Thursday, March 12, 2009

Grace Kelly (1983) TV Movie

Published: Monday, February 21, 1983

"GRACE KELLY," tonight's television movie on Channel 7 at 9, maintains that Princess Grace of Monaco assisted in the preproduction of the film for several weeks before her death last year. The extent of that "assistance" is not easy to pinpoint, but it may have something to do with the sense of stately awe and suffocating propriety that seeps through the project. "Grace Kelly" will offend nobody. Unfortunately, it's not likely to interest too many people, either.

The film spans a period from 1947, when the socially prominent young Philadelphian decided to become an actress, to 1956, when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco. Miss Kelly is played by Cheryl Ladd, who comes reasonably close to being as beautiful as the original. The producers were far less successful in finding convincing resemblances for some of Miss Kelly's Hollywood co-stars: Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bing Crosby.

From the opening scenes, though, there is a characterization problem that has not been solved by either the writer, Cynthia Mandelberg, or the director, Anthony Page. Miss Kelly was something of the loner oddball within her competitive, hyperactive family. She was the quiet one sitting in a corner reading a book. But she had her own kind of gentle determination, something that was evident when she insisted upon pursuing an acting career even when her imposing father (played by Lloyd Bridges) made no secret of his displeasure. But basically she was a shy, rather passive young woman.

Going before the movie cameras, she was transformed, especially when working with directors like Alfred Hitchcock. She managed to project a distant coolness with a pronounced hint of the femme fatal or the huntress. This is constantly being noted in the film, but never explained. We are constantly being left with the off-camera Grace Kelly and that often irritating passivity. When she is on the verge of marrying Oleg Cassini (Alejandro Rey), she sits quietly by as her mother (Diane Ladd) tells the twice-divorced clothes designer, "Quite frankly, you're not a good risk as a husband."

Daddy, who won't even meet with Mr. Cassini, turns out to be the key figure in her life. Always more impressed with his more physically active children, he is seen as almost reluctant to acknowledge the accomplishments of his daughter Grace. There is, of course, an eventual reconciliation scene, which rings unsettlingly hollow.

That leaves Miss Ladd with little to do except drop the names of movies and other actors until she gets to meet Ian McShane as Prince Ranier during a photo session at the palace in Monaco. Miss Kelly is clearly impressed on their first meeting. And the Prince concedes to a priest that she is "exactly the kind of Catholic girl I should be meeting." Shortly thereafter, the Prince shows up in Philadelphia as an unexpected guest at the Kelly's Christmas dinner. "I hope the surprise was a happy one," he says to Miss Kelly. "It was, very happy," she replies. That is about as lively as things get.

Evidently, the real-life fantasy elements of Miss Kelly's story were expected to provide the dramatic thrust of the film. In case anybody might miss the point, the mother is given the illuminating line: "Here I am, a bricklayer's wife, and my daughter is going to marry a Prince." But this Grace Kelly rarely gets a chance to show more than her distant coolness. Probably in compensation, the movie ends with official film footage of the real wedding that captured the attention of the world 27 years ago.

Grace Kelly (1983) TV Movie
Cast: Alejandro Rey, Cheryl Ladd, David Paymer, Diane Ladd, Ian McShane, Lloyd Bridges, Marta DuBois, William Schallert

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