Oscar: Best Actress–Kelly, Grace in The Country Girl

Grace Kelly won her first Best Actress Oscar at her second nomination for the melodrama, The Country Girl, in which she had to deglamorize her naturally elegant, seductive looks.

Kelly had been nominated the year before, in the supporting category, for John Ford’s “Mogambo,” co-starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner.

In 1954, the Best Actress competition included Dorothy Dandridge in “Carmen Jones,” Judy Garland in “A Star Is Born,” Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina,” and Jane Wyman in “Magnificent Obsession.”

George Seaton’s odd, over-rated melodrama, “The Country Girl,” is an early study of co-dependency in alcoholic marriages. Bing Crosy 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 seemed to have 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.

On Broadway, the estimable Uta Hagen originated the part of Georgie Elgin, 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 the sappy melodrama slightly different today.