Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A look back at Stewart Granger

“I haven't aged into a character actor. I'm still an old leading man.”

“I was a good costume actor, but I shortened my career because I made the wrong choices.”

“I've never done a film I'm proud of.”

-Stewart Granger on his career.

Stewart Granger is not an actor that many people write about. I don't remember hearing anyone outside my family talk about his films, or even mention Granger's existence. And it is not because of ignorance. I tend to think of it as more of Granger's clever trick he pulled for his own amusement. He couldn't stand the culture of Hollywood and its movie stars, so its not surprising that Stewart Granger, a man who changed his name from James Stewart, so as not to be confused with the legendary actor - has sort of disappeared.

He once had a six month affair with Deborah Kerr – both onscreen and off. The two actors remained friends long after the affair ended, and for the rest of their lives. They both starred in at least three films together – King Solomon's Mines, Young Bess, and The Prisoner of Zenda. Stewart Granger had a habit of starting relationships with his co-stars and met his second wife Jean Simmons on the set of Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945 when Simmons was 16 years old. They married five years later and in total starred in four films together – Caesar and Cleopatra, Adam and Evelyn, Young Bess, and Footsteps in the Fog. Young Bess stands out mostly because Stewart Granger, his wife Jean Simmons, and Deborah Kerr all starred in the film, though based on Granger's autobiography Sparks Fly Upward, the Kerr affair had only gone on while he had been married to his first wife.

I think the film of Stewart Granger's I love most is The Prisoner of Zenda featuring Deborah Kerr as what else – his love interest. The 1952 film is a remake of the 1937 adaptation of the same name. It is an adventure film about a king who is kidnapped just before his coronation and an Englishman, who resembles the kidnapped king, and becomes a decoy to protect the throne. The only difference between the original and the remake is that the 1952 version with Stewart Granger is in technicolor, because, who can afford to miss Deborah's glorious red hair? Other than that, the remake is shot for shot, line for line the exact same film.

It would be easy for some to assume that I like the remake better (movie heresy, I know) because I saw it first, thus reversing the order of the films in my mind. Perhaps. But I'd like to think Granger's Prisoner of Zenda is better because of Granger himself. Granger plays both Rudolf Rassendyll and King Rudolph V to perfection. As Rassendyll he is the typical leading man – handsome, dashing, noble, and damn good with a sword. As an actor who did most of his own stunt work, the only other actor able to outdo Granger with a sword and a smile, was Erroll Flynn. As King Rudolph he is arrogant, immature, weak – a complete coward. I find his take on King Rudolph not necessarily nearly as stylish as the noble Rassendyll, but rather, a much more interesting part for Granger to have played. The king made for a worthless royal who not only refuses to live up to the audience's standards, but couldn't possibly have lived up to Granger's. Despite the fact that Granger rarely played pathetic drunks, he plays the part of the king flawlessly.

I've always loved The Prisoner of Zenda, and it is a film that is typical of its time. An impossibly good gentleman does something heroic and while doing so falls in love with an equally impossibly good and noble princess. Somehow they manage to sandwich in a bit of palace intrigue and sword fights. I haven't been able to find the 1952 version of the film on DVD without having to get the 1937 version along with it. So, 1937 purists and 1952 fans can bicker over which is better with one box set of both.

Related Posts by Categories

Widget by Hoctro | Jack Book

No comments:

Post a Comment