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Washed up singer/actor Frank Elgin has a chance to make a come-back when director Bernie Dodd offers him the leading role in his new musical. Frank however is very insecure, turns to alcohol and shuns even the smallest of responsibilities, leaving everything up to his wife Georgie who finds it harder and harder to cope with her husband's lack of spirit. Bernie tries to help Frank regain his self-confidence, believing that it is Georgie who's the cause of his insecurity. Written by
Leon Wolters <wolters@strw.LeidenUniv.nl>
1954 was a banner year for the three stars of The Country Girl, as Grace Kelly, who would win an Oscar for her performance in this film, also appeared in the highly successful Rear Window and Dial M For Murder, both for Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the grim war drama The Bridges At Toko-Ri, which also features William Holden. In The Country Girl, Holden gets third billing despite his having just won an Oscar himself, for Stalag 17, and who was at around the same time could be seen in Sabrina and Executive Suite. Top-billed Bing Crosby was soon to be seen in the smash musical White Christmas. As to the movie itself, it is adapted from a Clifford Odets play about an alcoholic actor (changed to a singer to accommodate Mr. Crosby), and his over-reliance on his wife, whom he tells anyone who will listen is the cause of his drinking, when in fact she is looking after him. The movie is an interesting study of alcoholism and its effect on human relationships, as the lying and deceit that it engenders ruins all attempts at honesty, however small, as it compels people to become actors in a drama over which they have no control. There is an added dimension to this aspect of the story, as the setting is theatrical, and the people in it theatre-wise.
The Country Girl lacks the brilliance of The Lost Weekend; and while it actually probes more deeply into the psyche of an alcoholic than the earlier film does, it's much more static, and visually it's unexciting. For a man steeped in the theatre and theatrical lore, Odets is surprisingly weak with the show biz shoptalk, yet proves himself once more a master dramatist with the psychology. I like the way it's made clear that Frank Elgin was on a downward slide before his young son died, as the boy's tragic death is his "official" reason for drinking. His use of charm, as much as drink, to quell his anxiety, is also nicely suggested, as Elgin is a man who cannot stand rejection of any kind, however small the issue. In this regard he is the worst kind of seducer, compelling others to accept him on terms he cannot himself accept, then trying to live up to their expectations despite the fact that he never really believed his own PR in the first place. He then lets everyone done, forcing them to feel as badly as he does, and meanwhile, the show must go on, and where's Frank? Oh, he's in his dressing room drinking some cough syrup. You see, he has a bad cold...
As Elgin, Crosby is splendid, playing without vanity a man snowed under by his own self-pity. He is especially good at turning on his charm at the wrong moments (i.e. when he's lying or hiding something). As his wife, Grace Kelly is altogether too young and attractive for the part, and doesn't seem at all like the country girl she's supposed to be. She was a beautiful woman, with perfect features, but her acting here seems barely professional. Holden is more fiery than usual as the short-tempered director, and for my money walks off with the show. Crosby's part may be meatier, but his character is pitiful and difficult to respect, while Holden is like a brick, holding the others and the movie together by sheer charisma. He's also essentially the audience's point man in the film, learning as he goes along; and we learn with him.
A fine movie, dated only in its particulars. It's very fifties in tone, and at times seems somewhat underpopulated, and yet even Miss Kelly's miscasting can't ruin it.
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