Movies About Hollywood Glamour Queens Paint a Troubling Picture
Based on the principle that all publicity is good publicity, the makers of “Grace of Monaco” might feel that Grace Kelly’s children have denounced the movie too early in its journey to the screen to be of much use in selling tickets. Still in production, it won’t be released until 2014.
Directed by Olivier Dahan (“La Vie en Rose”), the film isn’t a biopic, but a character snapshot of Grace in 1962 when her husband, Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth), was involved in a dispute with Charles de Gaulle. The French President was opposed to Monaco’s status as a tax haven that deprived France of revenue from international businesses and wealthy citizens that had relocated to its tiny neighbor.
It’s the backstory – Kelly’s momentous journey from Oscar-winning actress to European princess – that will be “Grace of Monaco’”s chief lure, however. The film is part of a mini-trend of projects inspired by the turbulent lives of glamorous Hollywood actresses of the 1950s and ’60s and sanctioned by the passage of time.
The other subjects (or, if you like, victims) have so far been Marilyn Monroe (played by Michelle Williams in “My Week With Marilyn”), Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller in “The Girl”), and lone brunette Elizabeth Taylor (Lindsay Lohan in “Liz and Dick”). Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel respectively played Janet Leigh and Vera Miles in “Hitchcock.”
There’s also “Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” a Billy Bob Thornton-directed drama that doesn’t have an actress playing Mansfield but did provide a part for… Tippi Hedren.
It would hardly be surprising if films were tabled about Doris Day or Kim Novak, who had their share of off-screen woes. Day had a troubled first marriage and protracted legal problems in the ’70s and ’80s following the discovery that her late third husband and her lawyer had squandered her wealth. Novak’s mid-’50s affair with Sammy Davis, Jr. prompted her Columbia boss Harry Cohn, fearful of adverse publicity should she marry the black Jewish entertainer, to have a mobster kidnap Davis for a few hours (or so the story goes).
Both stars are theoretically ripe for biopic consideration in this prurient climate. But because both are alive, there may, mercifully, be legal reasons preventing screenwriters getting to work – sensitivity toward the actress’ feelings is unlikely to be a factor.
The “male gaze” has inevitably been an element in most of these movies (coy though “My Week With Marilyn” is). In castigating Alfred Hitchcock for his abuse of his leading ladies, “Hitchcock” and “The Girl” scarcely avoided making spectacles of actresses playing suffering actresses, or, in the case of the former, any attractive woman Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) can peer at through a window or peephole.
Depicting the director’s sexual harassment of the fragile Hedren, “The Girl” is the more conscientious of the two. In showing how the spurned Hitchcock (Toby Jones) rationalized torturing her during the filming of “The Birds,” it says this is what a frustrated authoritarian male is capable of. Irrespective of its sullying of a giant of cinema, it was a story worth telling, even if it depends for its effects on the visual (if not literal) despoliation of Sienna Miller. These lives-of-the-actresses movies, though, are collectively proving an ordeal.