Country Girl (1954): Deglamorized Grace Kelly in Oscar Winning Performance

George Seaton’s odd, overrated melodrama, The Country Girl, is an early study of co-dependency in alcoholic marriages.

Bing Crosby plays Frank Elgin, a down-at-the-heels entertainer, trying to keep his comeback up and his compulsive drinking down.

Cast-against-type, the naturally dapper, usually easy-going Crosby doesn’t seem desperate enough; he’s too sober and genial to capture the life of a dormant alcoholic.

As Georgie Elgin, the embittered wife of the alcoholic actor, Grace Kelly, despite the lack of make-up, is still too beautiful and lovely, and too reserved to play the gritty wife, whose neurotic dependency on her husband is as strong as his is on her. She lacks the ability and passion to suggest the complicated levels of a very complicated relationships

The film is poorly directed by George Seaton, who somehow convinced his cast they were doing important work, because they all behave as if the material, based on Clifford Odets’ 1950 play, was strong enough.

George Seaton is also responsible for making one of the worst films, the 1970 Airport, to be ever nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (see below).

Airport (1970): Worst Movie Ever-Nominated for Best Picture Oscar?

Detailed Plot

Set in a theatre where auditions are held for a musical production, the director Bernie Dodd watches a number performed by fading star Frank Elgin.  His decision to cast him is met with opposition from Cook, the show’s producer.

Bernie insists on the down-on-his-luck Elgin, who is living in a modest apartment with his long-suffering wife Georgie, a cold and bitter woman who has aged far beyond her years. They are grateful, though not entirely certain Elgin can handle the work.

Based on comments Elgin makes about her privately, Bernie assumes that Georgie is the reason for Frank’s career decline. He strongly criticizes her, first behind her back and eventually to her face. He fails to realize that the real reason Elgin’s declining career is the death of their son Johnny, only 5, hit by a car while in Elgin’s care.  As a result, Elgin is an alcoholic totally dependent on his wife. Bernie mistakenly blames her for everything that happens during rehearsals, including Elgin’s requests for a dresser and contract. He thinks that Georgie is suicidal and a drunk.

Humiliated when he learns the truth, Bernie realizes that he is actually attracted to Georgie, perhaps even in love with her.  After success on opening night, Elgin demands greater respect from the producer.  Bernie believes that now that Elgin has recovered his self-respect and stature, Georgie will be free to leave him, but she stands by her husband.

On Broadway, the estimable Uta Hagen originated the part of Georgie Elgin, winning a Tony Award for it, but she was not big enough a name when the play was made into a Hollywood movie.

The year of 1954 was arguably the best in Grace Kelly’s career, having also starred in two popular Hitchcock pictures, “Dial M for Murder” and especially “Rear Window.”

As the third wheel, William Holden gives the standout performance as Bernie Dodd, the director of Broadway musical shows who wants to help the couple, as does character actor Anthony Ross in the small role of Phil Cook.

Inexplicably, this S&M melodrama was one of the biggest box-office hits of the year, and inexplicably, Oscars went to Grace Kelly as best Actress and to George Seaton for his uneven and incoherent screenplay.

End Note

In hindsight, given the dark side of Bing Crosby, as revealed in various bios after his death, we may look at this sappy melodrama slightly different today.

CAST

Bing Crosby as Frank Elgin

Grace Kelly as Georgie Elgin

William Holden as Bernie Dodd

Anthony Ross as Philip Cook

Gene Reynolds as Larry

Jacqueline Fontaine as Lounge singer

Eddie Ryder as Ed

Robert Kent as Paul Unger

John W. Reynolds as Henry Johnson

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