Last October, Elizabeth Taylor filed suit against ABC and a production company in an effort to prevent them from making an unauthorized TV movie about her life. Tonight defendant ABC offers up a film that Liz conceivably could use as Exhibit A: "Grace Kelly," a picturesque inanity based on the life of the late Princess Grace of Monaco.
It's not that there's anything vaguely scandalous in the film, at 9 on Channel 7--quite the contrary. The victimization consists of turning the subject into a slumbering bore, a bore so boring that even bores will be bored (could they do this even to Elizabeth Taylor? It would be tough, but they'd try). A vacuum, a travesty and a yawn, "Grace Kelly" fails to equal the emotional impact of the average photo spread in Architectural Digest.
At one point, Cheryl Ladd, the former "Charlie's Angel" ludicrously cast in the title role, does look a little like Grace Kelly. That is when she has her back to the camera and all we see is blond hair done up in a princessy bun. In another shot, Ladd looks a little like Lana Turner and in still another like Deborah Kerr, but she can't even begin to suggest the whispered regal beauty of Kelly, the one sweet crush a lot of us schoolboys never will get over, and one that even schoolgirls could understand and forgive.
For the record, though "Grace Kelly" hardly is a film of record, a printed preface states that it depicts her life "until her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco," and ABC publicity claims that "approximately six weeks before Princess Grace's tragic death, Her Serene Highness had graciously consented to assist in the pre-production of the film." His Serene Highness also gave permission for production to continue after Kelly died last September.
The film on ABC tonight is certainly serene, but it definitely lacks anything that might pass for highness.
Under the opening credits, we see Grace as a shy child ignored by an obnoxious father. In a futile effort to give the film life, Lloyd Bridges not only chews, but gnaws, gobbles and gums the scenery as Jack Kelly, who usually was reported to be something of a bon vivant but comes off here as a vulgar jerk. When, in their posh Philadelphia home, little Gracie says, "I want to be an actress," Dad says, "Aren't you a little too shy for the stage?"
This turns out to be the only hint of a profound or pivotal conflict in Grace Kelly's life, unless one counts her brief and successful campaign to coax MGM to loan her to Paramount so she could make "The Country Girl." There is the tentative implication that Kelly had an affair with Clark Gable when they made "Mogambo" in Africa (and London, though that isn't mentioned), and she is courted for a while in supremely tedious fashion by Alejandro Rey as Oleg Cassini, but the filmmakers really can't trump up anything resembling dramatic tension.
You'd think it might have occurred to them that this well-bred and elegantly beautiful young woman might have had some sort of wit about her, or a stubborn determination that saw her past the skeptics early in her career, but as played by Ladd, under the direction of Anthony Page, she is capable only of being mildly peeved or confused. She is not portrayed as ever having had a thought, and this seems much more a reflection on the filmmakers than on their helpless subject.
Among the famous people depicted in the film by inadequate actors are, in addition to Gable, the great Alfred Hitchcock, for whom Kelly made three films (though in "Grace Kelly," she somehow forgets to make one of them, "Dial M for Murder"); Gary Cooper, with whom she appeared in "High Noon"; George Seaton, who directed "Country Girl"; and Bing Crosby, who costarred in it. It was this film that won Kelly the Academy Award as Best Actress in 1954.
When she goes to Cannes to make "To Catch a Thief," Oleg points out Monaco to her. Soon she meets the prince, interpreted as a human anchovy by Ian McShane. They go for a walk. It's terribly momentous. Then she goes back to Hollywood and makes "The Swan," flies home to Philadelphia for Christmas, and in walks the prince. Why, you could have knocked her over with a feather. Naturally, they do the logical thing; they go for another walk. Everywhere they walk, a tinkly-winkly piano and simpering violins follow them. You'd think they'd need some Alka-Seltzer. But this is how TV movies depict love among the very rich.
Not a moment too soon, they are married, and Diane Ladd, as Mrs. Kelly, exclaims, "Here I am, a bricklayer's wife, and my daughter is going to marry a prince. Hahahahahahaha!!!" Actual color films of the wedding are intercut with close-ups of Ladd and McShane smiling and waving, and waving and smiling. It's Ken and Barbie playing dress-up and nothing more.
Cinematographer Woody Omens makes all this look much better than it deserves to, and a montage, to the old tune "All of Me," early in the film, rather brightly summarizes Kelly's early rejections as an actress ("too intelligent-looking," says one director, and "too cold," notes another), but otherwise, the film is bereft of motion or passion.
Former Angel Ladd is up against former Angel Jaclyn Smith (on NBC in "Rage of Angels," Part 2), tonight--and here one would have thought "actresses" like these would have faded right back into the cosmetic ads once "Angels" evaporated. Meanwhile, Farrah Fawcett, the one member of the group with something resembling star presence, seems to be in hiding. It just isn't fair. It isn't even unfair by the world's usual tough standards of unfairness.
There's nothing quite so pathetic as these TV cuties attempting to simulate the style and charisma of stars from the movie era, the real-movie era; it's effrontery and gall, but not the entertaining kind. If Elizabeth Taylor wins her suit, it will be one small step for Taylor, but one giant leap for moviekind.