Monday, March 19, 2018

Cinema Shame: The Grass is Greener (1960)



Anyone who knows me knows I love Robert Mitchum. He's my favorite actor. Bar none. So why did it take me so long to watch him in The Grass is Greener (1960)? Well I was getting around to it. It's been on my to-be-watched list for years. There aren't many Mitchum comedies so maybe I was saving this for a rainy day. When I was working on my Cinema Shame list for 2018 I decided I was finally going to sit down and watch it. Perhaps I should have kept waiting.

The Grass is Always Greener is a genteel British comedy starring four Hollywood heavyweights: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons. Earl Victor Rhyall (Cary Grant), his wife Lady Hilary (Deborah Kerr) and their two children live in a sprawling British estate that the Rhyalls can't afford to keep. Even their butler Trevor (Moray Watson) has little to do and offers to take a pay cut, which they refuse. To make ends meet the couple harvest mushrooms and opened their estate, with all it's antique furniture and art, as a museum open the general public. One day, an oil rich Texas millionaire, Charles Delacro (Robert Mitchum), wanders into the private part of the estate and meets Hilary. He is enchanted by her and her by him. The two begin an affair. What Hilary doesn't know is that her husband Victor is on to her but let's her travel to London to see Delacro, under other pretenses of course, hoping she'll wise up and come back to him. Hattie Durant (Jean Simmons), Victor's old flame and Hilary's London friend, gleefully gets caught up in the love triangle. She's a glamour queen, with too much time on her hands, who hopes to steal Victor away from Hilary. Will Hilary go back to her old life of growing mushrooms in a museum with her first love or will living a life of plenty with the handsome new stranger win her over?

The Grass is Greener was directed and produced by Stanley Donen. This is one of many films in the 1960s Donen worked on in Europe including Once More, with Feeling (1960), Surprise Package (1960), Charade (1963), Arabesque (1966), Two for the Road (1967), Bedazzled (1967) and Staircase (1968). Donen and Cary Grant own the company Grandon Productions which produced Indiscreet (1958) and The Grass is Greener.  After their film Indiscreet, Donen and Grant bought the rights to
the British stage play by Hugh Williams and Margaret (Vyner) Williams which premiered in 1956 and had a successful run in the West End. Stage actor Moray Watson played the part of Trevor the butler in the production and was the only actor from the original cast to appear in the film adaptation.

Grant initially turned down the role of Victor. Actor Rex Harrison came on board. When Harrison's wife Kay Kendall became ill, she died soon after, he had to drop out and Grant stepped in. According to Grant biographer Marc Eliot, Grant insisted the movie be shot in London so he could spend time in his home country. Deborah Kerr had been avoiding the cool English lady roles but wanted to appear again with Grant, Mitchum and Simmons. Mitchum had been in London filming The Sundowners, along with Kerr, and stuck around to make this movie.

The cast members were quite familiar with each other. In addition to The Sundowners, Mitchum and Kerr appeared together in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957). Simmons and Mitchum appeared in She Couldn't Say No (1952) and Angel Face (1953). Simmons and Kerr were in Black Narcissus (1947) and Young Bess (1953). Kerr and Grant were in Dream Wife (1953) and An Affair to Remember (1957). For Grant and Mitchum, however, this was their only film together. Off screen they were polar opposites which worked for their on screen personalities. But inevitably they clashed on set. Grant worried that Mitchum's coolness made him look uptight and Mitchum worried that Grant's dialogue heavy role made him look like a man of too few words. Which it did on both counts. Mitchum biographer Lee Server points out that Grant and Mitchum were served poorly by the material. The same could be said for Kerr and Simmons. In his interview with Stanley Donen, author Marc Eliot remarked "Donen remembers the film as a milestone of sorts, marking the end of a certain type of sophisticated British comedy, before the antic humor of Peter Sellers arrived and dominated the English cinematic 1960s.

The cast and crew were made up of some of the most talented names of the era. There was original music by Noel Coward. Simmons wardrobe was designed by Christian Dior (and Kerr's by Hardy Amies). Moray Watson struck me as familiar but I couldn't quite pinpoint him. When I looked him up I was pleased to see that he also played one of my favorite characters, the Brigadier, in the British mini-series The Darling Buds of May.





Unfortunately, The Grass is Greener was a bore. Not even the amazing cast, beautiful sets, a mid-century aesthetic I so adore and Simmons' gorgeous Dior wardrobe could have saved this for me. The allure of having not seen the movie all these years outweighed any pleasure I experienced actually watching it.  Perhaps for me the grass seemed greener on the other side when it really wasn't. The movie wasn't a complete loss though. Staring at Robert Mitchum didn't hurt (and yes I'd pick him over Cary Grant any day). Any scene with Simmons was a delight because she added much needed levity to the story. Also the duel scene was quite fun, even if it was because Grant, Mitchum and Watson wore thick-rimmed glasses, a style of the era I'm obsessed with.



The Grass is Greener (1960) is the second of eight films that I am watching for the 2018 Cinema Shame challenge. Check out my original list and stay tuned for more reviews! Special thanks to my good friend Frank who loaned me his Olive Films Blu-Ray copy of The Grass is Greener.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave me a comment! If it is a long one, make sure you save a draft of it elsewhere just in case Google gobbles it up and spits it out.

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook     Google+