The Country Girl (1954)

Director: George Seaton
Screenwriter: George Seaton
Adapted from: The Country Girl by Clifford Odets
Cast: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden, Anthony Ross, Gene Reynolds
Nominations: Picture, Director – George Seaton, Actor – Bing Crosby, Actress – Grace Kelly, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography (b/w), Art Direction (b/w)
Wins: Actress – Grace Kelly, Adapted Screenplay

I had read a lot about The Country Girl but never actually knew what the film was about.  Full disclosure: I didn’t know William Holden was in it until recently because most everything written about the film focuses on Grace Kelly’s de-glammed performance with mentions of Bing Crosby reminding audiences that he could do more than comedy bits and carry a tune.  There’s no denying that Kelly delivers a fantastic turn as a complicated, conflicted, and confused wife consumed by her husband’s conniving and manipulative ways, but it’s Crosby who exceeds all expectations as the rundown, alcoholic showman trying to convince everyone (including himself) that nothing is as bad as it seems—and if it is, well, that’s someone else’s doing, not his.  It’s a raw and honest turn that is as much sympathetic as it is pathetic.  The two performances are entirely human and real, and the vulnerability the actors allow us to see makes the themes of the film more relatable and appreciated.

Both characters—Crosby’s Frank and Kelly’s Georgie—are so embedded in their toxic co-dependency that neither knows what it’s like to function outside of it nor how to interact with others without dragging them into their virulent relationship.  The truth, though, is that the bitterness is contrived, with each trying to grab onto whatever pity they can find from anyone who will lend an ear—Frank is definitely more adept at this tactic, but Georgie has her moments.  Frank’s turn from “Woe is me” with Bernie to “Now see here” with Georgie is striking and undermines so much of what’s come before, despite us having witnessed Frank’s subtle manipulation of requests and facts.  For example, Frank complains about his understudy being backstage; Georgie mentions the issue to Bernie, who asks Franks, who brushes it off with good-natured “Oh, it’s not a bother…” humility.  We are just as much a victim of Frank’s deception as Bernie.

The film wants us rooting for Georgie to realize the burden Frank is to her and her living a more fulfilling life, but it’s not until she has the opportunity to leave him and be with Bernie that she’s already made the choice to stay with Frank.  She’s forgiven Frank for the misfortune they’ve been through.  It’s Frank who’s struggling, who’s externalized his pain with anger, deception, and alcohol.  It makes sense, of course, but with relationships we’re tied to the other person we’re with: when one hits rock bottom it’s difficult for the other to not get pulled down almost as deep.  Ideally, Georgie would leave Frank, but she’s been tethered to him for so long and so deep that without Frank to care for she has no purpose.

But that’s really only half the story, now, isn’t it?  Trauma is a peculiar thing in that it can either cause people to drift apart or bring them together.  Losing a child (something I’ve never experienced, thankfully), especially an only child, can initiate a couple to reassess their relationship, finding faults in every little action or word, wondering why they’re staying together, unsure of how they can move forward following such a devastating loss… 

On the other hand, that reassessment can make the pair better see why they love each other and what brought them together in the first place, that even though they’ve lost a part of themselves, there’s still a reason to be there and support the other. 

Frank, interestingly, takes the first path but instead of questioning his relationship with Georgie, he questions her relationship with him: he becomes his most critical voice.  Georgie is left to pull the weight of two people.  Her strength is beyond admirable: she’s a selfless saint who’s let her own desires get left behind in order to save the man she loves and cares for.  She could easily be seen as a tragic character sacrificing her happiness because of that, but she’s not bitter about the path she’s chosen—because she chose it.  We can lament that her life would be less trying if she were to leave Frank and go with Bernie (or on her own), but the fact that she knows what she’s doing, knows why she’s doing it, and wants to do it.  Hers is a story of honor and loyalty; she has principles that matter, and because they matter, she sticks with them even if abandoning them would be more convenient.