Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Swan


Today, I'm celebrating Grace Kelly's Nov. 12 birthday with a review of her penultimate film, The Swan (1956). The photo above shows Kelly with co-star Alec Guinness.

This article is part of The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.

Grace Kelly's next to last  film, The Swan (1956) is a bittersweet fairy tale of romance and royalty that in many ways eerily predicts Kelly's future marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco and her life as a princess in a small European country.

The Swan tells the story of an European royal family in exile. Although they have a splendid palace and a lavish lifestyle, the family's forceful matriarch (Jessie Royce Landis) is determined that they will regain the throne by marrying her beautiful eldest daughter, Princess Alexandra (Kelly), to Crown Prince Albert (Alec Guinness). When Albert stops by for an unexpected visit, he and Alexandra get off on the wrong foot. The situation then moves from bad to worse when she becomes infatuated with a dashing young tutor (Louis Jourdan).


Many people are only familiar with the Kelly version, but The Swan is one of those show business chestnuts that has a long and rich history. The original version is a Hungarian farce by Ferenc Molnar that moved to Broadway in 1923 in a production that included Basil Rathbone as the tutor. A 1925 silent movie  starred Frances Howard and Adolphe Menjou, and Lillian Gish made her talking pictures debut in an updated version called One Romantic Night (1930). In fact, Kelly herself was very familiar with the material. She appeared in a stage version and a television version of The Swan early in her career.

MGM chief Dore Schary dusted off The Swan for a lavish Technicolor spectacle that would showcase Kelly's beauty and talent. Schary spared no expense for the production: The movie was filmed on location at the Biltmore House and Gardens in Asheville N.C., and the beautiful costumes were designed by Helen Rose. Kelly wears many delicate white lace costumes that are reminiscent of her wedding dress, but, in my opinion, Landis, who Rose dressed in a series of flattering Edwardian style gowns, is the fashion queen of The Swan.

Grace Kelly practices a fencing scene on the set of The Swan (1956).
The finished movie is reminiscent of a Disney animated movie come to life, especially the first half, which is largely played for comedy. Landis is hilarious as her increasingly desperate schemes to marry off her daughter backfire, while Guinness, in his first American film, steals the movie as the obtuse, fussy Crown Prince, who prefers to spend his time interacting with dairy cows and playing the bass violin rather than searching for a prospective bride. 

Even though Guinness is a scene stealer, The Swan really belongs to Kelly, who gives an emotionally vulnerable performance. The movie successfully plays off of Kelly's cool blonde persona. Princess Alexandra has been raised to be a future queen, which, ironically, makes her much too dignified and unapproachable to lure potential suitors.  She is compared to an icicle and an iceberg throughout the film, but the best likeness is made by Albert in the movie's bittersweet final scene. He compares her to a swan, the most graceful and serene of  birds in the water, but one who is awkward and out of place on dry land (clip below).



Ironically, Kelly was  courting her own prince charming while making The Swan. She met Prince Rainier during the 1955 Cannes Film Festival and they began a secret correspondence that continued throughout the filming of The Swan. Ironically, the movie featured several eerie similarities to Kelly's future. Her white lace costumes are quite similar to her wedding dress, and Guinness actually looks a great deal like Rainier in this movie.  Kelly finished shooting a few days before Christmas, and she then returned to her hometown of Philadelphia for the holidays. Rainier came to visit her family, and the couple were engaged in early January 1956. 

Grace returned to Hollywood to make one final movie, High Society (1956), before sailing off to Monaco to marry her prince on April 18, 1956. In many ways, The Swan sailed with her. Schary, no doubt thrilled with all of the free publicity, delayed The Swan's premiere until Kelly's wedding day. Also, Kelly's elegant Alencon lace wedding dress was designed by Rose, and MGM hair and makeup artists were on hand to make sure Kelly looked movie star perfect on her wedding day.

Even today, watching The Swan is the next best thing to attending a royal wedding with plenty of pageantry  and beautiful costumes, plus Kelly's serene presence in one of the best movies of her career.


The Swan is available on DVD and video on demand.


Click here for a link to my past blogathons.



8 comments :

  1. I had the chance to see this film on big screen at it was beautiful! I started re-watching it yesterday for my post on Jessie Royce Landis for the What a Character! Blogathon. You're post was really enjoyable to read and very interesting. It's funny how sometimes a film can reflect a person's life! It's like Dolores Hart who was known as "the new Grace Kelly" but gave up her acting career to become nun: she starred in the film "St. Francis of Assisi", in which her character becomes a nun. I think The Swan is one of Grace Kelly's most underrated films and it deserves more recognition. Thanks a lot for your participation to the blogathon! :D

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    1. Thanks for hosting! I'm really looking forward to reading your post on Jessie Royce Landis. I'm eager to learn more about her after watching this movie.

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  2. That is so interesting about being filmed at Biltmore (which is not too far from me but I haven't visited it yet) and that they released the film on her wedding day! I am currently reading Spoto's biography on Kelly and want to watch the films of hers that I haven't seen yet: Mogambo, The Country Girl, and this one. Great post and interesting read!

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    1. The exterior shots are instantly recognizable as The Biltmore. It's a beautiful place.

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  3. I've never seen this but it sounds like a must - what a great cast. Really enjoyed your piece and all the info about the earlier versions was very interesting.

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    1. I've never seen any of the earlier versions, so I'm going to have to look those up.

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  4. I love the curtsey scene where she smacks her head on Guinness' chin. Lovely post.

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    1. Grace is really good at physical comedy in this movie. It's too bad she didn't get to do more.

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