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The 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: High Society(1956)

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Virginie from The Wonderful World Of Cinema, and Emily from The Flapper Dame, are co-hosting this 4th annual blogathon celebrating Grace Kelly. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.  

1956 was a key year in Grace Kelly’s life. She had become engaged to Prince Rainier of Monaco after the pair had met and fallen in love the previous year. Grace was about to embark on a new chapter in her life. Unfortunately her new path in life meant that she had to bid farewell to her film career.

In 1956, Grace Kelly appeared in what would become her final film. For her final screen performance she played a society heiress called Tracy Samantha Lord. The film was called High Society.

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Grace as Tracy. Screenshot by me.

The 1956 film was a musical remake of the 1940 classic, The Philadelphia Story, which was an adaptation of Philip Barry’s 1939 stage play of the same name. The original film had succeeded in resurrecting Katharine Hepburn’s film career.

Katharine Hepburn’s performance, coupled with the overall success of the film, succeeded in destroying the cruel label of “box office poison” which had been attached to her name for some time. The film had also seen James Stewart’s hilarious performance rewarded with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. 

It was never going to be an easy task to remake a film that was so highly regarded. Charles Walters, the man behind such classics as Easter Parade, Three Guys Named Mike, and The Tender Trap, took on the task of directing the remake. The legendary Cole Porter penned the songs used in the film.

Joining the cast as Tracy’s three love interests were Bing Crosby as Dexter, the ex husband of Tracy; Frank Sinatra as the mischievous reporter, Mike Connor; and John Lund as Tracy’s new fiance, George Kittredge. 

                  Bing, Frank and John as the three men in Tracy’s life. Screenshots by me.

I think that High Society manages to stand alone from the original film due to the different ways in which the actors perform their roles, and also due to the film being a musical. I like to call this film a reinterpretation of the original story rather than a remake.

        A few scenes from High Society. Screenshots by me.

Whenever I watch High Society, it feels as though I’ve joined friends at a fabulous party, one which is overflowing with fun and wit. The film is uplifting, touching, glamorous and funny. The songs and musical sequences are all fabulous and they are sure to have you singing right along with them.

I also love that we get Louis Armstrong acting as our guide to this society world. Louis also performs several songs in the film, and he and Bing Crosby perform a duet together. I also love how Louis breaks the fourth wall at various points in the film and speaks directly to us. 

As much as I like this film, I do concede that it lacks the character development of the original and some of it does feel a bit rushed.  I also wanted a little more joy and excitement during the ending. If you have seen the original film, then you won’t really be able to help but compare the two films as you watch this one.

Some viewers don’t like the pairing of Bing and Grace here due to their age difference, personally I have never had a problem with age gaps in relationships, so I don’t care about that issue at all. 

I do think that there should have been some more scenes between Bing and Grace, either as flashbacks to show the Haven’s marriage, or some more scenes when he comes back into her life as she prepares to marry. I wanted many more scenes between them and a bit more focus on their relationship. 

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Bing and Grace in the True Love sequence. Screenshot by me.

In the scenes they do share together, I have to say that Bing gazes at Grace with such tenderness and warmth, and she looks back at him with equal warmth and affection.

Bing’s performance at first doesn’t come across as really being that good, but if you watch his eyes and expressions you will see that the performance is subtle, but it is most definitely there to be seen. 

Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm are clearly having a lot of fun together as the reporters. I love their duet performance of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Celeste is hilarious as Liz, and she steals all the scenes that she is in. Frank is very good in the role of Mike, and you miss him when he isn’t in a scene. But sadly Frank is no Jimmy Stewart. I’m afraid that Frank’s performance lacks that special spark that Jimmy’s has in the original. I do like Frank’s performance, but I think that he and Celeste could both have done with more character development to work with.

Louis Calhern provides the comic relief of the film as Tracy’s Uncle Willie. There is strong support from Sidney Blackmer as Tracy’s stern father. Margalo Gillmore is also very good as Tracy’s mother. Lydia Reed is adorable as Caroline(I much prefer her performance over Virginia Weilder’s in the original) and I love the Little One scene between her and Bing.

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Tracy gets quite a surprise. Screenshot by me.

Grace Kelly is the heart and soul of the film. She sparkles like a bright jewel whenever she is on screen in this film. I think that she delivers a very touching performance as a woman desperate to be loved for herself alone. There are several scenes where she expertly conveys how hurt or vulnerable Tracy is. Grace captures this woman’s pain and frustration so well. 

I often wonder if Grace saw some of her own life mirrored in this character and her story. Grace was often(and still is today)seen as merely a beautiful screen goddess, rather than the complex and warm woman she actually was off screen. I for one can certainly see parallels between her own life and Tracy’s. 

                                 Grace is vulnerable and sad as Tracy. Screenshots by me.

If you think that Grace always played cool and remote women, then you should check her out in this film, where you will get to see her play a funny, sweet and easily hurt woman. I always think it is such a shame that she never acted again after this film.

As the film begins, we find the wealthy citizens of Newport about to be shaken free from their stuffy traditions by a dose of true love, and by the arrival of the great Louis Armstrong and his band. Louis and his band are in town to perform at a jazz festival organised by his old friend Dexter Haven(Bing Crosby).

                  A few scenes featuring the legendary Louis Armstrong. Screenshots by me.

In Newport, preparations are not only underway for the jazz festival, but also for the society wedding of the year. Heiress Tracy Samantha Lord(Grace Kelly)is about to get married to the decent, but dreadfully dull, George Kittredge(John Lund).

Much to Tracy’s annoyance her wedding is being covered by pushy magazine reporter, Mike Conner(Frank Sinatra), and his photographer pal, Liz Imbrie(Celeste Holm). This intrusion leads Tracy and her little sister Caroline (Lydia Reed) to prank these visitors and have a little fun at their expense. 

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A happy moment for Tracy and Dexter. Screenshot by me.

Tracy’s ex-husband and neighbour, Dexter Haven stops by to wish her every happiness for the future. 

Tracy and Dexter may well have had problems in their marriage, but the pair still love one another and Dexter in particular can’t bring himself to sever all connections with his girl.

The rest of the film focuses on whether these two will get back together or not. Tracy and Mike also have a few moments where it seems that they may well be falling for one another too. 

At the heart of the film(even more than the romance)is Tracy’s desperation to be loved for who she is inside, not for her external beauty alone. George puts his fiance up on a pedestal and considers her a goddess, rather than seeing her for the flesh and blood woman that she really is. Mike admires her spirit and personality. Her own father even refers to her as being made of bronze. Only Dexter completely sees her and accepts her for who she is in every way. Can Tracy find the happiness she so desperately craves? Watch the film and find out.

This film may well not be as good as the original is, but it is certainly a lot of fun. The performances, costumes and songs are all fabulous. The duet between Bing and Louis, and the duet between Bing and Frank, are two highlights of the film. Cole Porter’s witty and catchy lyrics will stay in your mind long after the film has finished. Grace Kelly’s lovely performance will linger in the memory too. I think this was the perfect film for her career to end with. 

What are your thoughts on the film and Grace’s performance in it?

 

 

 

 

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Films I Love, Thriller

Rear Window(1954)

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Jeff watches his neighbours. Screenshot by me.

I consider Rear Window to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s cleverest and most absorbing  films. Few films can claim to be perfect, but I think this is one of the few which can be considered such.

This is one of Hitchcock’s best films (and that is saying something)and his attention to even the smallest of details is very evident in every scene. The film is the perfect package and it contains something in it for everyone to enjoy.

The way Hitchcock directs this film makes his audience become voyeurs just like James Stewart’s character is. The more of the film we watch, the more it seems like we are right there in that apartment with him looking out at the neighbouring apartments and focusing on what is happening inside them. I always feel quite uncomfortable whenever I watch this one, because it feels like I’m being nosy and am actually looking in on all these peoples lives. I feel like I have become James Stewart’s character in a way.

Rear Window is a very dark and thrilling film which tackles issues of obsession, curiosity, romance, murder and voyeurism. The film features beautiful clothes, black comedy, fascinating characters, plenty of suspense, and one of the most realistic film sets in American film history. The film also shows that sometimes being nosy and suspicious isn’t a bad thing as you may witness something which could help solve a crime or stop something bad from happening to someone. 

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Jeff and Lisa can’t stop looking out the window. Screenshot by me.

I really like how we are not entirely sure whether to accept the suspicions of Jeff or not. Even though we see and hear the same things he does, we don’t really know what incidents are worth being concerned about. At some points we are not entirely clear about what we’ve actually just witnessed. 

Photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart)is wheelchair bound at home during a heatwave after he breaks his leg. Jeff lives in an apartment complex and he starts looking out of his window at his neighbours because he needs something to do to help him pass the time when he can’t sleep because of the heat. However what begins as a casual curiosity, soon develops into an obsession when he can’t stop looking at what’s going on in the neighbouring apartments. 

Jeff’s glamourous girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly)loves him dearly, but the two are complete opposites in background, life and society. Lisa begins to get concerned about Jeff’s obsession with the neighbours and she tries to get him to focus on her instead. Soon Lisa gets drawn into Jeff’s obsession. The pair begin to suspect neighbour Lars Thorwald (a menacing Raymond Burr)of having murdered his invalid wife and taken her body out of their apartment late at night.

Jeff and Lisa begin their own investigations into the possibility of foul play having been committed. They are helped in their investigations by Jeff’s nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and Jeff’s detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey). Hitchcock keeps us guessing as to whether Thorwald is innocent or guilty right up to the end of the film. We even begin to wonder at points in the film whether Jeff is correct in his suspicions or not.

I love the apartment complex set because it looks so realistic. How it’s set up works for the story as Jeff’s window has a clear view of all of the other apartments opposite and around his own. All the apartment sets were also designed inside, with furniture etc added to the interiors which could be seen through the windows. I also love the excellent sound work heard during the apartment complex sequences where we hear conversations, music, and other sounds at various different levels, just as you would in reality. 

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The apartment complex. Screenshot by me.

The one thing about this set up that always makes me laugh is how everyone in all the apartments has their windows open with the lights on and nobody (apart from the newlyweds)ever has their curtains or blinds drawn. This seems to be a recurring thing in American, Swedish and Danish films and series; here in the UK, once it’s evening the curtains and blinds are firmly shut, we’d never dream of having the lights on so that everyone outside could see in. Do none of the characters in this film value their privacy? Do they not think that someone across the courtyard could be seeing everything they’re doing?

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Miss Loneleyheart. Screenshot by me.

Not only is the film suspenseful and thrilling, but it is also a terrific character piece with a great deal of character development occurring throughout. Even Jeff’s briefly glimpsed neighbours come across as very real people with all their various quirks and flaws.

I don’t know about you but the action taking place in the individual apartments is as intriguing to me as the main story of Jeff obsessing over Lars Thorwald. I’m most fascinated by the Miss Lonelyheart story. This woman is single and is depressed because she doesn’t have anyone in her life. This storyline is so well conveyed that I find myself really feeling for this woman and wanting to comfort her.

I also like seeing how Jeff slowly comes to see what a treasure he has in Lisa. As the film goes on he is more focused on what is going on in the other apartments to be able to properly focus on his own life. Lisa and Jeff genuinely do love each other, but they each have such different lives and interests that their relationship isn’t easy. Lisa also wants them to get married but Jeff doesn’t want that.  

By the end of the film though, Jeff realises that he does love Lisa very much. He finds that he can’t be without her, and he starts to see that she is a resourceful and brave woman. Grace Kelly is as glamorous and beautiful as ever but she gets to show there is more to her character than her physical appearance. Lisa ends up becoming one of the bravest characters in the film. Grace also shows us Lisa’s vulnerable side and her desperation for Jeff to fully accept her in his life.

James Stewart portrays Jeff as a man who is very set in his ways, but who slowly comes to realise that there is room for Lisa in his life after all. James does such a good job of conveying Jeff’s growing fascination and obsession with the mystery in the apartment opposite his. James again goes to some dark places for Hitch as he plays a character obsessed with murder and someone who seems to be at his happiest watching the lives of others. In this film he delivers one of his finest performances. 

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Thelma Ritter as Stella,  and James Stewart as Jeff. Screenshot by me.

Thelma Ritter provides comic support as the sassy and no-nonsense Stella. She also thinks Jeff needs to stop watching, but then she and Lisa begin to think he may be right after all. Thelma was one of the greatest character actresses and she steals every scene she is in here.

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Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald. Screenshot by me.

Raymond Burr is almost unrecognisable in this as Lars Thorwald. I love Raymond when he plays good guys like Ironside, but he was superb when playing dubious and evil characters. He really keeps you guessing about Thorwald right up to the final scene. 

This is a thrilling film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It also makes you see just how easy it is to slip into obsession. Excellent performances throughout and skilled direction from Hitch make this a must see.

My favourite scenes are the following. Lisa sneaking into Thorwald’s apartment. Our first introduction to Lisa. Doyle seeing that Lisa is going to spend the night with Jeff. The opening sequence of the apartment complex. The entire final sequence involving the camera flash. 

What do you think of Rear Window?

 

Thriller, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Third Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: To Catch A Thief (1955)

Grace Kelly blogathon

Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon about Grace Kelly. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Grace Kelly was many things in her life, and she has come to mean different things to different people. She has become a fashion and beauty icon over the years.

Grace famously went from being a fairly ordinary American woman to becoming a real life Princess in 1956, when she got married to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Many people have since come to know Grace through her work and life as a Princess.

Most of us have come to know Grace and are fans of her through her work as a film actress. Grace was a very good actress, and while I personally think that she perhaps wasn’t the best actress of her generation, she was without a doubt certainly a very good one. Besides being talented, Grace also had that magical star quality so necessary for a successful screen career. Grace shone when she was on screen, she has that effect which means you can’t take your eyes off her when she is on the screen.

I like how Grace often portrayed a vulnerability in many of her characters. Her characters would often put up a tough façade, but in reality they were women who could be easily hurt, or were women who felt things deeply. Grace portrayed all this so well through her eyes and expressions.

Alfred Hitchcock was the director who gave Grace the film roles which brought her great fame, and forever cemented her screen image in the minds of audiences. Hitchcock knew how to use Grace to best effect on screen. Through her collaboration with Hitch, Grace’s screen image changed from cool, demure, vulnerable and gentle love interest, to strong, sexy, elegant and confident leading lady.

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Grace looking beautiful and elegant as Francie. Screenshot by me.

Hitch also played around with Grace’s aloof and cool persona.

Hitchcock gave Grace roles which played up that cool image, but then showed us that underneath that perceived image she was very different. We see that she can be warm, feisty, sensual, sexy and very human too.

I’m writing about the third and final film that Grace made with Alfred Hitchcock.

That film is To Catch A Thief. The film was made in 1955, and it was shot out on location in the South of France and in Monaco (soon to be Grace’s future home).

This film may lack the suspense of the majority of other Hitchcock films, but it certainly features some interesting characters, lots of innuendo (just how did some of this make it past the censors!)beautiful costumes (especially those worn by Grace)and the photography of the stunning locations is truly a pleasure to look at. 

This is a film that I love quite a bit. It isn’t a traditional Hitchcock film in terms of its content and visual style, but the sexual innuendo and the developing relationship between Grace and Cary Grant’s characters is classic Hitch for sure.

Grace looks truly stunning in this film. She is at the height of her beauty here, and she gets to wear some of the most beautiful and elegant gowns I’ve ever seen. I especially love the pale blue evening gown she wears in the hotel restaurant. Edith Head truly outdid herself with her costume designs for this film.

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Francie takes John out for a drive he won’t forget. Screenshot by me.

I love how Grace plays her character Francie. This woman is in control of everything she does and she very well knows it. She is strong, sexy and really oozes confidence and determination. She can also be wild and uncontrollable which really gives her an air of danger at times.

I love the car chase sequence, where Francie’s fast driving really scares John as he ends up becoming a helpless passenger. Francie also plays with John(like a cat would with a mouse)but he gets wise to her games and he plays with her right back (cue some classic banter between the two).

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John Robie hides up on the roof. Screenshot by me.

A series of jewel robberies are taking place across the French Riviera. The robberies bear a strong resemblance to the work of the notorious jewel thief known as The Cat.

The real name of The Cat is John Robie (Cary Grant)and he knows very well that he is not the current thief. Once he is alerted that someone else is thieving using his signature style, he sets out to catch the culprit himself and to clear his own name.

John soon begins to receive threats on his life. John also has to deal with the beautiful American heiress, Francie (Grace Kelly)and her mother Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis)who are on holiday in Cannes and befriend him. John and Francie have an instant attraction, but John grows suspicious of her when she asks too many questions about thieving, and especially when she claims to know he is the famous cat burglar.

John also has issues with some former friends/colleagues from the French Resistance. He also has to deal with Danielle (Brigitte Auber)who is a local girl he has known for years, who has a huge crush on him.

John enlists the help of an insurance man (John Williams)to set a trap for the thief. Together they create a list of the most wealthy jewel owners in the Riviera. Who can John trust? Just who is The Cat?

This film is less about its plot, and instead is more about the beautiful locations, and also the sexual tension and desire between Francie and John. Cary and Grace have incredible chemistry with one another, their innuendo laced dialogue is truly shocking in places, just how did some of those lines( especially the one about a week at Niagara Falls) even get past the censor?

I didn’t see the identity of the copycat thief coming until it was revealed. Having said that though this revelation just lacked a big shock for me. I think the film would have been more exciting if Francie had been revealed to be the burglar. It would have placed John in a predicament as to whether he should hand her in, or if he could attack her back if she attacked him.

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Francie’s motives keep you guessing. Screenshot by me.

When I first saw this film I was convinced that it would be Francie who would be revealed as the copycat thief. I felt that she was playing Robie at his own game and having fun. Having said all that though, I do think that reveal would have been too obvious given how Francie acts earlier in the film.

An enjoyable film that is beautiful to look at. In this film we get to see the wealthy and the beautiful having fun in a beautiful place. It makes us dream that we could have such a life too. Be sure to see this film on Blu-ray to see it looking clear and to see the colour photography at its most stunning.

Grace and Cary are both superb here and the rest of the cast all deliver solid performances too. Jessie Royce Landis is hysterical as Francie’s mother who develops a crush on John herself.

The beach sequences always make me want to visit the beach, and I envy Grace every single time I watch this because of the gorgeous outfits she gets to wear throughout the film.

This one is certainly worth a look for fans of Grace, Hitchcock and Cary. It’s not the best Hitchcock film, but it’s certainly not the worst either.

My favourite scenes are the following. John and Francie sharing a kiss at her hotel room door. The fireworks and jewels scene between John and Francie. Francie and Danielle’s rather catty conversation out on the sea float (I love Cary’s facial expressions during this scene, it is so funny).

Any other fans of this film? What are your thoughts on Grace’s performance here?

    Here are my five favourite Grace Kelly films.

1- High Society

2- To Catch A Thief

3- Rear Window

                                                                   4-The Country Girl

                                                                  5-The Swan