April 10, 2019

The Country Girl (1954)
Grade: 53/100

Director: George Seaton
Stars: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden

What it's about. The ever sour William Holden is a heralded Broadway play director. He wants to hire Bing Crosby, an alcoholic and aging singer-actor, as the lead in a new musical. Crosby is bolstered by his long-suffering yet much younger wife, Grace Kelly.

Yet it is uncertain that the timid and indecisive Crosby will hold up under the stress of consecutive days and nights of rehearsals and performances. The producer, Anthony Ross, would like to replace Crosby with a more reliable lead. Holden decides that joyless Kelly, the mouthpiece of Crosby's complaints and demands, should be sent packing. This sends Crosby on a bender.

Because it is a movie, Crosby isn't fired, even after getting bailed out of jail. Holden brings Kelly back into the fold, and begins an affair with her. Crosby doesn't seem to mind, and surprisingly shapes up. His newfound manliness is confirmed by a verbal takedown of the mettlesome Ross. Kelly must choose between Crosby and Holden.

How others will see it. The Country Girl is best known as the film for which the future Princess Grace of Monaco won her only Academy Award for Best Actress. Grace's primary competition that year was Judy Garland, whose talent (especially as a singer) was a mountain compared to Grace's molehill. But the ravishing Grace Kelly was much more professional, and her few films were great financial successes.

Kelly also won Best Actress at the Golden Globes, and even at BAFTA. The Country Girl also won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, and was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Crosby), Best Director, Best Cinematography, and even for Best Art Direction. Additionally, the film was a box office success. The only 1954 Paramount picture with a higher box office was Rear Window, which also starred Grace Kelly.

But today at imdb.com, The Country Girl has fewer than 5K user votes, a fairly modest total given that Singin' in the Rain (1952) has nearly 200K user votes. The user rating of 7.3 out of 10 is good, but not great, for a movie nominated for so many first-tier Oscars. The leading user reviews are highly positive ("Bing Crosby's Best", "Extraordinary performances") with the expected undercut of negative reviews ("fake high art," "does not hold up well on repeated viewings").

How I felt about it. Breezy Bing Crosby was the biggest record seller of all time until Elvis Presley came around. Yet if you've heard one Crosby song, you've heard them all: a rich, soaring, effortless tenor. Underrated as an actor, his persona was invariably easy-going. Here, at last, he is cast against type. He is a coward who turned his wife into his mother to carry him through one day at a time.

Crosby's performance is the one to watch. Kelly and Holden are pros but cannot rise above the wordy psychobabble of a screenplay. Holden's smug appraisals of Crosby and Kelly involve more amateur psychology than the viewer deserves to endure. Kelly and Crosby provide additional trite observations of their own.

Holden's pass at Kelly, and her reaction, come as a surprise only because both are so preposterous given that Holden has acted like a jerk, while Kelly appeared frigid.

The characters certainly smoke a lot. You would think that Phillip Morris owned Paramount studios.

The Country Girl was the final film in the career of Anthony Ross, who plays the one-note producer that despises Crosby. Ross died the next year, 1955, at the age of 46. He looked many years older.