Cast & Crew
In a New York theater, stage director Bernie Dodd argues with producer Phil Cook about hiring Frank Elgin to replace their new musical's lead actor, who was fired one week into rehearsal. Bernie has long admired Frank, but Phil is reluctant, as the once successful Frank now has a reputation as a troublesome alcoholic. Bernie finally convinces Phil to audition Frank, insisting that he is clean and sober. Although Phil is not particularly impressed with Frank's audition, he agrees to sign him to a contract with a limited, two-week guarantee. As Frank has left the theater unexpectedly, Bernie goes to his rundown apartment to tell him the news and meets Georgie, Frank's wife. The dowdy but youthful Georgie responds to Bernie with sarcasm, explaining that she is a country girl who has never understood the vagaries of the theater. Frank is hesitant about Bernie's offer and asks for time to discuss it with Georgie. After Bernie leaves, Georgie advises Frank to take the role and do his "level best." Frank, who is concerned about learning his lines in time for the Boston try-out, finally agrees, figuring that he can quit the show if things go wrong. During rehearsal, Frank has trouble concentrating, and afterward, when asked by Bernie about his marriage, confesses he is dominated by Georgie. Frank reveals that after their young son died unexpectedly, Georgie started drinking, attempted suicide and set fire to a hotel room. Later, he says, in an attempt to give her life new purpose, he allowed Georgie to become involved in his work, and she became so controlling, he was driven to drink. Bernie commiserates with Frank, noting that his ex-wife tried to take over his career as well. Georgie suddenly appears in the wings, and the three go out for coffee. Once alone with Georgie, Bernie criticizes her for not encouraging Frank, an accusation she quickly dismisses. At home, while listening to the radio, Frank hears an old recording of him singing "The Search Is Through" and begins to reminisce: In a recording studio, while a vibrant Georgie and their young son Johnny watch, Frank sings the final strains of the song. Frank then insists on taking Johnny to the zoo, but outside the studio, stops to pose for a photographer, letting go of Johnny's hand. An instant later, Johnny is hit by a car and killed. Back in the present, Georgie enters the apartment and quietly turns off the radio. She then finds two empty liquor bottles and questions Frank about his drinking. Frank admits he is afraid and wants to quit the show, but Georgie insists he go to Boston. There, Frank is nervous during final rehearsal and complains to Georgie about the quick costume changes and the understudy who lingers in the wings. Georgie passes Frank's complaints on to Bernie, but Bernie accuses her of inventing problems and interfering with her husband's career. When questioned by Bernie, Frank, who is always pleasant with others, denies he is unhappy with the understudy, and Georgie cries, humiliated. After opening night, Frank refuses to sleep until he has read the notices and is distraught when they are unfavorable. With Bernie, however, Frank pretends to be nonplussed. During a difficult rehearsal, Frank then begins to guzzle alcohol-laced cough syrup, disregarding Georgie's pleas to stop. Bernie corners Georgie in Frank's dressing room and again accuses her of meddling. When Georgie calls Frank a "cunning drunkard," Bernie angrily informs her that Phil wants to replace Frank and declares that Frank would improve if she left Boston. Frustrated, Georgie slaps Bernie, then states that Frank is on the verge of a breakdown. After instructing Georgie to be on the next night's train to New York, Bernie catches Frank drinking his cough syrup. Frank claims that Georgie bought him the syrup, and now convinced that she is trying to destroy Frank, Bernie reveals that Georgie is leaving town. Once alone with Georgie, Frank apologizes for lying and begs her to stay, but accuses her of having a boyfriend in New York. Fed up, Georgie storms out, and Frank heads for the nearest bar. There, Frank drinks heavily and when he hears someone singing "The Search Is Through" hurls his glass into a large mirror, shattering it. The next morning, after Georgie bails him out of jail, a hungover Frank continues to make excuses to Bernie. When Bernie confronts Georgie with Frank's story about her drunken past, Georgie reveals that it was Frank who attempted suicide and shows him the scars on Frank's wrists as proof. After Bernie sends a stunned Frank to the theater, Georgie talks about Johnny's death and how Frank became terrified of even the smallest responsibility. Bernie apologizes to Georgie and asks her not to go, but she bitterly responds that she wants nothing more than to get out from under Frank. Overcome, Bernie grabs Georgie and kisses her, admitting that his anger toward her was a cover for his attraction. Moved by Bernie's passion, Georgie finally agrees to stay in Boston. Later, in Frank's dressing room, Bernie yells at Frank that he has been using his son's death as an excuse to drink and that he drinks to hide his fear of failure. Frank agrees with Bernie's assessment and listens with resignation as Phil tells Bernie that he has arranged for Frank's replacement. Bernie continues to defend Frank, however, and a now sober Frank is still in the show when it opens on Broadway. Frank and the show are a hit, but during a party at Phil's, Frank notices Georgie and Bernie together and senses their attraction. When confronted by Frank, Georgie admits that she is considering leaving him, but also acknowledges that she has been fostering his dependency. After Frank returns to the party, the piano player begins playing "The Search Is Through." Without thinking, Georgie rushes to stop the music and is overjoyed to see Frank standing next to the piano, listening to the song without fear. Georgie then kisses Bernie goodbye and runs to her husband's side.
John W. Reynolds
Hal K. Dawson
Dave J. White
John P. Fulton
John F. Warren
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Art Direction
The Country Girl
"Clifford Odets' poignant drama of a broken-down actor, his loyal wife and a misunderstanding stage director in The Country Girl has been put on the screen with solid impact -- and with Bing Crosby in the actor role. This latter piece of offbeat casting is the most striking thing about the film...For, with all the uncompromising candor of George Seaton's adaptation of the play and with all the intense, perceptive acting of Grace Kelly and William Holden in the other roles, it is truly Mr. Crosby's appearance and performance as the has-been thespian who fights and is helped back to stardom that hits the audience right between the eyes...Although the heroic character is inevitably the wife, who fights for her weak and sodden husband with the last store of energy in her weary frame, it is he -- the degraded husband -- who is the focus of attention here. And the force and credibility of the drama depends upon how he is played. That is why it is Mr. Crosby who merits particular praise, for he not only has essayed the character but also performs it with unsuspected power...he plays the broken actor frankly and honestly, goes down to the depths of degradation without a bat of his bleary eyes and then brings the poor guy back to triumph in a chest-thumping musical show with a maximum of painful resolution and sheer credibility. There is no doubt that Mr. Crosby deserves all the kudos he will get."
Some of the kudos must go to director George Seaton who not only had to coax Crosby into playing the role, but to literally let his hair down: "Come the first day of shooting and at nine-thirty there was no Crosby; ten o'clock, no Crosby; ten thirty and still no Crosby. At eleven I had a call from Wally Westmore - who was head of the make-up department - and he said, 'You'd better come up here, I think you've got big trouble on your hands!'" When Seaton arrived he found that Crosby was wearing an old toupee that he had worn nearly twenty years before. "When I walked in, there sat Bing with his College Humor  wig on! The wavy one he'd worn in all those early films, and he was very defiant. He said, 'I've just decided that this is what I'm going to wear in this picture'".
"I reminded him that we'd already agreed he had to play the character and that he couldn't play College Humor all over again. He said, 'Well, I've got my audience to think of. I don't want to look like an old man on the screen'. I said, 'You won't - you'll look your age - but there's nothing wrong with that, you're playing a character part'...I said, 'Bing, let's be honest, you're frightened' and he almost started to cry and said, 'I can't do it.' I said, 'Please have faith in me, I'm frightened too, so let's be frightened together.' We threw our arms around each other and walked on to the set and from then on there was no problem at all."
It was no secret that Crosby, like many other actors in Hollywood, wore a toupee. Jack Oakie, who appeared with Crosby in College Humor and several other pictures in the early 1930's, dubbed Crosby "the Robot of Romance" because the makeup department had to go to great lengths to enhance Crosby's sex appeal. In addition to the toupee, they fitted Crosby with a corset to make him svelte and used spirit gum to glue his protruding ears closer to his head. Later, when Crosby became more established in films, he ditched the spirit gum and said "Let 'em flap!"
In his own December 1954 New York Times article, Bing Scans His Elgin, Crosby admitted that he had reservations about playing someone so different from his established screen persona. "I suppose it's pretty apparent to anyone who goes to the movies much that through a career of sixty-odd pictures I have played one character -- Bing Crosby. The background changed some, but not very much. The songs were other songs and the people I worked with generally were different people, but I played the same fellow. Really, there seemed to be no great reason to do otherwise. But when [Producer] Bill Perlberg and George Seaton came to me with the Country Girl proposal, I knew the old routine wasn't going to do. Frank Elgin, my part, was a wholly different guy, and I must say I had some serious qualms about my ability to play the role accurately. It was surely something that I had never tried to do before. In fact, I told Seaton two or three times I didn't think I could cut it. I even suggested on several occasions some fellows I thought would be infinitely better choices, but George was firm. I think really he just wanted to see if I had guts enough to try. He told me if I carried it off I'd have done something of which I could really be proud."
For co-stars, Crosby had Grace Kelly, whom he had briefly dated, and William Holden (who was having an on-again, off-again affair with Kelly at the time). According to various accounts, Crosby resumed his romance with Kelly during shooting and Holden stepped aside out of respect for Crosby. The romance grew serious on Crosby's side, as Kelly's sister Lizanne later recalled, "He really wanted to marry her. She called me up one night and said 'Bing has asked me to marry him'. But I don't think she was in love with him at all. Grace loved him but she was not in love . There is a difference."
Ironically, Crosby - who had the right of approval for his leading ladies - had not wanted Kelly cast as his wife when his first choice, Jennifer Jones, had to drop out of the project when she became pregnant. He thought Kelly was "too pretty" to play an unglamorous role. Kelly was upset when she heard this: "I just had to be in The Country Girl. There was a real acting part in it for me. Sometimes I had to act before, but I had beautiful clothes, or beautiful lingerie, or glamorous settings to help me. Many times I was just the feminine background for the male stars who carried the action and the story on their shoulders." Perlberg and Seaton campaigned on Kelly's behalf and eventually Crosby relented, but the first week of filming wasn't easy. Kelly said, "It was a wonderful opportunity for me and I was very anxious, but we didn't pay much attention to one another and we really didn't get on too well during the first week we were working. After the first rushes the strain sort of came though and George Seaton said, 'Look, we're going to have to shoot this all over again.' We did - and it started to work from then on. It was a very happy picture and took only five or six weeks to make." Crosby told Perlberg and Seaton, "I'll never open my mouth to you two again. I'm sorry I had my doubts about her. She's great."
Turning the beautiful Kelly into a plain and depressed housewife was no easy task. Producer's assistant Arthur Jacobson attended the first costume tests conducted by famed designer Edith Head, "We looked at twenty-four sweaters before we settled on the one that looked dowdy enough. Edith found this drab dress, and we gave Grace some heavy spectacles and we pushed them back on her forehead. By the time the hairdresser had finished with her and we had her standing by an ironing board with a basket of washing, she looked like a different woman." Edith Head was delighted, "I didn‘t think we could do it" she told Kelly, "You look extremely depressed, Grace. I congratulate you."
Crosby threw himself into his role. "First off, I asked George [Seaton] to write me a biography of Frank Elgin. I wanted him to start right back at the cradle, to tell me about his parents, his boyhood, his friends and companions, where he went to school and how he got into show business -- everything that ever happened to Frank Elgin before we pick him up in the play. George provided me with quite a dossier on this boy, and I read it over very carefully, and I read the play over several times -- [Clifford] Odets' play -- and slowly, but very clearly, a definite personality began to emerge. As a matter of fact, I got real brave and even questioned some of the motivations in the piece. Incredibly, I was right in one or two instances, and I was instrumental in some re-tailoring of the character. Well, now that we had Elgin card-indexed, analyzed and blueprinted, the rehearsals began -- first, just George and I alone, and then with Grace Kelly and Bill Holden, and I want to tell you these rehearsals were pretty thorough. Two weeks of them, ten hours a day, and George drilling me like a top-kick. I must confess there were times when I got a little impatient. There were times when it seemed to me that he was picking lint, but I stayed in there and did like a good boy. I had rehearsed for pictures before -- you know, 'Who takes the harmony on the second chorus?' or 'Let's all make together on the 'eight bars lively and off.' But never two weeks on dialogue, characterization, reactions and bits of business -- where and how to spot a look, a nuance or an expression that would tie the whole thing together."
He was particularly careful with his drunk scene in which Elgin is in a Boston jail after binge-drinking. While Crosby was known off-screen as a heavy drinker, he achieved the realistic effect completely sober. His son, Dennis said, "I can remember that very clearly, because he made Philip [his brother] and I stay up with him the night before he did that drunk scene. He wouldn't go to sleep so we walked with him and kept him up. He usually liked to go to bed early and get up early, but that next morning his eyes were all red and he looked like he'd been drinking. I think when he wants to act, he can act."
Crosby's mother, who rarely visited his film sets, happened to be present when the scene was filmed, to the amusement of director Seaton. "Bing just looked awful. It was perfect for the scene and Mrs. Crosby brought three women friends with her who were very straight-laced. She came in and looked at Bing, who was sitting at a table exhausted and said, 'Harry!' [Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby] Then she walked right off the set, sure that he'd been drinking. I had to chase her down the street and assure her this was not the case, but she didn't come back."
When it was all over, Bing Crosby wrote, "Well, the picture has been cut and edited and scored and it's been shown around in several places, but I haven't seen it yet. Honestly, I'm afraid to. I don't want to see it in a cold projection room with a couple of fellows -- I want to wait until I can catch it in front of a live audience, and until I can sense what their reaction is as the picture unfolds. Maybe I won't be good in the picture -- maybe I shouldn't have taken the part, but I know that Grace Kelly and Bill Holden are good, because I worked with them day after day and they moved me on many occasions. Maybe the critics will blast me, but I won't be annoyed -- I've been impaled before. Of course, if the picture is a success and everybody likes it, then it's a beautiful parlay."
He needn't have worried. The Country Girl earned him the best reviews of his career. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Crosby for Best Actor (he lost to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront). Grace Kelly won Best Actress in a Leading Role and George Seaton won for Best Writing, Screenplay. And it proved that Bing Crosby could, indeed, act.
Producer: William Perlberg, George Seaton
Director: George Seaton
Screenplay: George Seaton, based on the play by Clifford Odets
Cinematography: John F. Warren
Editing: Ellsworth Hoagland
Music: Victor Young
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Cast: Bing Crosby (Frank Elgin), Grace Kelly (Georgie Elgin), William Holden (Bernie Dodd), Anthony Ross (Phil Cook), Gene Reynolds (Larry), Jacqueline Fontaine (Singer-Actress), Eddie Ryder (Ed).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The Country Girl
Changes to Canadian video ratings standards in the late 1980s resulted in this classic being slapped with an R rating, making it illegal to rent or sell it to anyone under the age of 18. No reasons were ever suggested for this rating (which was later changed), though it is possible it may have been confused with a porn film of the same name.
George Seaton's onscreen credit reads: "Written for the screen and directed by George Seaton." According to a July 1960 Los Angeles Mirror interview with producer William Perlberg, Jennifer Jones was first considered for the role of "Georgie," but could not appear due to pregnancy. Jones portrayed Georgie in a 1966 New York revival of the stage play, however. Paramount borrowed Grace Kelly from M-G-M for the production. According to modern sources, M-G-M initially refused Paramount's request, but acquiesced after Lew Wasserman, Kelly's agent, announced that Kelly might quit Hollywood if she did not get the role. Paramount agreed to pay M-G-M a $50,000 fee, plus $5,000 for each day the film went over schedule. In the 1960 Los Angeles Mirror interview, Perlberg claimed that Bing Crosby at first declined his role when he heard that the relatively unknown Kelly was to be his co-star. During production, however, Crosby changed his mind about Kelly, according to the interview. Kelly received glowing notices and won an Academy Award for her performance in the picture.
Crosby's performance in the atypical role of "Frank" won him much critical praise, and he was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin wrote four songs for Crosby to sing in the film. According to an April 1954 Daily Variety item, during production, Paramount was inundated with mail from "Catholic sources," protesting the fact that Crosby, a Catholic, was portraying a "drunk" in the film. A Hollywood Reporter news item adds Mary Young to the cast, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
In addition to the above-mentioned award and nomination, The Country Girl received a Best Writing (Screenplay) Oscar and was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Art Direction (black and white); Best Cinematography (black and white); Best Direction; and Best Picture. On February 5, 1974, the NBC television network broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Odets' play, directed by Paul Bogart and starring Jason Robards and Shirley Knight. In 1982, Gary Halvorson and Michael Montell directed Faye Dunaway, Dick Van Dyke and Ken Howard in a second televised version of Odets' play.
Voted Best Actress (Kelly--shared with her work in "Rear Window" and "Dial M for Murder") by the 1954 New York Film Critics Association.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1954 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States Winter December 1954
Released in United States Winter December 1954
Voted Best Actress (Kelly--shared with her work in "Rear Window" and "Dial M for Murder"), Best Actor (Crosby), and One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1954 National Board of Review.