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Thursday, September 4, 2014

THE SWAN (1956)

Surprisingly, having Grace Kelly play a Princess on screen in her penultimate pic within days of becoming a Princess for real over in Monaco didn’t put this one over with the public. Yet this adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s wise & witty play has aged with considerable charm & now beats with unexpected emotion. In form, it’s no more than the old Ruritanian romance about a Commoner in love with a Royal. And we all know how that works out: accusations, recrimination, wistful tears, renunciation, quivering chin, stiff upper lip, goodbye forever. But Molnár turns it all into something of a Shavian meditation/exposition on social class and social classes, parsing out the fine points & differences with seen-it-all sanguine Hungarian acceptance and perfectly nuanced & timed character-based humor. Kelly, almost shockingly beautiful under Joseph Ruttenberg’s camera, is the royal catch for Alec Guinness’s amused, but indifferent Crown Prince. Seeing no spark, Princess Mom (Jessie Royce Landis) surmises a rival in Louis Jourdan’s Tutor-of-all-trades to the royal children. And that’s when love, the real thing, starts getting bunted about like some Royal Shuttlecock. Who knew Hollywood vet Charles Vidor could get this level of performance out of so many character eccentrics? Or lay back and let Mittel-Europa splendour speak for itself as backdrop? John Dighton gets sole script credit, but we can’t be very far removed from Maxwell Anderson’s tweaking of Melville Baker’s ‘20s B’way translation for Eva Le Gallienne and the young Basil Rathbone not as the Crown Prince, but as the young tutor. The stage production turned them both into stars, even though Molnár saved his best for the Prince’s final, memorable speech. Something about a swan . . .

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