Saturday, November 07, 2009

Grace Kelly's Birthday Is Coming Up

Grace Kelly always reminded me of a line that was spoken by Andy Griffith on the old Andy Griffith Show.

In an early episode, Barbara Eden played a manicurist who came to Mayberry and began working at Floyd's barber shop. Her presence in town was welcomed by the men and resented by the women, but she seemed to be oblivious to all the attention that was paid to her physical charms.

So, finally, Andy took her aside and said to her, "I don't know whether you know this or not, but, uh ... well, uh ... nature's been good to you. I mean real, real, REAL good. I can't remember when I've seen nature spend so much time on any one person."

I don't think Grace Kelly was unaware that she was beautiful. And I don't think she was unaware of her talents as an actress. But sometimes I did think she was unaware of just how stunning she was.

And she was stunning all her life. When she suffered a stroke while driving down a mountainside road in 1982 and died from the injuries she sustained when the vehicle went out of control and crashed, she was still beautiful at the age of 52. If you are skeptical, just take a look at the picture at right that was taken of her a little over a year before her death.

Her career was brief. She made 11 films in five years, often co–starring with some of the top leading men of her era (Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Cary Grant, William Holden, Alec Guinness and Bing Crosby) and performing for some of the great directors of all time (including Alfred Hitchcock three times).

She really did seem to have every gift. But, as things turned out, Ted Kennedy could have been talking about her when he eulogized John F. Kennedy Jr. when he was killed in a plane crash 10 years ago — she had every gift but the gift of years.

And this month, Turner Classic Movies is showing Kelly's movies on Thursday nights, giving viewers a weekly opportunity to appreciate those gifts.

This Thursday is particularly special because it would have been her 80th birthday (and, one suspects, she still would have been beautiful upon entering her ninth decade). For the occasion, TCM is showing three of her best movies, all of which were made when she was 24 years old.

Two of her Hitchcock movies will get things started — first up is "Dial M For Murder" at 7 p.m. (Central), which tends to emphasize dialogue a little more than most Hitchcock films. And it may be one of the most predictable films she made, although that may have been inevitable, given that it started as a stage play.

That one will be followed by "Rear Window" at 9 p.m. (Central).

With the exception of "High Noon," which was shown on TCM last week, it may be the best movie she ever made.

I will always remember the first time I saw it. It was a couple of years after Kelly's death, and "Rear Window" was re–released at theaters to mark the 30th anniversary of its theatrical debut. It is the only Hitchcock movie I have ever seen on the big screen, and, for my money, that is the best way to experience a Hitchcock movie.

But even if you only see it on TV, it is well worth watching, particularly if you have never seen it before.

The final Grace Kelly film of the evening certainly deserves to be shown on her birthday. Her role in "The Country Girl," which will be shown at 11 p.m. (Central), was something of a stretch for her, but she handled it well and was rewarded with the Oscar for Best Actress.

I don't remember how old I was when I first saw a Grace Kelly film. But, from that moment on, she was my definition of true beauty. I vividly remember grieving when I heard she had died.

But I'm grateful that, thanks to films, she lives on for future movie fans to appreciate.