The Hitchcock blonde has become a part of popular culture, a creature with varying shades of blonde hair, from honey to ice to strawberry, who embodies beauty, mystery, seduction and at times, danger. The actress, however, who seemed to entirely realise Hitchcock’s vision of the perfect leading lady for his films, was Grace Kelly.
The pair would make three iconic films together: Dial M For Murder, Rear Window and To Catch A Thief. In all three, Grace would play sophisticated, beautiful women. Above all, they were women who were entirely memorable, and seemed intent on their own course in life, although this would be most clear through the character of Lisa Freemont in Rear Window.
Grace Kelly is now considered, like Audrey Hepburn, to be one of the most fashionable and influential actresses to ever live. And this is largely due to her portrayals of these characters in Hitchcock’s films. In Dial M For Murder she wears an incredibly stylish red dress, blood red, with lace detailing. The colour portrays her not only as a woman who flouts social convention with her extra marital affair, “a scarlet woman”, but also the colour of danger. From the moment she is introduced in the film, it becomes clear that she will be the victim of much danger thanks to her psychopathic husband, played by Ray Milland.
Her character is the fulcrum upon which the plot rests. It is the planning of her murder that is the initial drive of the story, and then when this does not work out, all of the audience’s sympathies are with her when she in turn is accused of murder. The suspense of the film entirely rests on whether or not her husband will get away with his crime, and she will be convicted of one she did not intentionally commit.
When you watch Mogambo and Dial M For Murder in sequence, you realise how differently Hitchcock directs Grace from John Ford. In Mogambo, she is largely sexless. A very young woman who spends most of her time fainting into Gable’s arms and stuttering her lines out indignantly every time Ava Gardner suggests the “s” word. In Dial M For Murder, her character is far more layered. She is also an object of desire. A woman unafraid of sexual desire and sex. The elegance which would develop further in her two subsequent films with the master of suspense, is apparent in Dial M For Murder.
Rear Window is supposed to be Jimmy Stewart’s movie, and he does give one of the best performances of his career. But it is Grace as Lisa Freemont who is really associated with the film, and upon the film’s release, much of the praise was directed at her performance. Variety wrote about the naturalness of her performance, and her stunning chemistry with her leading man. In this film she would be dressed by the legendary Edith Head, and Hitchcock would describe Lisa as a woman who “never wore the same dress twice” 
Marie Claire ranked Grace’s dress in the film as one of her 10 Most Beautiful On-Screen Outfits, and said
this sensational monochrome evening gown was created by iconic costume designer Edith Head, who often collaborated with the famed director. The low-cut, off the shoulder neckline, full tulle and chiffon skirt, embellished floral pattern and cinched-in waist on this spectacular dress make for an oft-imitated style that is enduringly chic.
She makes her iconic entrance in the film in this dress, saying “From top to bottom: Lisa Carol Freemont”, after kissing a sleeping Stewart on the mouth and whilst switching three lamps on one by one. She pauses for a moment so you can see the full splendour of the swinging skirt and fitted bodice. Before this, the camera has focused on her stunning face as it moves towards Stewart, and then focuses on her flawless profile as she kisses him, and delivers a series of witty lines.
This role would entirely differ from the ones she had played before. Lisa is an entirely independent woman, reliant on no man. Although she wants to marry Stewart’s character, it isn’t the be all and end all of her desires, and she makes it quite clear that she decidedly has a mind of her own. It is her who risks life and limb in one of the most charged scenes of the film, which involves her climbing up to murderer Raymond Burr’s apartment, to search for evidence of his having committed uxoricide.
Lisa is the embodiment of the changing roles of woman in society as the twentieth century progressed. She is clever, brave and adventurous. She does what Stewart cannot do throughout the film, essentially meaning that the two of them swap traditional gender roles, with the man being impotent and the woman active. Some critics have claimed that Stewart’s inability to move throughout the film shows his feelings of being trapped by societal expectations of manliness and marriage. This may well be true, but Lisa never really pushes the issue of marriage to a claustrophobic point. But it does raise issues of gender based social norms.
Grace and Hitchcock’s final project together would be To Catch A Thief. Cary Grant, who played Grace’s leading man in the film, would later say of his costar
In this film, Grace would once again play the luxuriously dressed, feisty woman of independent means. She would drive her car fast and fall in love with Grant’s character even faster. Edith Head would say that Hitchcock instructed her to dress Grace like a princess in the famous ball scene, not knowing that Grace would later become an actual princess.
Three of the outfits that Head designed for Grace in the film also appear on Marie Claire’s list of Grace’s 10 Most Beautiful On-Screen Outfits. The pale blue chiffon dress she wears when kissing Grant for the first time, the “white, strapless, column dress” with the diamond cocktail necklace that acts as an important part of the film’s action, as well as a stunning accent for such a simple but elegant dress. Finally the buttercup yellow swimsuit she wears with matching headscarf, and a pair of cat eye shaped white sunglasses that hide her expressive eyes as she sees Grant on the beach for the first time. The outfits that Grace wears in the film once again show that she is a figure of high fashion, extremely modern and the epitome of the society woman.
In one scene of the film, she attempts to use her jewels and other assets to seduce Grant’s cat thief. Hitchcock lights them in sparks from fireworks outside, Grace’s skin is bathed in greens, blues and purples as she leans forward, eyes half lidded. As she and Grant kiss, fireworks sizzles and burst into fantastic patterns. The work of the seductress is complete, even if she has tried to tempt the famous thief with paste jewellery, he is still enamoured by her, because as she boldly states, she is the real thing.
Through Hitchcock’s lens, Grace becomes the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world. When you watch the films they made together, it isn’t surprising that Grace would ascend to the highest echelon of society, that of royalty. In every scene she is the epitome of style and poise. Hitchcock, to use a clichéd phrase, makes love to his muse with every shot and camera angle. Throughout all three films she portrays the shifts of character that are conveyed through dialogue, body language and fashion. She is no hollow thing, but something very real, as her character states in To Catch A Thief.
Out of all the actresses Hitchcock would work with, Grace would be the one who understood him most. While many found him to be abrupt and short, Grace found this side of his personality to be amusing, and she often took little notice of his exacting nature, and met his demands with what is, in my opinion, her best work.
This is my contribution for The 5th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by Flapper Dame, Musings of A Classic Film Addict and The Wonderful World of Cinema. Please visit this delightful trios blogs to learn more information and to read the articles celebrating this goddess of the silver screen for her what would have been her 90th birthday!