Stars: Stewart Granger, Grace Kelly and Paul Douglas
|TCM's star of the month for November 2009 is Grace Kelly, in celebration of what would have been her 80th birthday on 12th November.|
While The Country Girl was a serious drama about a cunning drunk of an actor/singer, this one starts out like Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's 1954 so it's Stewart Granger as Rian Mitchell rather than Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. However he's dressed pretty much the same, he has his back to us and he's chipping away at the wall in a lost Columbian emerald mine of Los Conquistadores. Of course he emerges into the sunlight only to be waylaid by natives, but at least there's no giant stone ball threatening to crush him before we get a chance to find out what the plot's about. Instead he gets thrown down a hillside and attacked by a jaguar. To be honest, there isn't much of a plot here and we have to get past a sappy theme tune before we get to what we get. 'Green fire, emerald burning like true love...' Oh dear.
What we get is a typical Hollywood adventure film, heavy on the romance and the melodrama, and short on the adventure. Mitchell is what is quickly described as 'a man who's been places and done things.' He's precisely the sort of character who lives by the seat of his pants, raising money to mine his emeralds betting on his skill in a local game that looks like quoits but is played with stones and firecrackers. He has a silver tongue, enough so that he can persuade his partner Vic Leonard to come with him instead of leaving the life of an adventurer behind for a safe job in Canada. Fortunately for us he's played by Paul Douglas, one of the greatest actors that you're not likely to have heard of, as I'm beginning to discover. Last time I saw him was in that other obscure Grace Kelly film, but while she only made page three of the opening credits he was the lead.
Here she's in between the pair of them in the credits, hardly surprising as she was the hottest star of 1954 but she has nothing to do here beyond looking gorgeous, scaring us with some of her skirts and acting as a love interest for Granger. She would have appeared utterly wasted even had I not just watched The Country Girl, but that just highlighted how throwaway this role is. As Cathy Knowland she's young and beautiful, cultured and elegant, and she owns her own South American coffee plantation and yet the only substance Cathy Knowland has is when compared to her idiot brother Donald, who invests everything in the family kitty while she's away in Bogota, all to gamble on the big strike in the mountains.
This isn't an entire dud, contrary to the tone I've been taking in this review. It bustles along adequately and there a few decent scenes. There's plenty of opportunity to pit safe tradition and hard work against wild risk for glory by constantly comparing the third generation plantation with the lost emerald mine on the mountain above it. People even reload their guns during the shootout scenes. The names involved are able folks, of course. Granger was always good at this sort of thing, however much he reminds of Bruce Campbell (and not the other way round) and it's never a hardship to watch him as the action hero. I'll take his work in King Solomon's Mines over Young Bess any day. Kelly is fine, however little she has to do. Douglas is excellent and Robert Tafur impresses as the local monk. Mostly though there's cliché. Whole sections of this film play out like they were written in someone's sleep, with conveniences everywhere and sweeping music that overplays everything.
The strange part comes in how MGM mounted this production. IMDb only lists Los Angeles as a shooting location but it certainly looks authentic. It's easy to believe that this is South America, not just in the general locale but in the detail locations too. The main actors are obviously there too and yet we get rear projection shots putting them in front of scenery we just saw them in front of. There are sets too with paintings that are at least extravagant but they're still obviously paintings. Sure, there's a big explosion at the end before the Hollywood ending that has both a rainbow and Grace Kelly in a wet shirt, but whether it's worth getting that far is an open question. It's fluff, pure and simple, and while we often wish it would climb above that level it never does.