In today's movies, it's special effects. In yesterday's, it was special people, like Grace Kelly, like Ingrid Bergman, both gone now.
The cinematic sensation of the summer is an electronic marvel made of aluminum and steel, Fiberglas and polyurethane, occasionally peopled by two dwarfs and a legless boy. That would be "E.T."
Grace Kelly was blue eyes, fragile blond beauty, white gloves and a slow smile that promised excitement. Her countrymen found her an utterly satisfactory heroine, both on and off the screen. She played romantic roles; she married a prince.
There's no one remotely like her now. She and Ingrid Bergman were goddesses. Grace Kelly was a great lady. Ingrid Bergman was a great woman. Everyone knew it.
Bergman was a more heroic and imposing person, a more compelling actress and, in her private life, she dared to play Anna Karenina. She counted the world well lost for love, which might be acceptable if you paid to watch it in the theater, but not in real life.
Today, if an actress left husband and child and ran off with an Italian film director, it would be a cover story for "People" magazine and perhaps an example of a woman "finding herself."
Then, it was a thunderous international scandal that sent clergymen and congressmen into spasms of fury and condemned her to an exile that lasted 14 years. She bore her vicissitudes with her incomparable profile held high.
Grace Kelly, daughter of a Philadelphia contractor, a representative of the high Irish in the Kennedy mold, knew what was expected of her. She lived up to her commitments. She married Rainier, she devoted herself to his little country, to their family, to charity. She occasionally gave poetry readings.
Living happily ever after involved being a parent, which proved, for Her Serene Highness, certain bouts of heavy weather. Her older daughter, Princess Caroline, seems not to have taken her beautiful, dutiful, pious mother for a role model.
Grace Kelly's sudden death caused real heartache for a generation. She had provided magic and delight. Many American males for years carried around in their heads the fantasy that she was somehow attainable. They thought that if they could just meet her, they could sweep her off her feet.
The idea persisted and was put in song by Mark Russell in 1977: "I will wait for you, Grace Kelly, Even though you don't know I exist . . . "
The last lines of the song are: "We would settle down in a little place She would be known as the former Princess Grace She would forget that prince In our trailer park near Buffalo."
Grace Kelly conquered Hollywood with elegant ease. She never prattled to interviewers, tattled about her attachments or allowed herself to be pushed around by producers. She appeared in only 11 films. When she left, she left for good.
She and Ingrid Bergman appeared in movies that make today's slices of life seem lifeless and drab. They reigned in an era when people expected entertainment, suspense, romance, meaty plots full of intrigue, danger and, in man-woman encounters, a bit of persiflage. They were the essence of pre-liberation glamor -- and sometimes suffering.
Their audiences wanted neither gritty depictions of life in the ghetto nor the brusque "your-place-or mine?" encounters of the current "meaningful relationship." They sought illusion and escape. It was a time when, if a young woman yearned to become a tank driver or a firefighter, she kept the notion to herself. She wanted to meet and marry Mr. Right. Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, she figured, could show her how.
They were often victimized by the men in their lives -- Ingrid Bergman stalked by Charles Boyer in "Gaslight," Grace Kelly programmed for extinction by her malicious husband, Ray Milland, in "Dial M for Murder." No larger significance was read into their circumstances.
They appeared in movies to which parents could safely bring the children. The Hays office had rules that would strike contemporary audiences as the work of Cotton Mather. The producers had to rely on the imagination of the audience. Explicit sex was out of the question. Actors in bed with each other were required to be fully clothed. Adulterous love was never allowed to turn out well. Nudity was undreamed of.
Yet they produced some special effects that viewers never forgot. When Cary Grant took Ingrid Bergman in his arms for the first time in "Spellbound," the screen dissolved into a succesion of opening doors. When Cary Grant and Grace Kelly embrace each other for the finale of "To Catch a Thief," the Monte Carlo sky blazed with fireworks.
Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly were part of our lives, gracious, gentle, luminous creatures who helped us through the days and nights. The contraptions they give us now cannot take the place of such stars.