomb. In 1955 she managed to swipe the Academy Award for Best Actress from Judy Garland for The Country Girl (Kelly was nominated the previous year for Best Supporting Actress in Mogambo). She played Georgie Elgin, the wearied wife of an alcoholic has-been entertainer. Up until this point, Kelly played characters that were incredibly feminine and wore clothes that accentuated her beauty. Here she wore unflattering sweaters, skirts, glasses, and no makeup to speak of. There was no hint of the Grace Kelly America had come to love and there was a sarcastic, bitter tone to her performance. She dealt with every hard knock she was handed and she still had the strength to care for her sick husband, even when she desperately wanted to get out from under him. It was quite the transformation and the Academy took notice (one might say that Kelly’s The Country Girl and Olivia de Havilland’s performance from The Heiress started the make-under phenomenon that nets starlets acting nominations).
Her most fruitful collaboration was with Alfred Hitchcock. She made three films with him: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955). Hitchcock was a man renowned for his love of blondes and Grace Kelly came to represent his ideal woman: reserved with a fire inside them (he once called her a snow-covered volcano). Dial M for Murder was a turning point for Kelly. You can see with her performance in this movie how much she grew as an actress and how comfortable she was working with Hitchcock. She was more at ease in front of the camera. But Rear Window is where she really started to shine. Her character introduction is one of cinema’s all-time bests and it certainly captures how stunning she was (show below).
Kelly’s chemistry with James Stewart set the screen ablaze and one couldn’t help but wonder why he was so damn hesitant about settling down and marrying her. In the end, she proves that she can be elegant, work in fashion, help solve a murder, and still go with Stewart on his photography assignments. In truth, she played the perfect woman. To Catch a Thief was her last film with Hitchcock and it’s one of his most frothy screen delights. Half of the fun watching this movie is seeing her seduce Cary Grant’s cat burglar who is out to prove his innocence from a series of copycat thieving. She radiates sex appeal, humor, and warmth in this role and she is definitely at her playful best here.
Her last two movies, The Swan and High Society,which were both released in 1956, continued to show her range. In The Swan she plays a very shy and awkward princess with the weight of securing the crown on her shoulders. Her rapport with Alec Guinness is hilarious and her chemistry with Louis Jourdan is sweet. It’s a very subtle performance and one worth checking out if you haven’t seen it. While art imitated life shortly after the release of this film (she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956), her last film to be released to the public was High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. She was reunited with her Country Girl costar Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra also starred. This film has excellent music from the aforementioned gentleman and Louis Armstrong. Kelly herself sings a sweet duet with Bing Crosby that spawned a platinum record. It is the only platinum record ever given to sitting royalty as Grace Kelly had become Princess Grace by the time it was awarded.
Grace Kelly left at the height of her career in Hollywood to marry Prince Rainer and she never looked back. One can’t help but wonder what her career might have been had she not left to live out her own fairy tale ending. Nevertheless, she was beloved by her subjects, devoting herself to her family and causes close to her heart. She worked extensively with the Red Cross and was active in improving the arts institutions of Monaco. On September 14, 1982, she suffered a stroke while she was out driving with her youngest daughter, Stephanie. She died the following day. She once said, “I would like to be remembered as someone who was a kind and loving person.” Grace Kelly no doubt succeeded in that endeavor.
Hilary is a long time movie buff, with a staggering love for, and knowledge of, TCM style features. She is an actress by trade, appearing in plays throughout the North Carolina region. As a child, Jack Nicholson, frozen alive at the end of The Shining, gave her nightmares for weeks. As an adult, it was just one night.