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A blog for poetry, prose, and pop culture.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Movie Time: Rewind: Country Girl

Hey all,

Time for this month's edition of the Rewind (as the one from earlier made up for spacing it last month.) I have covered an awful lot of movies and actors over the past few years and it is difficult to find new actors or actresses to spotlight. Especially considering how I watch movies. I tend to watch an actor or director and try to watch every film they have done, when I start to get sparse on that one, I move to another. While there are many great Spencer Tracy films, I haven't gotten to him yet so I run back into the great films that I have already seen. This month I thought we would look at a movie that shines the spotlight on a new actor, as well as 2 other actors who have made several appearances on the Rewind, 1954's Country Girl from Paramount Pictures.

Directed and adapted for the screen by George Seaton, it starred Bing Crosby as a washed up/has-been actor named Frank Elgin, once one of the biggest musical draws in the country, only to have succumbed to the effects of alcoholism. Co-starring Grace Kelley as his wife Georgia, she is the long suffering woman trapped in a one sided marriage to keep Frank alive and in work. When producer Bernie Dodd (the great William Holden) offers Frank a final chance at glory in a musical he is producing, its up to Georgina to keep Frank sober enough, through any means necessary, to keep working and keep that final chance at glory alive.

Underneath the hard and bitter shell of Kelly's character is a woman of passion, trapped by the responsibilities of marriage. Dodd's grows from hating the controlling and cold demeanor of Georgina to finding a soft and passionate center. The strained love triangle is nearly torturous as Kelly tries to keep the booze addled Crosby working, and Holden is torn by his dedication to Crosby as an actor and to the picture, and the burning desires he feels for Crosby's wife.

The Country Girl is a powerful movie, especially looking at the lead actor in Bing Crosby. Mostly known for light-hearted romantic singing fair, his dark turn as an aging alcoholic singer is a dramatic and unexpected turn from Crosby. It was the first time in a movie I really saw him act or emote, it was intense. So many of his films were comedies or musicals, to watch him play this role on the surface, the role he had been playing in film and radio for years, seems natural. Its that other level, the one below, where he shows off just what kind of range he had.

Grace Kelly is impeccable as always. Here she is at the height of her popularity, rivaled only by Audrey Hepburn as the biggest female star on the planet. Her performance as the tortured and lonely wife won her an Oscar that year, beating out what many people thought was a sure fire win for Judy Garland in A Star is Born. Kelly had a nearly unrivaled run in the the mid 50's, filming five films in 1954 alone. She had found early success with Gary Cooper in High Noon, but in '54 she filmed Dial M for Murder and Rear Window with Hitchcock, Green Fire with Stewart Granger, The Bridges at Toko-Ri with William Holden but it was Country Girl gave her her only Oscar. She made only 3 more films after 1954, before retiring from movies completely in the late 50's to marry the Prince of Monaco.

William Holden on the other hand was on the rise in the 50's. He had starred previously with Kelly in the Bridges at Toko-Ri, about a pilot on a suicide mission in World War 2, and was a natural fit as the fiery and bombastic Dodds. Holden and Kelly really captured the smoldering tension that lie underneath their characters in the film. Holden, angry and incensed by Kelly's character, whom he sees as the reason for Crosby's disillusionment and fear. Her domineering and shrewish ways, controlling and forcing Crosby to do what must be done, yet eventually seeing the truth beneath Crosby's facade, at the deeply flawed and troubled person that she has been holding together. The burning passion that waits beneath the surface for these two, and the stark reality of the effects of alcoholism and misogyny on a marriage.

Truthfully, these were stark and hard topics for a film in the 1950's. Where so much of Americana and sensibility was about the American way of life, this film dared to lay a truth to the dark effects of relationships and the dangers of addiction and failure. Crosby really found a level of acting he hadn't ever displayed before, showing us that beneath the smiling facade could lay an actor of depth. I have watched several Crosby films since this one, and never have I seen the same commitment or pathos in his performance. Kelly is steel and sex in the role, hardened until Holden cracks her shell, coaxing two tremendous performances out of each actor.

All three of these actors made a lot of films, and while this may not be my favorite Holden film (the Wild Bunch) or my favorite Kelly film (Rear Window) {both already covered in previous Rewinds!!} it is my favorite Bing Crosby film, and easily rates among the better pictures that you can watch. Check out The Country Girl, from Paramount Pictures and remind yourself why movies are great.

End of Line.

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