Friday, August 7, 2015

1954: Grace Kelly for The Country Girl

Grace Kelly plays the wife of a depressed, alcoholic, washed-up actor. She is devoted to him even though he treats her abominably, but hopes he will be able to return to the man he once was when he's given a starring role by the director of a new play, who also treats her abominably. Did I mention that she's treated abominably?

I had watched this movie twice before, but I remembered very little about it. I didn't even recall that William Holden was in it, much less that I wanted to punch both him and Bing Crosby in the face about fifty times each throughout the course of the film. I remembered not being particularly fond of Kelly's performance, but the main scene of hers I remembered was the first time she appears, which I determined this time is definitely her worst scene. Her performance improves significantly from her next scene on, so that by the end I decided that overall it's fairly impressive. I still find it rather uncomfortable to watch, partly because the story's so disturbing, and partly because Grace Kelly is so un-Grace Kelly-ish.

When I think of Grace Kelly, I think of her roles in movies like Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and High Society: sophisticated, poised, glamorous, upper-class ladies whom one could easily picture becoming, say, the Princess of Monaco, for a totally random example. But there is absolutely nothing regal about her character in The Country Girl. Her life has been indescribably painful and difficult, and she's just barely managed to keep it together, and she looks it. Kelly was only 25 when she made this film, which means that Bing Crosby, who played her husband, was more than twice her age, but while he does look older than her, the age gap between them doesn't appear nearly that great. The usually beyond-gorgeous Grace Kelly looks at least ten years older than she is, and not as though she's taken very good care of her appearance, due to a combination of makeup and a defeated demeanor. Not only that, her voice sounds different. She doesn't sound nearly as posh or self-confident as I'm used to. I even caught her actually pronouncing the "r" at the end of words that came before consonants a few times. Consequently, there are moments when she becomes almost unrecognizable, and I have to remind myself that I'm watching Grace Kelly, not some strange actress I've never seen before.

I'm virtually positive that that's why she won this award. While she was always fabulous, there isn't much variety in the kinds of roles she's known for. In this movie, she successfully played against type, so she got an Oscar for it. You're still rooting for her - except maybe not quite so much the first time, when you don't know for sure just how much of a butthead her husband is - but it's because she has such a crappy life, not because she's so fabulous you can't help but love her, as is the case with most of her other roles. She very effectively convinces the audience that she's making the best of impossible circumstances before she has convinced any of the characters, which is why I wanted to punch them in the face. I guess in a way it's kind of similar to her role in Dial M for Murder, but even in that movie she still gets to look pretty. In this movie she does not look as traditionally beautiful as she usually did, demonstrating that she had significant talent in addition to one of the most beautiful faces in the world. Not that she doesn't give good performances in her other films, but her talent is more noticeable when you're not distracted by her appearance. Imagine all the amazing performances she could have given if she hadn't married that prince.

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, many Judy Garland fans are still outraged that Garland didn't win for A Star is Born instead of Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. While I can definitely see where they're coming from, since Judy gives a phenomenal performance in that movie, don't knock Grace's performance until you've seen it a couple of times. It certainly took me three viewings to fully appreciate it, but it really is a very good performance. This was both Kelly and Garland's only nomination in this category, and both were also nominated for Best Supporting Actress once without winning (although Garland was awarded an honorary Juvenile Oscar for her work in 1939). Interestingly, they were both nominated this year for playing the wife of a washed-up actor. Anyway, I'm not saying Garland didn't deserve to win; I'm just saying Kelly didn't not deserve to win.

Grace Kelly was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Mogambo the previous year, and this was her final Oscar nomination. This is not at all surprising, as she didn't make very many movies after this because two years later she married the Prince of Monaco and retired from films forever. I mean, I'm happy for her, she got to be a princess and everything, but I still wish she had made more movies. Is that selfish of me? If she had stayed in Hollywood she probably wouldn't have died in that car crash in 1982. Just saying.

Sorry I spent most of this post rambling about Grace Kelly's other performances. The following year's winner was Anna Magnani, who I don't think I've seen in anything ever, so this won't happen next time.

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