Something happened to me when I first saw High Noon (1952). This must have been around 1982 or ’83 and I must have been 13 or 14 then. While I enjoyed the film overall (I did like Westerns!), I got my first movie crush. I thought the blonde actress playing hero Gary Cooper’s wife in the film was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I later found out she was Grace Kelly, who had subsequently become Princess Grace of Monaco.
I had to see her other films and I remember after High Noon, I first saw her three films with Hitchcock – Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). These were the days of the VCPs and VCRs and I was hooked. I’m sure I must have been the greatest admirer of Ms Kelly at that point of time. In school in the Library period, I recall going straight to the Encyclopedia Brittanica set and looking her up. Needless to say, I was most impressed. A short but sweet career of just 11 films between 1951 and 1956 that saw her acting opposite top stars like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, James Stewart, Cary Grant, William Holden and Frank Sinatra among others, with a Best Actress Academy Award for The Country Girl (1954) to boot. A glorious Hollywood career was cut short when she married Prince Ranier of Monace and settled down to a supposedly fairy tale life as a Princess!
That first movie crush never goes away and Kelly remains my favorite Hollywood actress till date. I continue to be the fanboy to beat all fanboys just as I was in school and college and my school and college friends can vouch for this! I remember spending most of my month’s pocket money in school buying her biography from Higginbotham’s. And literally forcing a fellow classmate to gift me a VHS cassette of To Catch a Thief that she got me from Bahrain. A couple of college friends even painted me a lovely picture of Grace Kelly on a T-shirt that I wore for years. Today, thanks to the easy availability of her movies on DVD (and torrent), I can now happily say I’ve seen them all barring her first, Fourteen Hours (1951). If you ask me, my favorites, besides High Noon, are the three Hitchcock films, Mogambo (1953), The Country Girl and High Society (1956).
Today as a filmmaker, there are other reasons why I marvel at High Noon. I regard it as the greatest Western ever made and applaud its well-worked out screenplay where reel time equals real time; where the critical plot points come naturally driven out of characters’ motivations, and I admire Gary Cooper’s ever so subtle performance that won him an Oscar. Rear Window, to me perhaps Hitchcock’s greatest film, makes me appreciate the master’s ability to visually tell a story, his incredible use of space, his brilliant sense of lensing and composition, and of course, his wonderful use of Kelly as the ice cold blonde, who beneath that cold classy exterior showed hints of, as he called it, unquenchable flames. Today, I might feel that THE most cinematic face just made for the movie camera is not Kelly but that of Greta Garbo. But I’ll admit, I still get that 13 year old’s dreamy glint in my eyes each time I see Kelly in one of her films.
Even recently, while traveling with my film, An American in Madras, the highlight of my trip to Philadelphia last October was tracing out the house that Kelly grew up in and yes, here I am in front of it! It’s an address in Philly I will never forget – 3901 Henry Avenue. In a strange sort of way, I had come home.