Many years ago, when I was young and before I had seen thousands of different movies, I was transfixed by The Country Girl. I channel surfed onto it on late night television, and thought it was sterling psychological drama.
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Perhaps it is due to the cynicism of passing years, or from seeing one too many addiction dramas. Perhaps I was simply naive back then. But The Country Girl now seems like standard psychobabble melodrama. The successful, award-winning film is talky and obvious, with an unlikely ending and an unnecessary secondary romance.
Based on the play by Clifford Odets, the film stars Bing Crosby as faded actor/singer Frank Elgin. A family tragedy has caused him to turn to drink, but he is still supported by his embittered wife Georgie (Grace Kelly). Bernie Dodd (William Holden) is a director of a new musical play, and wants Frank to have the lead role. But Frank's alcoholism interferes, while tension mounts between Bernie and Georgie.
The role was ideal for Crosby, who finally had a chance to show his acting talents in a dramatic role. However, the film perks up considerably when he is singing, especially in a duet with Jacqueline Fontaine.
Grace Kelly was only 25 at the time, but the gorgeous, glamorous star was made frumpy by adding glasses, and by changing her dress and hairstyle. Her miscast was made more obvious by the quarter century age difference between her and Crosby.
Of course, it worked out for her, as she demonstrated that she could play a humorless shrew as capably as she could a soft-spoken fashion model. This unrewarding extension of her acting range seems to have made an undeserved impression, as any woman can play an unhappy, self-sacrificing housewife. The challenge comes in making the role both credible and sympathetic, which wasn't really accomplished.
William Holden actually has the most difficult role. His tough guy, hard-edged character has to turn around cunning drinker Frank, win over seething Georgie, and put off sarcastic, ill- tempered producer Phil Cook (Anthony Ross). He also has to pretend that his play, a tame musical starring Frank as a singing farmer, is worth all the testosterone and adrenaline that he is putting into it. He has to be convincing in all this while delivering a blizzard of lines, many of which are loaded with dubious psychological posturing.
The story has strong similarity to that of a vastly superior film about alcoholism from the same year, A Star is Born (1954). The fading star and drunk from that film was played by James Mason, whose behavior was not subjected to relentless psychoanalysis. Also, while the charm of Crosby's voice has to be noted, he was no match for the intensity or variety of Judy Garland's performances.
1954 was the year of On the Waterfront, which dominated the Academy Awards. Nonetheless, The Country Girl was nominated for seven Oscars. Grace Kelly somehow beat Judy Garland for Best Actress, while George Seaton won for his screenplay.
Seaton's direction was also nominated, as was Crosby for Best Actor, and John F. Warren for his cinematography. The film was nominated for Best Picture, and for Best Art Direction. (55/100)
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