Thursday, August 7, 2014

Warner Archive Wednesday - The Swan (1956)

The Swan (1956) [1]
The Swan (1956) - Grace Kelly (Princess Alexandra), Alec Guinness (Prince Albert), Louis Jourdan (Dr. Nicholas Agi), Agnes Moorehead (Queen Maria Dominika), Jessie Royce Landis (Princess Beatrix), Brian Aherne (Father Carl Hyacinth), Leo G. Carroll (Caesar), Estelle Winwood (Symphorosa), Van Dyke Parks (George), Christopher Cook (Arsene).  Directed by Charles Vidor. Studio - MGM.

Fun Fact: This film was released the same day Grace Kelly became a real princess - April 18, 1956, the day she married Prince Ranier of Monoco [2].

Fun Fact: Many thought this would be Grace Kelly's "swan song".  She would star in only 1 film after this, High Society, released July 17, 1956 [3].

PR Ad, 1956

I'm doing to start right off the bat with disclosing my bias.  I have never understood the actress Grace Kelly.  She seems so cold to me.  Pleasant enough to look at and clearly beautiful, she seems like the real Frozen princess - pretty to look at, but nothing going on in the head.  Watching her as a leading lady, I have no interest in her past, what makes her tick, who she is, why we care about her, etc.  I just can't care enough.  If anything she is beautiful, and beauty itself has value.  But the difficulty comes when you have a plot driven by characters.  When the main character causes little interest, it's difficult to become involved in the film.  She seems ornamental and I could care less what happened to her character because of the acting.  The tutor is sooo much more interesting.

Helen Rose (Costume Designer) and Grace Kelly

The plot of the film is this:  Grace Kelly plays Princess Alexandra, the princess of a household whom has fallen on desperate times.  Since she is clearly beautiful, she is charged with saving the family through a good marriage.  Her mother, played by the delightful Jessie Royce Landis, is obsessed with resurrecting the family and is certain Alexandra is the only one who has the ability to do this for their family.  The logical things is to look towards distant family members who have money and titles.  

Grace Kelly Makeup Test
The most obvious choice is Price Albert, a wealthy relative. Princess Beatrix (Jessie Royce Landis) wrote him two years ago begging for a visit.  She wants him to notice the niece she is guardian of, Princess Alexandra.  She hopes this will raise the prestige and fortune of her family and her sons.  Unfortunately, the prince does not seem that interested in the lovely Alexandra.  Frankly, I can understand why.  She is beautiful, but there is really nothing upstairs.  She interacts horribly with him and they share no common interests.  Aside from her beauty, she really has nothing to recommend her to Prince Albert, a man who has been around the world looking for the perfect wife.  As a prince, he has seen many beautiful women, so basically what he is looking for is personality.  And frankly, Alexandra, has none to offer him. 

Grace enjoying a picnic on set

I feel like Prince Albert is quite aware of what is going on.  He knows what he has to offer.  It has not been his first time to the rodeo, as the expression goes.  He knows what Princess Beatrix is trying to do, and is resentful of it.  In fact, he seems to go out of his way to avoid the concept by spending time with the tutor, Dr. Nicholas Agi, played amazingly well by Louis Jourdan.  Agi is the tutor of Princess Beatrix's two boys.

Grace Kelly and Louis Jordain

If you don't think Louis Jourdan is delicious in this film, you don't have a pulse.  He plays the tutor - strong, smart, and handsome.  He and Princess Alexandra have a connection.  They fence together every morning.  Naturally, sparks fly.  They don't realize they have feelings for each other until Prince Albert appears.  The appearance of another man makes them both realize that they both love each other and wish they could be together.  Unfortunately, the social restrictions of the day prevent that.

Grace Kelly's Birthday Celebrated on Set
Alec Guinness, in his first American role, is perfect as the aloof Prince Albert.  Prince Albert is clearly an interesting man, familiar with why everyone is wanting him as a guest, but determined to live his life the best way he can.  He surrounds himself with the most interesting people at the estate.  The most interesting people happen to be the tutor and the boys.  So instead of talking up Alexandra as hoped, the prince plays sports with the boys.

Model at Premiere - I assume she is
also wearing Bjork's swan dress

Of course nothing good can come from the relationship between Princess Alexandra and the tutor, Dr. Nicholas.  He is charming, smart, handsome, witty, and more.  Who wouldn't want to run away with him?  Princess Beatrix notices this fact, so she exploits it.  She plans a ball, and invites the clearly not eligible tutor.  The tutor is supposed to be used to make Prince Albert jealous.  And it works.  Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra run away for a midnight rendezvous.  They tell each other of their feelings and plan for the future.  At least, that is what Princess Alexandra thinks.  She makes plan to run away with Nicholas, determined to marry for love - not position.  This seemed rather out of the blue - not only does she suddenly find out she has feelings, but is in love and must run away.  

Unfortunately for her, Nicholas is much more practical.  He sees the reality of the situation and tells Princess Alexandra to forget him.  He decides to go away and start a new life.  It really would be untenable for him to live in a situation where he loved a woman and couldn't have her.  And even though Princess Alexandra agreed to run away with him, Nicholas knew that she could not live the life of a tutor.  She was used to wealth, position, money, and more.  Things he couldn't provide.  

Charles Vidor, Grace Kelly, and Louis Jourdan
I enjoy when historical films are truthful to practices of the time.  I know romances love to say that those who love each other would run off and be together and live happily ever after.  That was not the truth of the time.  Politics was involved.  Marriages were a political tool.  Love was not the first thing considered.  Frankly, it is only recently that most royals are allowed to marry those of their choosing.  I am always grateful for historical honesty in films.  Putting modern sensibilities in films is a pet peeve of mine.

Life Magazine; April 6, 1954
The performances by everyone but Kelly, were quite good.  I know she was supposed to be cold, but at some point she was supposed to warm up and be lovable - which she never did.  Lovely, but not a great actress.  Not bad, but not good.  To me she is a "Star", not an actress.  I still can't figure out why she won the Oscar for The Country Girl, but then, I can't figure out why most Oscars are given out.  It seems to be a popularity contest, how pretty or handsome you are, how politically correct you are, and who you know - not about skill.  Unfortunately, I believe that is universally true in all aspects of humanity - work, friendship, dating, money, media, entertainment in multiple forms (film, television, books, music, etc.), health, education, politics and much more.  I can't think of an area of life where money and fame don't equate to better treatment and rewards.  Maybe religion?  

Lobby Card
This film was an interesting look into the world of monarchy in the beginning of the 20th century.  At the end of the film, Princess Alexandra has been ditched by the tutor and appears to "comes to an understanding" with Prince Albert, probably marriage.  It is inferred, but not stated.  I thought this was quite nice that the film did not have a fairy tale ending.  It actually mirrored what would probably have happened in real life.  Marriage for reasons other than love.  Money, position, family, respect, heirs, and other reasons were just as valid.

Grace Kelly and Louis Jourdan on set
Winwood, Aherne, Guinness, and Moorehead in The Swan
During the filming of this film, Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier, the man she would marry.  It would make her a true princess.  Frankly, she should have paid more attention to her script.  By many accounts, she did not have a happy marriage.  Her family dismisses it, but several books and films have come out lately suggesting she stayed married so she wouldn't lose her children and her husband was a philanderer.  Frankly, a lot of royals are because they can be.  Tons of money and power can corrupt.

Performances by Estelle Winwood, Jesse Royce Landis, Brian Aherne, Louis Jourdan, and the talented Agnes Moorehead make this film worth viewing.  The costumes by Helen Rose are a wonderful sight to behold - MGM costuming at it's best.  The setting is also breathtaking.  You may visit the location yourself.  The Swan was filmed at The Biltmore in Asheville, NC [4].

Grace Kelly's Wedding Dress
Review - I give this 8 out of 10.  The lavishness of the costumes and setting, plus the superb acting from the supporting cast outweigh the cold performance of Grace Kelly.  I would definitely watch it again.

Note - Warner Archive is not paying me nor giving me films.  I just love that they have films that are hard to find.  Not that I wouldn't mind if they did. :) 
(Shameless begging for freebies)

Fun Fact: Helen Rose, the costume designer for this film also created the lovely confection of a gown Grace Kelly wore at her wedding [5].  Who wouldn't adore a wedding dress made by MGM's costume designer?


1.  Purchase at Warner Archive.
2.  The Swan (1956), IMDB,
3.  High Society (1956), IMDB,
4.  Biltmore,
5.  Wedding Dress of Grace Kelly, wikipedia,

1 comment:

Dolly Dahl said...

I just watched this yesterday on TCM!!


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