Grace Kelly: Film legend who promised more than she delivered

There was less to her than meets the eye, argues Geoffrey Macnab

What is the fuss about Grace Kelly? That may seem a strange question to ask given Kelly's status as "screen legend", "fashion icon", "one of the most beautiful women in the world", and "fairytale princess". Kelly (whose first film with Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder, has just been re-released) is the subject of a new biopic starring Nicole Kidman. She has inspired biographies, exhibitions and documentaries. Since her death in 1982, her lustre hasn't diminished in the slightest. Nonetheless, look at her actual film career – the basis of her reputation – and what is jarring is how few movies she actually made and how small her roles were in many of them.

It is ironic that no one today talks about the film that won Kelly her Oscar. The Country Girl (1954), adapted from a Clifford Odets play is her least characteristic, most downbeat film and she is strangely cast in it. Still in her mid 20s, she played the wife of an alcoholic, down-on-his-luck, middle-aged actor (Bing Crosby.) The film is in black and white. Her character Georgie Elgin wears spectacles and dowdy cardigans. She reads Dreiser and Balzac novels. Stuck in a cramped one room apartment with her self-pitying husband, Georgie is a very long way from the high society that we associate with Kelly. The theatre director (William Holden) who gives Frank a job blames Georgie for filling him with guilt and making him utterly dependent on her.

Kelly beat off formidable opposition (Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones) to win her Oscar. She gives a very strong performance that rekindles memories of Ingrid Bergman as similarly long-suffering heroines in films such as Stromboli and Voyage to Italy. There is nothing glamorous or ingratiating about her character (although inevitably Holden eventually falls in love with her). Georgie's greatest quality is her loyalty to a husband who is steadfastly dragging her down with him.

The Country Girl proved that Kelly was a capable actress with surprising range. The problem with her career is that she was rarely stretched and didn't seem to enjoy making movies anyway. "I never really liked Hollywood," she told biographer Donald Spoto. "I found it unreal – unreal and full of men and women whose lives were confused and full of pain."

Whether as the prim, Quaker bride in High Noon (1952) or as the young wife wrongfully imprisoned after herself surviving a murder attempt in Dial M for Murder (1953), she is essentially a supporting player – the foil to Gary Cooper's marshal or Ray Milland's smooth, well-spoken psychopath.

Hitchcock's admiration for Kelly is well chronicled. "The subtlety of Grace's sexuality – her elegant sexiness – appealed to me," the English director once commented. "Grace conveyed much more sex than the average movie sexpot. With Grace, you had to find it out – you had to discover it." Even so, Hitchcock never gave her roles that matched in intensity those that Ingrid Bergman played for him in Notorious or Tippi Hedren in Marnie and The Birds.

Kelly is tremendous in Hitchcock's Rear Window, showing both a comedic touch and real gumption as the beautiful socialite who turns action heroine to help James Stewart's wheelchair-bound photographer to solve a murder. She showed her glamorous and playful side in her later films like To Catch a Thief, The Swan and High Society. However, her screen career lasted only six years and comprises fewer than a dozen movies. On that basis, the much- repeated claim that she was one of America's all-time great movie stars simply doesn't stack up.

'Dial M for Murder' is in cinemas now. 'Grace of Monaco' will be released early next year

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas