Anthony Lane has a nice essay in the New Yorker this week about Grace Kelly, re-examining her brief screen legacy in light of a new biography (“High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly,” by Donald Spoto). The director John Ford, upon first seeing a Kelly screen test, liked what he saw — ‘”This dame has breeding, quality, class,” he said, adding, “I’ll bet she’ll knock us on our ass!” ‘ — and quickly cast her opposite Clark Gable in “Mogambo.” Unintentional rhyming aside, she did indeed knock Hollywood on its ass, in a career that spanned only five years and eleven films before she left acting behind to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956. The patrician beauty never made another film, and died in a car accident in Monaco in 1982.
Kelly is unforgettable in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” one of the greatest suspense films ever made. As a socialite in love with a restless photographer (James Stewart), she’s both delicate and daring, her light-voiced quips not quite hiding a lonely heart that only the broken-winged Stewart can heal. Here’s Lane, using a “Rear Window” scene to illustrate Kelly’s matchless, floating screen quality:
“Grace” reads the heading of Section XXII, in the third part of “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful,” published in 1757. The author, Edmund Burke, elaborates: “Gracefulness is an idea belonging to posture and motion. In both these, to be graceful, it is requisite that there be no appearance of difficulty; there is required a small inflexion of the body,” whose various parts, he says elsewhere, should be “not angular, but melted as it were into each other.” Burke was in his twenties when he wrote this, and you can tell. You also wish that he could have hopped a couple of centuries and witnessed Grace in action: the small inflection of her body, say, as she strolls around a low-lit room, in “Rear Window,” turning on lamps, with James Stewart watching, wry and enraptured, from his wheelchair. “By beauty,” Burke says, “I mean, that quality or those qualities in bodies by which they cause love, or some passion similar to it.”
That is what Kelly did: she caused love. No gift is more priceless, and you probably have to be born with it, but, like all jewels, it can use a cut and polish, and it took a while for Kelly–not to mention her lovers, and her better directors–to make the most of her facets.
And here’s the scene. You’ll see what he means.