Friday, July 6, 2018

The Swan (1956)

The Swan (Charles Vidor, 1956) Based on a play by Ferenc Molnár and filmed twice previously—once in 1925 and in 1930—this M-G-M produced version of The Swan is historically notable in film history as being Alec Guinness' first American film and Grace Kelly's last released before marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco (her last filmed role was in High Society).

Curiously, It is a movie remake of an Actor's Studio production aired on CBS television June 9, 1950, which featured an early starring performance by the same Grace Kelly, effectively book-marking her career.

And that's about it. The Swan is a bit of a trifle, if not a truffle, of how tough the privileged have it, if only to reassure us commoners that they are as capable of having complicated, melancholy lives as we are. Poor dears.
The Swan tells the story of Princess Alexandra (Kelly, naturally) who is the "of-marrying-age" daughter of a once-powerful family of a European patriarchy (the closest we get to specifics is an opening legend: "The Place—Central Europe...The Time—1910"). To fortify their fortunes, they take advantage of an impending visit by the Crown Prince Albert (Guinness) to try to match the two and retake the crown. Chief conspirator is Alexandra's mother Beatrix (Jesse Royce Landis, who played Kelly's mother in the previous year's To Catch a Thief). But, although she's a bit late to the proceedings (only showing up towards the film's end), it appears Albert's mother Dominika (Agnes Moorehead) is thinking along the same lines.
All well and good. Except Alexandra is an independent sort, very much involved with her books and her fencing to be too giddy about becoming an arm-ornament to an arranged suitor. What about love, for instance? It also doesn't help that because her mind's in the wrong place, the usually quite competent and confident princess comes off being something of a goof. And not a particularly charming goof, at that.
The Crown Prince is conveniently scheduled to visit the family on a ceremonial visit. The family pills out all their best finery to impress the Prince, who, upon his arrival, is quite a bit different from what the old family is expecting.
The prince is a bit of a cold fish, and calling him "eccentric" would be kind. Albert is more interested in band music than matrimony, and, as his interests seem decidedly puerile, he's a bit more of a man-child, which, to him, is only natural—he's on vacation, after all. He can let his hair down and he wants to do what he enjoys, as opposed to his job being "the prince."
Although his behavior slightly ruffles the fine feathers of the family, it does not deter them from pushing the two together. Alexandra is torn: she is not impressed with Guinness' prince, and a bit irked that he isn't more awestruck by her, and she's actually a bit more attracted to her tutor, Dr. Nicholas Agi (Louis Jourdan, not at his best), who is worldly, charming, a heck of a dancer, and interested in her, as well. But, he's also conflicted: he knows that a future with a commoner like him will not improve her standing, or that of her family. So, as much as the prospect of running off with Alexandra is attractive, his sense of duty overrides his feelings.
So, as she leans towards Agi and away from the prince, Agi leans away, which confuses and disappoints Alexandra. This only makes her want to pursue him more, beyond what family and tradition might consider seemly. Plus, she has to be feeling a bit worthless, with everybody making a fuss over her, but both her potential suitors being less than interested.
So, what does she want? She is pre-disposed, given the example of her uncle (Brian Aherne) to become a monk to choose her heart over duty (which is apparently what Prince Albert does, too) and she begins to rebel, pursuing Agi, even if he chooses to rebuff her. What's a princess to do? If you're to believe The Swan, it is absolutely no fun to be a princess, no matter what Disney—or the Princess Diana Story—says.
What the movie seems to promote is contrary behavior: Prince Albert is more interested in the double bass and football than being regal, and the antics of Landis, Moorehead, Estelle Winwood and butler Leo G. Carroll seem much more entertaining than the concerns of the love-birds portrayed.
Ultimately, the movie is a downer, as Alexandra seems consigned to a life of artifice and keeping up appearances, rather than getting a life she might actually enjoy. One comes away wondering why, after this movie, Grace went ahead with her storybook wedding.

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