Criterion Blogathon: Three Wicked Melodramas

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Starting in 1943 with The Man in Grey, Gainsborough Melodramas were box office hits at the British Box office during the 40’s. They were produced by  Gainsborough Pictures, a British film Society that doesn’t exist anymore. The most successful one was The Wicked Lady. Among them, we can also find Fanny by Gaslight, Madonna of the Seven Moons, Jassy, Love Story, etc. These films are unfortunately not very popular these days, especially outside England, probably due to the fact that they were successful in the UK, but not necessarily in other countries. Fortunately, people who love classic British films like me might have the chance to discover these unique films.

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Today, I’m participating to the Criterion Blogathon, gracefully hosted by Criterion BluesSpeakeasy and Silver Screening. Criterion has a brand named Eclipse. This one was created to allow us to have access to films that were harder to find. Just like The Criterion Collection, the Eclipse Collection allows us to visualize DVDs of superior quality, but these ones are more affordable. I might be wrong, but I think that all Eclipse DVDs are only available in box sets. Well, that leads me to the films I’ve chosen to write about for this blogathon. It’s three films that are part of the Three Wicked Melodramas box set: The Man in Grey, The Wicked Lady and Madonna of the Seven Moons. Like I just mentioned, these are Gainsborough melodramas. If you haven’t seen any of them, I hope my review will convince you to.

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What is interesting with these films, is that they share similarities. But let’s first see what they are about:

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The Man in Grey (Leslie Arliss, 1943) starts in England during the Second World War. A WREN (Phyllis Calvert) and an RAF pilot (Stewart Granger) are attending an auction of the Rohan family possessions. When the pilot exprimes is questionable point of view about the family, the woman reveals him that the last Rohan man was her brother. Confused, the RFA pilots apologizes and admits that his family is also connected to the Rohan.

This is just the prologue. The story really starts when we are brought in a long flashback taking place in England during the 19th century. At Miss Patchett’s school for young ladies, a new teacher arrives. She is Hesther (Margaret Lockwood), a young lady coming from a poor family. Hesther doesn’t seem happy to be there. She never laughs and doesn’t make friends. Not a long time after her arrival, Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert), a popular school girl, makes her entrance. She tries to make friend with Hesther, but this one is left cold. Clarissa finally succeeds, one afternoon, and the two ladies become friends. One day, a drama happens: Hesther runs away from the school with a lover. As she is a “disgrace”, her named is now forever banned in the institution. Clarissa, who can’t stand the fact of being in a place where she can’t name her friend’s name, decides to quit the school.

Later, Clarissa meets Lord Rohan (James Mason), says “The Man in Grey”, in London, during a reception. Rohan is in need of a wife who can give him an heir. Clarissa, that he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him, is his victim. She thinks the idea’s absurd, but they marry, despite that. One day, Clarissa goes to the theatre to see Shakespeare’s Othello. On the road, the carriage is stopped by a mysterious man (Stewart Granger). Clarissa thinks he his a thief, but he only needs a to be taken some place. So, feeling she hasn’t much choice, Clarissa allows him to take place in the carriage. Arrived at his destination, the man kisses her an goes away. During the viewing of the play, Clarissa recognizes the man in the role of Othello and Hesther in a lady’s role.

Clarissa is glad to have found her friend back. This one told her that she had a miserable time since she left the school. Clarissa, who is ready to take care of her, takes her to her home. There, Hesther meets Lord Rohan and they fel in love together. Later, during a carnival, Clarissa meets the man from the carriage again. His name is Rockeby. They both fall in love with each other. These two love affairs won’t be easy to live, especially when Hesther’s true nature will be revealed…

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The Wicked Lady (Leslie Arliss, 1945) takes place in England, during the 17th century. Caroline (Patricia Roc) and Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones) are engaged. Caroline’s friend, Barbara Worth (Margaret Lockwood) is invited to the wedding as the maid of honour. When she meets Ralph, interested by his money, she decides to seduce him. This is easy and the result is a marriage between Barbara and Ralph, instead of Caroline and Ralph. This one thinks he loves Barbara, but she has only decided to marry him for his money and her own entertainment.

Soon, Barbara discovers that life with Ralph is too boring for her. So, one night, she discovers a new “activity”: steal carriages, by the “hold-up method”. So, wearing a mask, she becomes a bandit at night. It’s during one of these illegal escapades that she meets Captain Jerry Jackson (James Mason) a notorious and researched highwayman. They decide to form a team and have a love affair. However, Barbara wouldn’t hesitate to take her revenge once he’ll disappoint her. As a matter of fact, the only man Barbara really falls in love with is Kit (Michael Rennie), whom she meets at her wedding.

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Madonna of the Seven Moons (Arthur Crabtree, 1945) is different from the first twos as it takes place in Italy during the 20th century. The film starts during Maddalena (Phyllis Calvert)’s young years. She is a student in a Catholic convent. One day, while she is picking flowers, she is followed by a strange man. Scared, she runs and we don’t see what happens. When she’s back at the convent, she cries and we guess she might have been raped. Not a long time after, the time comes for her to leave the convent. The reverend mother gives her a prayer book as a goodbye gift.

Years later, Maddalena is happily married to Giuseppe Labardi (John Stuart). They live in a beautiful mansion not far from Florence. They are often visited by their friend Doctor Charles Ackroyd (Reginald Tate). Her daughter, Angela (Patricia Roc), that she hasn’t seen for five years, is about to be back home. Maddalena is very worried that something might happen to her on the road. Angela is back with her boyfriend, Evelyn (Alan Haines), who stays to his friends’ place: Jimmy (Petter Murray-Hill), a painter, and his wife Nesta (Dulcie Gray). Caroline is very happy to see her mum, but she notices that this one is very prude, so she decides to take care of this by buying her some new clothes. Maddalena sometimes behaves strangely and Giuseppe explain to his daughter that her mother has been sick during her absence.

One night, after having a blackout during a party, Maddalena runs away from home. She arrives in Florence and goes to The House of the Seven Moons. There, she is a completely different woman. She has a lover, Nino (Stewart Granger), the head of a gang of jewel thieves, and she isn’t Maddalena anymore, but Rosanna. Maddalena lives a double life. When she is Maddalena, she doesn’t remember having been Rosanna and visa versa. On their side, Carolina, Giuseppe and other Maddalena’s relatives  will do everything they can to find her.

Now, I’ve decided to discuss these films not separately, but as a whole. Remember, I told you Gainsborough melodramas shares a lot of similarities.

The actors and their characters

Margaret Lockwood: Margaret Lockwood was the most popular British actress in the 40’s. She certainly was the Queen of Gainsborough melodramas. The actress was part of The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady. In both cases, she plays a very bad woman. I’m often asking myself which one is the worst: Hesther or Barbara Skelton? It’s hard to answer. However, I think Barbara is the most interesting character. Why? Because she represents the modern post-World War II woman. You see, during the war, married women started working as their husband were on the front. They became more independent economically, but also sexually. Barbara embodies this last element through her relationship with Jerry Jackson. She might be a wicked woman, but she also is a strong and clever one, and this side of her can be a model for us, ladies, but not the other one! Margaret Lockwood is one of my absolute favourite actresses. Even if she plays two evil women, both characters are, in a way very different, which proves her versatility. Hesther is much more “discrete” and Barbara is much more expressive. For those who know Mrs Lockwood’s work, you might have noticed the she knew how to play comedy as well. Give Us the Moon would be a good example.

James Mason: This excellent actor plays two mysterious men in The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady. His character in The Man in Grey is kind of odious. We do not really share sympathy with him. James Mason succeeded in his duty of making Lord Rohan a despicable man. Jerry Jackson is different. He’s far from being a good man, but he enjoys life much more and knows how to express himself. He has a certain sense of humour, and, unlike Rohan, laughs once in a while. James Mason’s character in The Wicked Lady is much richer than the one in The Man in Grey.

Phyllis Calvert: Being part of The Man in Grey and Madonna of the Seven Moons, the lovely Phyllis Calvert stars in those films as the sweet innocent lady. Well, concerning Madonna of the Seven Moons, that’s only the case when she is Maddalena. As Rosanna, she is much wilder. This film proves her great acting abilities since Maddalena and Rosanna are two very different persons sharing the same body. Her performance in this film is kind of fascinating, a real tour de force. If you’re not too familiar with this actress, is with pleasure, I’m sure, that you’ll discover her. It’s impossible not to like her. She became a favourite of mine immediately after I saw her in The Man in Grey.

Stewart Granger: Just like Phyllis Calvert, I was introduced to Stewart Granger with The Man in Grey. Before that, I didn’t know what kind of actor he was. The only thing I knew about him is that he was Jean Simmons’ first husband. I absolutely loved him is The Man in Grey and he became a favourite of mine as well. In this film  and Madonna of the Seven Moons, Stewart Grangers plays a rather exotic man. He’s not the proper English (or Italian) gentleman with a tie and a black jacket, but the wild one, with a taste for adventure.

Patricia Roc: The pretty Patricia Roc is the sweet and naive girl in The Wicked Lady and the modern young girl in Madonna of the Seven Moons. In both cases her performance grabs our attention. Patricia Roc is unfortunately not a very well known actress, but she deserves to be discovered. The girl has talent, and her performance in both films is very touching. I would say, she is one of  the actress I’m the most curious about.

These are the “major” actors of those three films. I won’t talk about them all, because there are too many, but here are some honourable mentions: Jean Kent, Micheal Rennie, Griffith Jones, Dulcie Gray, Martita Hunt, Helen Haye, etc.

The reception

The Gainsborough Melodramas, without any exception, were all box office hits in the UK. What make these films so popular in this country? They are not often cited as masterpieces, which makes them very underrated. Those films were made on a smaller budget than Hollywoodian films, but were able to show us something brilliant. The most successful of the three, The Wicked Lady, was unfortunately not well received in USA and was severely censored by the Production Code due to its use of themes such as adultery, violence, rape, etc. Certain scenes had to be re-shoot for the American version. The Wicked Lady also makes scandal in UK on its release, but not as much as in United Stated. We guess the English were more tolerant. The Mother Queen liked it, which was a good thing.

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The costumes

That’s something I always notice in the Gainsborough Melodramas: the beautiful costumes. The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady allows us to see historical costumes. Concerning The Man in Grey, the 19th century has always been one of my favourite historical period presented on screen, especially for the costumes. Just think about Gone with the Wind! In Madonna of the Seven Moons, the costumes are more “modern” as it takes place during the 20th century. But, they are also so refined! Strangely, I couldn’t find any information about the costume designers for these films. Well, here are some pictures to make you realized how gorgeous they are.

The themes: 

You’ll find a lot of common themes in The Man in Grey, The Wicked Lady and Madonna of the Seven Moons. One of them is the wedding. Most of the time, it’s an unhappy one, if you take the example of Ralph and Barbara, or a wedding that would have to face challenges, if you consider what happen to Maddalena in Madonna of the Seven Moons.

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These three films, without exception, are known for using the controversial themes of sexuality and adultery. This last one is twice used in The Man in Grey by Clarissa’s love affair with Rockeby and Hesther’s one with Clarissa’s husband, Lord Rohan. In The Wicked Lady, Barbara commits adultery by having an affair with Jerry Jackson. In Madonna of the Seven Moons, the use of adultery is arguable. Sure, in a way, Maddalena commits adultery once she joins Nino, but she isn’t conscious of what she’s doing. The sexuality is also used in the three films. Madonna of the Seven Moons is known as a “psychosexual drama”. There’s indeed something very Freudian about this film. Maddalena’s strange behaviour is certainly due to a trauma: probably this episode when she was raped as a young girl, but this is never mentioned in the film. So, we don’t know if she remembers it.

Finally, the violence is another theme used in these films. Without revealing it, The Man in Grey‘s ending use this theme in a quite horrible way. Some characters in these films haven’t got pity. Barbara Skelton won’t hesitate to use a gun once she’ll need it, but this will take her to a fatal faith. The violence in Madonna of the Seven Moons is less obvious, but it’s there. It would majorly be embodied by Nino, who has a hot temper.

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The cinematography:

The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady, especially The Wicked Lady, have the particularity of using a visual aesthetic that can make us think of the one in American Films Noir (that were also at their golden age in the 40’s). It’s the use of shadows and contrast that allows us this comparison. I’ve always thought that The Wicked Lady could be classified as a kind of Film Noir. It’s not one, but it shares a lot of similarities. Barbara Skelton would certainly be the femme fatale. The woman in this film also has the same sort of function. Well, if it’s not a Film noir, it could be categorized in a sub-category of this genre, just like western-Noirs or science-fiction-Noirs are. The cinematography in Madonna of the Seven Moons is more luminous. Unlike in The Wicked Lady, the major action takes place during daytime. There’s also something very poetic in the set of this film. Maybe because it takes place in Italy. *Sight…

Finally, the screenplay:

The Man in Grey, The Wicked Lady and Madonna of the Seven Moons were all based on a novel: The Man in Grey by Eleanor Smith; The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall and The Madonna of the Seven Moons by Margery Lawrence. The last ones were themselves based on real life stories. The highest quality of these screenplays is the evolution of the characters. As a matter of fact, the most interesting ones are those interpreted by Margaret Lockwood: Hesther and Barbara Skelton. They might be to mean women, but to see how they are developed in the story is enough fascinating, especially for Hesther. Except that, The stories are entertaining and thrilling. We wonder so much what will happen at the end, because, sometimes, it’s hard to say if problems will be solved or not.

There would be much more to say about these films. We are lucky Eclipse added them to its collection, so it can allow the curious to watch them. I’ve always been a fan of Gainsborough Melodramas. They are not perfect, but they certainly have something to tell us. They are interesting, entertaining, brilliant and often group a bunch of talented British actors. Among the three I’ve talked about in this text, you might wonder which one is my favourite. Well, it’s The Wicked Lady. The other ones are great as well, but The Wicked Lady has something special. If you haven’t seen any Gainsborough Melodramas, that’s the one I’ll start with if I were you.

I finally want to thank Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screening for hosting such a nice event! It was a pleasure for me to revisit my Three Wicked Melodramas dvd box set.

I invite you to read the other lovely entries as well:

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Day one

Day two

Day three

Day four

Day five

Day six

I’ll leave you with the Gainsborough Pictures logo, which I just adore:

See you soon!

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A Pair of Blue Eyes: Grace Kelly and William Holden

“Grace Kelly fell in love very easily; too easily.”

– Lizanne Kelly-

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It’s not an unknown fact that Grace Kelly, who was one of the most beautiful ladies ever, had many lovers during her acting life. One of them was the actor William Holden. But hey, I’m not here to accuse her (I’m too much a fan for that!), but to honour and glorify her teamwork with William Holden, as actors. They were great and I love them both so much.

I’m happy to write this article in honour of Grace Kelly’s 86th birthday, and this will be my contribution to The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon, hosted by…me! In the following text, I’ll focus on Grace Kelly and William Holden’s co-acting in the two films they made together: The Bridges at Toko-Ri and The Country Girl.

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You might want to know why I’ve decided to write about Grace Kelly and William Holden instead of Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby or Grace Kelly and James Stewart, for example. Well, the answer is simple, I love William Holden and both are my second favourite actor and second favourite actress. So, I thought it would be an interesting concept!

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Mark Robson, 1954)

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Kelly and Holden first worked during the making of The Bridges at Toko-Ri, released in 1954. In this war movie taking place during the Corean War, Grace Kelly plays the role of Nancy, his lovely and proud  wife. William Holden is an USA Navy pilot and lieutenant fighting in the war. He has for dangerous mission to destroy the Toko-Ri bridges in North Corea. Grace Kelly has a quite small part in this film. We see her when Harry has a permission. He spends it in Japan with her and their kids.

Even if Grace Kelly’s participation in this film was rather small, it’s impossible not to notice her and she certainly added a lot to the film. In my opinion, the best scenes of this film are those including the actress. First, the chemistry between her and William Holden is just beautiful. They have to play a married couple that is sincerely in love with each others. Believe me, it worked.

Grace Kelly is wonderfuly introduced in The Bridges at Toko-Ri when William Holden arrives in Japan by boat. The big ship arrives at the harbour just like Nancy (Grace Kelly). She’s trying to find her husband and he’s looking for her too. It’s his friend Mike (Mickey Rooney) who notice her. He waves at her with his green scarf so they can see them. This moment when she finally sees William Holden is one we would want to last forever. They both wave at each others with their most honest and happy smile. She blows a kiss at him and they run in each others arms, after having been away from each others due to the war.

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During the evening, they have dinner with Admiral George Tarrant (Fredric March). Unfortunately, Harry has to quit to go help Mike, who have some troubles. During his absence, George explains the dangerous Toko-Ri’s mission to Nancy. This one worries and when Harry is back at the hotel, she asks him to talk to her about the bridges. She wants to understand better what his husband will have to face. She cares for him. He first refuses, but finally accept. Nancy is now more “ready” to face the fact that she might become a widow. This is a very beautiful scene. During it, William Holden and Grace Kelly lays next to each others in a bed. Grace Kelly’s request is full of goodwill and we see that she is devoted to him and that she loves him. This makes us regret her too short appearance in the film.

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There’s not just sentimental scenes in this film. One of the funniest also include Grace Kelly! She, her husband and their children decide to go bathe in the hotel pool. They wish to be alone, because we understand that they are all naked! Nancy worries that someone might comes, but Harry assures her that he had reserved the place for them and only them. However, not a long time after, a Japanese family enters into the place. Harry tries to tell them that they have reserved the place, but they don’t understand. Meanwhile, Nancy tries to hide herself and the children. The Japanese family completely undresses and go in its own pool. This funny moments turn in a friendly one when the two families finally starts to socialize and talk to each others. The Japanese mother says to Grace: “Happy family.” to what she understands, with her sparkling eyes and her beautiful smile “Yes, happy family!” She seems very proud of it!

The last moment between Grace Kelly and William Holden in this film takes place in the harbour when Harry has to take his boat and go back to war. We’ll wish this moment would last forever and, after having seen how a great married couple they make, it’s hard to accept the fact that they’ll have to be separated one from each other one more time. I think the most beautiful shot in this film is the one when the boat floats away and Grace Kelly waves at him. It would actually make a beautiful closing shot, but it’s not.

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The Country Girl (George Seaton, 1954)

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1954 was a busy year for Grace Kelly as she starred in five films: Dial M for Murder, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Green Fire, Rear Window and, of course, The Country Girl for which she won the Best Actress Oscar. She. deserves. it. Don’t. argue. Of course, that was her second collaboration with William Holden (and her first with Bing Crosby with whom she also starred in High Society two years later.)

When you watch The Bridges at Toko-Ri and then The Country Girl, it’s crazy to see how Grace Kelly and William Holden’s characters’ relations are different from one film to the other. If they were a married couple deeply in love in the first one, in the second one, they first are more like enemies, before having a very brief love affair.

Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly Directed by George Seaton

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In this film, William Holden is Bernie Dodd, a stage director, who, for a new play (against his producer’s advice), want to hire Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby) for the main role. Frank previously was a notorious singer and actor, but after his son’s death, he started drinking a lot, only causing problems and deteriorating himself . Grace Kelly plays Georgie Elgin, his wife. Bernie suspects her to being too possessive concerning her husband and also think that she has a bad influence of him. For this reason, relations between Georgie and Bernie are at first cold, until he discovers that he was wrong.

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Grace Kelly is very different in this film. Having often played a socialite (Rear Window, High Society, To Catch a Thief), she’s now a simple and poor woman. She doesn’t wear make-up or glamorous dresses (expect at the end and in a flashback scene), but she remains pretty, proving us that she also was a natural beauty. This film really shows us Grace Kelly’s versatility and, one more time, a great pairing with William Holden.

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The two actors interact with a kind of passion, even when they (their character) don’t like each other, but also when William Holden (Bernie) falls in love with her. I was re-watching the movie the other day for the blogathon and, honestly, concerning Grace Kelly, William Holden, but also Bing Crosby, this really is one of the best on-screen trio I’ve ever seen. For the performances. There’s a scene in this film where Grace Kelly’s explodes and says everything she has been dying to say for a long time. In this scene, she’s alone with William Holden (it’s just before he passionately kisses her) and, still acting and being his character, there’s something in his gaze that seems to tell us that he really admire her here. Most people might not notice this detail, but you have to be attentive. We kind of feel that he’s thinking “She’s at her best.” Unfortunately I couldn’t find a clip of the scene of YouTube, but if you’ve seen it, you probably know which one I’m talking about.

Things in this film don’t end up as Bernie would have wished, but we feel that a certain complicity is born between him and Georgie.

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When Grace Kelly won the Oscar for Best Actress, it’s William Holden who was presenting this award during the ceremony. In the following clip, when he opens the envelop and says her name, his forever charming smile appears on his face and he really seems proud of her and happy that she is the winner.

William Holden and Grace Kelly did not only give good on-screen performances, but they also looked beautiful together, with their blue eyes and unique smile. They were able to play a love scene together, just like a quarrel, proving us that they could do everything together.

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Grace Kelly’s family never carried William Holden in its heart and her sister Liane said of him “Bill [Holden] like Grace Kelly and awful lot… whatever quality she had, she should have bottled it.”

I’m not sure if they remained friends (maybe you can help me with that!). I’ve read a Grace Kelly bio, but so many men are mentioned that it’s hard to remember in detail what happened to each of them! I’ve tried to find the information on the web without success. I hope they did!

Anyway, don’t they look cute and friendly, building planes together like two adorable child? 🙂

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I was happy to write this post for The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon. I invite you, of course, to read all the other wonderful entries:

The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon

Happy heavenly birthday Grace Kelly!

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The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon Is Here!

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It’s here, it’s finally here! From today to tomorrow, we’ll celebrate Grace Kelly’s 86th birthday with my second blogathon: The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon.

I simply can’t wait to read your entries, I’m sure it’s all excellent!

Grace Kelly was a wonderful actress and one of the most beautiful ladies in the world. I hope you’ll honour her on her birthday, not only by participating to this blogathon, but by watching some of her films, dancing flamenco (Grace Kelly’s favourite dance style) and cooking her favourite meals (hamburger)! Anyway, let’s make this a Grace Kelly International Day! 😀

Well, here are the lovely entries:

Phyllis Love the Classic Movies – Grace Kelly and Edith Head: A Perfect Fashion Marriage 

Serendipitous Anachronism – Don Richardson: The Man Who Made Grace Kelly

The Old Hollywood Garden – Grace Kelly, Strike a Pose…

The Flapper Dame – Grace Kelly Blogathon: Mogambo

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest – High Society

Old Hollywood Films – The Swan

Four Star Films – 14 Hours and High Noon

The Wonderful World of Cinema – A Pair of Blue Eyes: Grace Kelly and William Holden

Movie Classics – The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Flickin’ Out – Amazing Grace: The Everlasting Elegance of Grace Kelly

LitLover12 – Learning to Love ‘The Swan’

Back to Golden Day – The Country Girl (1954)

Silver Scenes – Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief 

A Shroud of Thoughts – Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954)

The Movie Rat – The Swan (1956)

Lauren Champkin – Grace Kelly: Princess of Monaco

Pop Culture Reverie – Dial M for Murder

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – The Early Years of Grace Kelly


Of course I want to thank all those blogs that had the kindness to participate to this event. I know there are a lot of Blogathon in November, but this one means so much to me, so thanks a lot for taking part of it! You can be sure that it will be back next year and, in 4 years, for her 90th anniversary, we’ll make something even bigger!

I’ll say one last thing before leaving you: Vive Grace Kelly!

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