The films of Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly are only three in number but they have resonated with moviegoers as if there had been three times this number. That is true because the films of Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock united the elegance and charm of a true American beauty with the often irascible but incredibly successful British directorial genius. This unique combination of “beauty and the beast” enriched the portfolios and the bank accounts of both while providing memorable entertainment to movie goers across space and time.
The first of these co-ordinated efforts was the film version of Broadway success ” Dial “M” for Murder”.
Hitchcock’s film rendition brought the story to life with full intensity and gave the audience plenty of suspense and terror to contend with as the performances of Ray Milland, Robert Cummings and Grace Kelly swept them away.
When Grace Kelly signed on to play the female lead in “Dial M for Murder”, she was rather a newcomer at only 24 years of age. She had some television credits and had appeared, though without raves, in “High Noon” with Gary Cooper. Hitchcock was almost 30 years her senior and was already a well known film director. Each had something to be gained by teaming in “Dial M for Murder. The film gave Grace Kelly her first leading role under the direction of a stand out director and a chance to put a solid foundation under her fledgling career.
In the film Kelly plays a role she seemed born to fill – a cool, sophisticated, upper class woman but of course in the film she is also the object of a murder plot courtesy of her husband. The scene in which Kelly struggles for her life against her would be assassin is known as one of the most violent ever staged by Hitchcock showcased not only superb acting but also considerable dexterity on the part of Kelly.
According to Kelly’s biographer Donald Spoto, Hitchcock ranked Kelly’s performance in this film as “amazing”. Perhaps more importantly she performed at a level that secured her a new role in a new Hitchcock film.
Rear Window was a film that was actually under consideration by Hitchcock during the filming of “Dial M for Murder” and he already was sure that Grace Kelly would be perfect for the female lead. “Rear Window” brought Kelly together with seasoned veteran actor Jimmy Stewart and character actor Thelma Ritter. The drama appears to center around Stewart an immobilized convalescent. Left with little to do Stewart amuses himself by watching the comings and goings of people who occupy the apartment building across his courtyard. His curiosity leads him into the middle of a full blown, but never seen, murder. But the movie is also very much about how Grace Kelly, again playing the part of the sophisticate, shows Stewart that she is more than a pretty face and someone truly worthy of his love.
With Thelma Ritter, Kelly risks life and limb to help unravel the cross yard murder. The suspense and action again give Kelly a vehicle to show not just Stewart but film audiences as well a chance to see an outstanding performance by a young but already developing actress. The image of Kelly in the window of the murder’s apartment was a picture not easily forgotten, neither was actress Kelly and Hitchcock, the director who framed her performance so masterfully.
There were, regrettably, only three shared film productions between Hitchcock and Kelly, the third being “To Catch a Thief” but each provided an opportunity for Hitchcock to reveal a bit more of the acting treasure he hafound d in Grace Kelly. While fans expected another Kelly performance in a Hitchcock suspense movie, “To Catch a Thief ” contained only moderate tension but added a good deal of wit and comedy. Playing opposite Cary Grant could have been a challenge for any young actress but Kelly appeared equal to the task.
In to “Catch a Thief” , Kelly and Grant were both going around for a third time with director Hitchcock and so the mood had to be more relaxed. The story line itself was rather convoluted as it sought to bring together a Grant, a former jewel thief, with Kelly, the daughter of millionaire with lots of jewelry, to solve a jewel heist. The fact that along the way Kelly and Grant would become romantically involved and they would play out their romance against magnificent scenery kind of helps you to forget that this is not the high wire suspense that you thought you would get in this Hitchcock film. The fact that you are nonetheless entertained is tribute to the acting but also of course to the skill of Hitchcock.
There undoubtedly could have been a fourth, fifth even sixth Kelly-Hitchcock movie just waiting to be filmed but sometimes reality takes a hand. The marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 rang down the curtain on the Kelly-Hitchcock combo. The wedding changed Kelly from an actress to a princess and put Hitchcock on the look out for another female lead. Thanks to film, however, we can revisit the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly whenever we choose.
Sources: High Society, the Life of Grace Kelly , Donald Spoto, Random House, 2009.