Film Greats: Grace Kelly

American-born actress Grace Kelly is certainly one of the most beloved actresses ever to appear onscreen. Her career was cut short when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and her life ended tragically when she died at age 52 in an automobile accident. Many consider her one of the most aptly named Hollywood stars, as she typified poise, elegance, and glamour. Though her film career was short, she played in several films worth seeing.

The Country Girl
After her “discovery” and costarring role in Mogambo with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, Grace became one of the most valued young properties in Hollywood. Here she plays against type as the hard-hearted, drab wife of Bing Crosby (playing a down-on-his-luck musical star). Also starring is William Holden, with whom Grace carried on a real-life affair. The chemistry is obvious. For her superb performance in this highly dramatic film (based on Clifford Odets’ play of the same name), Grace earned a Best Actress Oscar. This is a film truly worth seeing. Crosby’s performance is one of the deepest, gut-wrenching that I have ever seen, and it is a thrill to see Kelly in a role that challenged her dramatic abilities in a way that no other film did.

Rear Window
As she gained fame and respect from Hollywood society, she began a series of films with director Alfred Hitchcock. This is the second of the trio (coming after Dial M for Murder). The film centers on an invalid photographer (James Stewart) who becomes convinced that he has unwittingly witnessed a murder out of his rear window. Kelly plays Lisa Fremont, Stewart’s stylish girlfriend. They join forces with his nurse, played by the acerbic Thelma Ritter, to try and prove the case for an unconvinced detective. Kelly’s character unfortunately lacks depth and the chemistry between her and Stewart is rather lacking. Nonetheless, she made the most of what she was given. This suspenseful film certainly showcases the talents of its stars and is Hitchcock at his finest!

To Catch a Thief
In the last film she made with Hitchcock, Grace Kelly traveled to the Riviera to star in this stylish thriller with the very suave Cary Grant. Grant plays a reformed jewel thief who must clear his name by catching another thief (who imitates his style). Kelly plays a clever heiress who decides to help Grant, in the process falling in love with him. Their adventures take them to the beach, on a high-speed car chase through the twisting roads of southern France, through several luxurious villas, and culminate at an elaborate costume ball. The breathtaking beauty of the scenery, the spot-on performances (Jessie Royce Landis as Kelly’s mother provides excellent comic relief), and the building suspense as the film reaches its stunning conclusion makes this film truly excellent. It exemplifies the “glamorous thrillers” that Hitchcock loved to make (another classic example is North by Northwest). Probably my personal favorite of all Kelly’s films, this one is definitely worth a watch.

High Society
The last film that Kelly made is this musical adaptation of the classic screwball comedy The Philadelphia Story. The original cannot be touched, with its wonderful performances by Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. However, the musical version is still fun to watch. Starring opposite Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, Kelly plays Tracy Samantha Lord, a spoiled heiress who is approaching the day of her second wedding as her former husband and a handsome newspaperman vie for her attention. The songs are charming, the sets and costumes lovely, the humor polite and playful (Celeste Holm is quite good). For a farewell performance, it is a light-hearted adieu to the world of films.

As could be expected, many have written of Grace’s life. Unfortunately, the usually reliably excellent Donald Spoto has failed to write a decent biography of “Hollywood’s Princess.” His book High Society is well-written but lacks the readability of his earlier books. I instead recommend Grace by Robert Lacey and Grace of Monaco by Steven Englund. Also worth perusing is H. Kristina Haugland’s Grace Kelly Style

Follow this link to see the first in the Film Greats series on Ingrid Bergman.

Evan, Teen Advisory Group
Northeast Branch

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