>> Saturday, April 2, 2011
USA/B&W-104m./Dir: George Seaton/Wr: George Seaton (based on the play by Clifford Odets)/Cast: Bing Crosby (Frank Elgin), Grace Kelly (Georgie Elgin), William Holden (Bernie Dodd), Anthony Ross (Phillip Cook), Gene Reynolds (Larry), Jacqueline Fontaine (Lounge singer)
Genial crooner B-B-B-Bing Crosby and porcelain princess Grace Kelly took 180-degree turns from their familiar screen personas for the Hollywood adaptation of the Clifford Odets’ play, The Country Girl. Crosby set aside his easy-going charm to dive into darker Lost Weekend-esque emoting, while Kelly de-glamorized as his dowdy, long-suffering wife. Both the risky performances and the soapy story (a drunken has-been attempting one last shot at the big time) had the luster of assured Oscar-bait. As expected, both Der Bingle and the princess scored Academy Award nominations, and Kelly even took home the coveted statuette.
The story centers upon a Broadway musical in the making. When the star of the production is fired, the show’s director, Bernie Dodd (William Holden) gambles on hiring Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby), a washed-up, balding actor-singer with a bad reputation as an unreliable boozer. In hiring Elgin, Bernie discovers that the alky’s domineering wife Georgie (Grace Kelly) comes as part of the package. While the woman-hating director blames the Missus for Elgin’s weaknesses, in reality, she is only thing keeping the actor from slipping into a pit of self-loathing and depression. Will Georgie be able to keep Frank’s fragile psyche from unraveling or is another bender in the offing? Actually, it’s all rather predictable.
In many ways, The Country Girl has not aged well. The script (which won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar) is trite and overly melodramatic, employing obvious plot contrivances such as the loss of a child, the love triangle, and the triumph over personal demons. The soapiness of the story isn’t helped by the fact that director George Seaton occasionally lets his actors stray too far into histrionics. In addition, the play within a play, “The Land Around Us,” which the company is trying to mount, consistently comes across as a turkey. It is hard to believe that any star, let alone a broken-down drunk, could breathe life into a musical with no memorable songs. The only musical number that truly shines in the film is an impromptu number that has nothing to do with the show in question--a drunken duet in a bar between Bing and lounge-singer Jacqueline Fontaine.
The Country Girl remains watchable today mainly due to the curiosity value of Bing and Grace’s against-type performances. While both can be caught acting at times, it is interesting seeing each of them in an unfamiliar context. Overall, the experiment is a success. However, the one truly great performance in the film is given by William Holden, one of the most reliable screen actors in Hollywood history.
While The Country Girl is a bit of a slog at times, there is enough that is interesting and good in the picture to ultimately recommend it. It also is an important title in the “alcohol-as-disease” canon, which should be enough reason for soused cinema enthusiasts to give it a once-over.
Drinks Consumed--Beer, 44-proof cough medicine, and whiskey
Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, depression, harmonizing, public disturbance, destruction of property, and jail time
Potent Quotables--BERNIE: Frank, there are as many reasons for drinking as there are drinkers, but there are only two reasons why a drinker stops--he dies or he decides to quit, all by himself.
Video Availability--The Country Girl DVD (Paramount)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Bing and Grace re-teamed in 1956 for High Society, the champagne-soaked remake of The Philadelphia Story (1940).