The Country Girl ★★★

A Clifford Oddets movie through and through, with respectable direction from George Seaton that I wouldn't call economic as much as perfunctory. But two performances make this worth watching, by two actors taking things outside their usual comfort zone: Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. The Country Girl gets largely remembered now for Kelly's Oscar win over Garland for A Star Is Born, and certainly I understand, but Kelly does bring more than a tough-nail accent and a little less make-up to her role. She's a small woman but she knows how to physically dominate the screen: not running around, but by being the stillest one on screen, the one who won't budge (it reminds me of Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success, of all things). She shrinks her eyes, never strays of balance, and makes every turn and every syllable she utters weight 10 pounds. Is it theater acting? Probably, but the camera isn't doing much to make movie acting worth it. There's one flashback scene where we see the Kelly we know from Rear Window, and the way that she transforms from that into not something unrecognizable, but a shell of that persona, is astonishing.

And then there's Bing Crosby, playing a self-reflexive role of Crosby, worn down, beaten, with charisma but no authority. Crosby played well into his persona much past his prime (See: Wilder's underrated The Emperor Waltz), and it's easy to praise actors that are willing to deconstruct their own persona. But Crosby's deconstruction is trickier. It's not that he's a washed out actor who needs to rebuild himself; he needs to rebuild himself in a way that gets to the heart of his own unexpected core, that his musical comedy has a presence that he denies here, belting songs but knowing when to bring a sense of space to it as well. Crosby spends most of the film constantly moving, making very outlandish gestures. But there's a command on those, because when he is finally coming together, you see it in every step he takes. Crosby's half-charming, half-defeated confusion works to bring out a unique presence to the way he slowly gathers and loses himself here. And he can sing oh so delightfully..

William Holden plays a very William Holden 1950s role, which is to say he pontificates a lot and it's very annoying. The script hits all expected beats.