November is always so exciting for an Old Hollywood fan like me, namely because so many legendary movie stars were born in this month and there’s so much to celebrate about them. Hedy Lamarr, who I just honored as part of my Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Blogathon comes to mind, as does Veronica Lake, who I wrote about at the beginning of the month, and Rock Hudson, who I’ll be writing about next week for The Rock Hudson Blogathon. There are dozens more all worthy of a mention, but there are few events that I look forward to every year as much as I look forward to the anniversary of Grace Kelly’s birth. I’ve loved her nearly as long as I’ve loved old movies, and in the past she’s easily ranked among my Top Five Favorite Classic Film Stars list. I’ve been wanting to pay tribute to her by participating in The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon, now in its fourth year, since I first created my blog, and I’m so grateful that this year that I’ve finally been able to. The blogathon is hosted by Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema, one of the best people I’ve gotten to know as a result of our mutual love for classic movies, and this year she’s joined by Emily of The Flapper Dame, another favorite vintage cinema blogger whom I’ve always admired. Thank you ladies from the bottom of my heart for being so great and for honoring such a fantastic human being on what would have been her 89th birthday! You can be sure to count me in for many more years of Grace celebrations to come!
As soon as this year’s salute to Grace Kelly was announced, I knew without question which of her pictures I would write about. It might not seem like an obvious choice, but I’m pleased to report that Green Fire (1954) was the last Grace Kelly film that I needed to see in order to complete her filmography. Keep in mind that I have a long way to go when it comes to checking out her numerous television appearances, but Grace is now the first Old Hollywood star that I’ve seen every single feature film of. Now you might ask me, “Samantha, you’ve been a Grace Kelly fan for years. Why has it taken you this long to cross off this one movie?” Grace Kelly herself believed that this was her worst film, and my lack of enthusiasm for Stewart Granger didn’t make me very eager to cross it off of my list either, but finally the fact that I was one movie away from viewing Grace’s entire silver screen career became too tempting for me to sit by and let another year pass without seeing it. In an end to my days in suspense, I discovered that the picture begins when Rian Mitchell (Stewart Granger), an opportunist looking to find a quick fortune, stumbles upon the remains of a centuries-old emerald mine abandoned by the Spanish conquistadors.
He’s eager to inform his friend and partner Vic Leonard (Paul Douglas) of his exceptional sighting, but a bullet wound from local gang leader El Moro (Murvyn Vye) and his men along with a run-in with a jaguar puts him in no condition to start digging for precious gems. Luckily Father Ripero (Robert Tafur) comes to his rescue, and he takes Rian to the home of Catherine Knowland (Grace Kelly) and her brother Donald (John Ericson) to convalesce. Rian and Catherine hit it off immediately, and he soon finds out that the Knowland siblings have inherited and attempted to run the coffee business started by their grandfather. While Catherine takes pride in the work, Donald is disinterested and hopes to eventually find his calling elsewhere. Soon Rian recovers, and through some shady tactics enlists the assistance and funds of his partner. Greed is the driving force in the adventurer’s mind as he tirelessly works with his laborers to dig deeper and deeper within the mine’s recesses. The team comes across their fair share of obstacles, like a cave-in and the return of El Moro’s gang, and his desperation leads him to start sabotaging the very woman who he claims he loves, convincing her brother to drain the family’s finances and put himself as well as their coffee business in danger, all in search of the glittering green jewels that the mountain promises to bestow. Will Rian be able to put his desire for emeralds aside for the woman he loves, or will his avarice become his undoing?
1954 was arguably Grace Kelly’s busiest year in movies. An astounding five pictures, many of which are ranked among her finest work today, were all released in that single year. It was such a hectic time for the actress that she even feared while on the set of Green Fire (1954) that she wouldn’t be able to finish her scenes in time to jet to Monaco and film her next feature, To Catch A Thief (1955). Leading man Stewart Granger, gentleman that he was, threatened to feign illness and put production into a screeching and expensive halt unless the shooting schedule was changed to suit Grace’s needs and allow her to finish filming in time. The starlet was “thankful and thrilled” at the gesture, and that wasn’t the only act of gallantry that Granger performed for the future princess. When it was time to shoot the ending scene of Green Fire (1954), Kelly and Granger needed to be soaking wet for their final passionate kiss in the rain. As Stewart remembered it afterwards, Grace was worried about how her drenched backside would look on camera. “For me, it was the most delicious behind imaginable,” Granger later wrote, “but it did stick out a bit and she was very self-conscious about it.” The actor decided to assist Grace by covering her rear with his hands. “She was so delighted at finishing the film that she didn’t even object.”
To me all of Granger’s onscreen efforts paid off, as the pair ended up looking great in the finished picture. This is probably my favorite movie of his so far, though he’s never been an actor I admire and I don’t think any of his work would be enough to make me a fan. While his performance was satisfactory, I think his character was an outright cad. Rian doesn’t do anything at all to win Catherine’s affection, and practically ruins her life over the course of the film, but somehow by the time the credits roll all is forgiven on her end. Even his partner Vic jumps in to assist Catherine and be there for her as much as he could, and I honestly think that his efforts should have been enough to win her over and that they would have made a great pair. As for Grace herself, I think she gave the best performance that she could in Green Fire (1954) considering the fact that the part is very much beneath her and it appears that she was given no direction by Andrew Marton. Considering the fact that his credits include directing The Longest Day (1962) and Ben-Hur (1959), I wouldn’t be surprised if all of his attention was given to the male leads and special effects, leaving poor Grace to fend for herself in this wild production. As stunning as she looked in Cinemascope and Eastman Color and as grateful as I personally am that she’s in this movie, Catherine’s only job is to be the object of Rian’s affection and be present for all of the action and conflict and it makes me wonder whether anyone would have noticed if she was replaced with a cardboard standup. I certainly won’t say that it’s a bad film, but Grace’s career was filled with far better parts and performances. I don’t agree with her that it’s her worst film as Mogambo (1953) takes the cake in my opinion, but if you’re looking for a movie where her acting and onscreen presence sparkles and shines like a Colombian emerald, try High Society (1956) instead.