The May-December Affairs of Grace Kelly

April 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Green Fire, there’s a bit where Grace Kelly mentions she’s going to Bogota for a few weeks. Stewart Granger asks her if she’s “going to see anyone in particular,” to which she jokes that there’s a 73-year-old coffee dealer who’s caught her eye. The joke falls flat because, well, compared to the fresh-faced, dewy Miss Kelly, Stewart Granger looks about 73.

This was a particular trend for Kelly’s films. Obviously the May-December pairing was hardly uncommon in Hollywood at the time (Audrey Hepburn was another frequent victim), but Grace seems to have gotten the worst of it. Let’s take a look at her love interests:

  • High Noon: Gary Cooper (28-year age gap between him and Grace)
  • Mogambo: Clark Gable (28-year gap) and Donald Sinden (6-year gap)
  • Dial “M” for Murder: Ray Milland (22-year gap) and Robert Cummings (19-year gap)
  • Rear Window: James Stewart (21-year gap)
  • The Country Girl: Bing Crosby (27-year gap) and William Holden (11-year gap)
  • Green Fire: Stewart Granger (16-year gap)
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri: William Holden again
  • To Catch a Thief: Cary Grant (25-year gap)
  • The Swan: Alec Guinness (15-year gap) and Louis Jordan (8-year gap)
  • High Society: Bing Crosby again and Frank Sinatra (14-year gap)

In short, exactly two love interests in her entire film career managed to sneak into the single digits when it came to that age difference, and–spoiler alert!–neither of them get what you could really call a happy ending. Of course, the irony here is that Grace Kelly slept with most of these quarter-of-a-century-older men off-screen, too. Maybe Oscar Wilde was right when he said that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”?

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Green Fire

April 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Stewart Granger, wooing Grace Kelly in Green Fire: “In the meantime, there’s all this. A classic setting: man, woman, tropic night, beautiful river. . .” Yes, folks, that’s right–Stewart Granger identified the Jungle Love genre half a century before I did.

And Green Fire is a worthy addition to the canon. A rare example set in the New World rather than Darkest Africa or the steamy jungles of southeast Asia, it nevertheless covers all the necessary tropes: a love triangle between middle-aged men and a 20-something leading lady; a beautiful Colombian setting (filmed on location); a substantial population of brown people to work the coffee plantation and the emerald mine and, when necessary, to wave guns around threateningly; a cave-in and an eventual landslide, along with the ongoing threat of the rainy season, an ostensibly Hispanic villain played by a WASPy former Yalie. No royalty, but we do get emeralds, which has to count for something, right? I’m going with “Right.”

The run-down: Granger is an emerald miner-slash-adventurer in Colombia. His claim borders a coffee plantation owned by Grace Kelly and her brother. Granger aims to romance Kelly, but his devotion to the mine ends up alienating him not only from her but from his business partner as well. Meanwhile, a group of bandits led by a man called El Moro is terrorizing the miners, trying to take the emeralds for themselves.

Green Fire wears its white savior complex on its sleeve. It’s paternalist, colonialist, and misogynist. Not only that, it’s horrifying from an environmentalist standpoint, what with all the mountain-decimating and river-rerouting. So of course, I loved it. I don’t know why I even try to justify it anymore: it turns out I just like racist, sexist movies in spite of themselves. And apparently we can add “environmentally destructive movies” to that list.

White Folks in the Tropics: a Cinematic Celebration

April 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve discovered a new mid-century film subgenre! For the time being, let’s call it Jungle Love. (No, not that kind of jungle love. Given that the title of this blog includes the word “sex,” though, I have plenty of kinky Google searches leading to it. Might as well add to it!) This subgenre I’ve discovered combines elements of the romance, adventure, and melodrama genres into one entirely new fusion. Here are the essential elements:

  • Pretty white people. Often, a 25-year-old actress paired with a 50-year-old leading man.
  • An exotic, tropical setting largely populated by brown people. Often a plantation. India or Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) is the most common, but the rest of Asia, Africa, or even the Caribbean can substitute in a pinch. (For some reason South America is vastly underused for this purpose–maybe because the Brits never owned it.)
  • Romantic Complications. Usually this takes the form of a love triangle, but it can also consist of double love triangles (whoa!), love quadrangles, or simply one of those classic I-love-you-I-hate-you, back-and-forth pairings.
  • The interference of nature: generally a natural disaster, a plague, or a wild animal attack. Some ambitious films (I’m looking at you, Rains of Ranchipur) manage to cram in all three. This interference is generally meant to up the emotional stakes for the romantic leads (and maybe even kill off the unchosen party of a love triangle), but to a post-colonial viewer, just highlights the extreme self-centeredness of the protagonists, who keep blathering about their love lives even as thousands of “natives” die off in the background shots.

Bonus points awarded for:

  • Minor royalty.
  • Prostitutes/”good time girls”/”companions” (if we’re in the Hays Code era).
  • Blackface. Or yellowface . . . in most cases, literally orangeface, as the 1950s Hollywood attempt at making white characters look Indian was to spray them with a particularly garish, neon shade of self-tanner.

Need examples? Keep reading.

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