Today marks the 87th anniversary of Grace Kelly’s birth, one of the most enduring faces of classic film. While she only made 11 films in her short-lived movie career, her image is still recognizable today, as she led a truly enchanting life that saw her go from Hollywood stardom to royalty. As she has remained distinguishable in modern times, she was one of the prime figures in my personal journey into films from the classic era. And the movie that helped my growing love for old movies was one of her best remembered, 1954’s Dial M for Murder.
Residing in London, ex-tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) and wealthy socialite Margot (Grace Kelly) have a seemingly loving marriage. The truth is that Margot is in love with American writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), a man she had a brief affair with before Tony retired from his professional sporting career. When Tony learns of the affair, he plots a carefully-orchestrated plan to kill her and inherit her fortune. But when the set-up goes awry, Tony improvises a scheme to evade police detection.
Dial M for Murder features one of Grace Kelly’s best performances. Though the actress is remembered as a glamours figure, in this film she allows herself to be shown as a more vulnerable woman. After Margot suffers a horrific attack, she’s framed for the murder of her attacker. As the film progresses, and as Margot’s fate seems to be going in a grim direction, Kelly effectively displays her character’s hopelessness. Being a wealthy socialite, Margot begins the film wearing bright colors, but as time goes on, she resorts to duller, muted shades, even opting out of wearing red lipstick. Aside from the physical attributions to Margot’s dejection, Kelly portrays her character as though she were in a trance, unable to initially engage in the possibility of getting out of her situation.
Before Dial M for Murder, Grace Kelly had only appeared in three films with supporting roles, including High Noon and Mogambo (the latter of which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress). Dial M for Murder was surely a turning point in her career, as it played a large part in her ever-growing stardom. Not only was it her biggest role to date, it also marked the beginning of one of the most iconic director-actor collaborations of the era.
While director Alfred Hitchcock was notoriously known for his intricate planning on his films, there was one instance where he conceded to Kelly’s ideas on how her character would act. He had originally planned for Margot to put on a robe upon getting out of bed to answer the phone, but Kelly argued that no woman would take the time to do that if she were home alone. Hitchcock agreed to do it her way, and it stayed in the film that Margot answered the potentially fatal phone call in a mere slip.
Aside from the undeniable thrills in his films, one popular motif found in Hitchcock’s work is the icy blonde woman. In Grace Kelly, Hitchcock found the perfect embodiment of his dramatic on-screen preference, which stems from the fact that he believed the audience would be more suspicious of brunettes in his brand of films. Dial M for Murder was the first of their eventual three films together, with the other two being Rear Window the same year, and To Catch a Thief the following year. There were plans to make more together (including Marnie, with the title role ultimately going to Tippi Hedren), but once Kelly became Princess of Monaco, her Hollywood career had to come to an end.
The year 1954 was essentially Grace Kelly’s most successful year as an actress. Aside from Dial M for Murder, she saw four other films released that year, including her best work with Hitchcock in Rear Window and her Oscar-winning performance in The Country Girl. While many argue that she shouldn’t have won the Oscar (including me), it was hard to ignore her star power in 1954, which must have played a big role in her winning the coveted award. While she received more accolades for The Country Girl, she also received Best Actress awards from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle for her work in that film plus Dial M for Murder and Rear Window.
Following her banner year, Kelly only made three more films in the course of two years, as she was to follow her royal duties after marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco. As a result of her marriage, she retired from acting at the young age of 26, at the height of her career. But because half of her filmography consists of films that are still well-regarded today, she’s remained an everlasting figure in Hollywood.
I wrote this entry as a part of The 2nd Grace Kelly Blogathon, where bloggers are writing about the fascinating actress and her films in honor of her birthday. Click the banner below to read more fantastic posts!