AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Swan
Director: Charles Vidor (Dir)
Release Date:   27 Apr 1956
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 18 Apr 1956; New York opening: 26 Apr 1956
Production Date:   late Sep--mid-Dec 1955
Duration (in mins):   107-108
Duration (in feet):   9,710
Duration (in reels):   13
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Cast:   Grace Kelly (Princess Alexandra)  
    Alec Guinness (Prince Albert)  
    Louis Jourdan (Dr. Nicholas Agi)  
    Agnes Moorehead (Queen Maria Dominika)  
    Jessie Royce Landis (Princess Beatrix)  
    Brian Aherne (Father [Carl] Hyacinth)  
    Leo G. Carroll (Caesar)  
    Estelle Winwood (Symphorosa)  
    Van Dyke Parks (George)  
    Christopher Cook (Arsene)  
    Robert Coote (Capt. Wunderlich)  
    Doris Lloyd (Countess Sibenstoyn)  
    Edith Barrett (Beatrix's maid [Elsa])  
    Jenifer Raine (Alexandra's maid, Lisa)  
    Arthur Lovejoy (Albert's valet)  
    Paul Gillis (Wagon driver)  
    Stan Fraser (Footman)  
    John Sheffield (Footman)  
    Michael Ferris (Footman)  
    Mac Douglas (Footman)  
    Gene Coogan (Footman)  
    Raoul Freeman (Butler)  
    Ottola Nesmith (Housekeeper)  
    Leslie Denison (Head groom)  
    David Thursby (Head gardener)  
    Virgil Sturgill (Monk)  
    Harry Joe Canutt (Mounted Hussar)  
    Jean Heremans (Officer)  
    Donald Remer (Coachman)  
    Dawn Richards (Guest)  
    Virgil Sturgill (Monk)  
    Lou Smith (Ball attendee)  
    Edith Motridge (Ball attendee)  
    Don Anderson (Ball attendee)  
    Brig. Gen. Hayne Davis Boyden    

Summary: In the town of Kissmiskolcz in Central Europe during 1910, Princess Beatrix heads a family of exiled royals desperate to return to the good graces of the current ruling family, led by Queen Maria Dominika. Dominika’s son, bachelor Prince Albert, has recently completed his tour of Europe’s eligible young ladies and now telegrams that he is coming to Kissmiskolcz, propelling Beatrix into a frenzy of activity as she tries to ensure that he fall in love with—and marry—her daughter Alexandra. After summoning her brother Carl, now a monk named Father Hyacinth, Beatrix, with her aunt Symphorosa, orders tutor Prof. Nicholas Agi to keep her sons George and Arsene out of sight and lectures Alexandra on the myriad ways to gain Albert’s affections. Alexandra relieves her nervousness by fencing with Nicholas, who, nonplussed by the girl’s cold manner, teaches her the arts of feinting. The whole household bustles to ready the estate for the prince’s arrival, but when Albert comes, he retires straight to the bedroom and sleeps through two lavishly prepared meals. The family waits impatiently for his entrance, and finally Albert joins them in the salon, where Beatrix hurries everyone out so Albert and Alexandra can be alone. Alexandra, whom her late father nicknamed “The Swan” for her cool beauty and pride, cannot warm up to the frivolous, sophisticated prince, and their stilted interaction ends after she flinches when he touches her hand. Unwilling to accept defeat, Beatrix arranges Albert’s schedule over the next few days to include as much exposure as possible to Alexandra, but Albert prefers playing ball with Nicholas and the boys, and with the help of his aide, Capt. Wunderlich, eludes Beatrix and Alexandra. Despite her daughter’s chagrin, Beatrix remains determined to ensnare Albert, and so before the ball planned for his last evening, commands Alexandra to invite Nicholas as her guest, hoping this will pique Albert’s interest and jealousy. Although both women feel that Nicholas is beneath them, when Alexandra worries about stooping to such humiliating tactics, Beatrix assures her that she attracted Alexandra’s father in a similar manner and that Nicholas is “nearly as much one of God’s creatures” as are they. The ball commences with a great deal of pomp, but when dancing begins, Albert first asks Beatrix to join him, then retreats to play bass with the musicians. Hurt, Alexandra agrees to dance with Nicholas, and as he twirls her expertly around the dance floor, his deep regard for her begins to melt her reserve. When she spots Albert with the band, however, Alexandra, mortified, races out of the ballroom and borrows a carriage. Nicholas runs after her and accompanies her to a nearby lake, where he showers her with heartfelt adulation, likening her to a mirage that is too beautiful to describe. The sheltered princess is overwhelmed by the young man’s ardor and insists they return to the estate, where Albert has, as hoped, become intrigued by the couple’s absence, and is hiding in a salon so he can drink brandy. Outside, Nicholas pledges his love to Alexandra and asks why she is no longer curt and officious toward him, and she sadly reveals the truth behind his invitation to the ball. Although she begs for his forgiveness, Nicholas is incensed and cannot accept her apology. Alexandra runs inside, only to find herself in the salon with Albert, followed by Nicholas. Nicholas’ anger causes him to lash out at Albert, who is at first delighted to see both the tutor and the princess agitated and passionate, for once. While Nicholas trades barbed quips with Albert about each other’s social standing, he also downs his first-ever glasses of wine, and Alexandra follows suit. Beatrix, Carl and Symphorosa join them and listen in horror, causing Beatrix to swoon and insist that Albert take her upstairs. Carl lightly chastises Nicholas, who, unable to contain his anger, leaves to confront Albert. Alexandra cries in Carl’s arms, but when he asks her how she likes the turn of events, she replies, still weeping, “I like it very much,” and admits her attraction to Nicholas. After calling Nicholas back, Carl leaves the two alone, and the tutor soon coaxes a kiss from Alexandra. Just then, Albert re-enters and reproaches Nicholas for his impertinence, calling him an “insolent upstart.” When Alexandra sees that Nicholas is about to respond in anger, thus putting himself in danger, she stops him with a kiss. Although Albert, realizing where Alexandra’s affections lie, apologizes, Nicholas misinterprets the kiss as one of pity, and stalks out. The next day, Dominika arrives at the estate and sweeps regally into Beatrix’s room, where Beatrix is hiding under the covers, fearful of the queen learning that her son was thrown over for a tutor. Albert expertly manipulates his mother, however, soon convincing her that true love deserves applause and that Nicholas should go unpunished. Meanwhile, Alexandra sneaks into Nicholas’ room and, seeing him packed to leave, asks to go with him. Distrustful, Nicholas declares that she cannot leave the shelter of her family and was mistaken in her attraction to him. Carl finds the two and, approving of Nicholas’ decision, brings them to Albert, who privately encourages them to reconcile, despite his emerging feelings for Alexandra and the probable family retribution. Nicholas refuses, however, and leaves the estate. While Alexandra watches his carriage ride off, Albert gently reminds her that, as The Swan, she is perfection while gliding on a lake but awkward once onshore, where the rest of the world dwells. Realizing she must remain silent, majestic and unable to fly, Alexandra turns solemnly to Albert and asks him to take her in to meet the queen, her future mother-in-law. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Charles Vidor (Dir)
  Ridgeway Callow (Asst dir)
  Bob Relyea (Asst dir)
  Herb Hirst (Asst dir)
Producer: Dore Schary (Prod)
Writer: John Dighton (Scr)
Photography: Joseph Ruttenberg (Dir of photog)
  Robert Surtees (Dir of photog)
  Jack Swain (Cam)
  Ned Belford (Cam)
  John Pasternak (Cam)
  Hubert Jansen (Cam)
  Eric Carpenter (Cam)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Randall Duell (Art dir)
Film Editor: John Dunning (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Henry Grace (Set dec)
Costumes: Helen Rose (Women's cost)
Music: Bronislau Kaper (Mus)
Sound: Dr. Wesley C. Miller (Rec supv)
  Jim Brock (Sd)
Make Up: Sydney Guilaroff (Hair styles)
  William Tuttle (Makeup created by)
Production Misc: Jay Marchant (Unit mgr)
  Count Carl Lonyay (Tech adv)
  Darryl Hollenbeck (Scr supv)
  Jean Heremans (Fencing instructor)
Color Personnel: Charles K. Hagedon (Col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the play Á Hattyú Vigjatek Három Felvonasbarn (The Swan) by Ferenc Molnár (Budapest, 1914), and the play The Swan , translated and adapted by Melville C. Baker (New York, 23 Oct 1923).
Authors: Ferenc Molnár
  Melville C. Baker

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 26/3/1956 dd/mm/yyyy LP6238 Yes

PCA NO: 17860
Physical Properties: Sd: Perspecta Sound; Westrex Recording System
  col: Eastman Color
  Widescreen/ratio: CinemaScope

Genre: Comedy-drama
Subjects (Major): Class distinction
  Family relationships
Subjects (Minor): Bachelors
  Balls (Parties)
  Carriages and carts
  False accusations
  Fencing and fencers
  Tutors and tutoring

Note: According to a Jul 1955 HR news items, Rex Harrison was originally set to star in The Swan as “Prince Albert,” contingent upon his being able to leave the theater production of Bell, Book and Candle six weeks early. In Aug 1955, HR announced that Joseph Cotten had been offered the role. The film marked Alec Guinness' first feature to be shot in America.
       The film was based on Ferenc Molnár’s 1914 Hungarian play that had been produced several times on Broadway under its English-language title of The Swan . The first Broadway production of the play was staged on 23 Oct 1923. Grace Kelly had appeared in the CBS television production of The Swan on 9 Jun 1950. The picture was shot mostly on location in North Carolina, at the 1895 Biltmore Estate of George W. Vanderbilt in Asheville and at Lake Junaluska. Press materials note that an authentic 1888 locomotive, named the A. J. Cromwell , was shipped in from Baltimore, MD for the scene in which Albert arrives. Some interiors were shot at the M-G-M studio. The picture’s fictional village was named Kissmiskolcz, after director Charles Vidor’s Hungarian birthplace. As noted in a Jun-Jul 1956 Films in Review news item, director of photography Joseph Ruttenberg shot all the location scenes in North Carolina. After a few weeks of work back at the studio, however, he fell ill, after which Robert Surtees took over all the interior scenes. According to a modern source, Bess Flowers appeared in the film as a ball attendee, and Angela Blue served as the picture’s choreographer.
       As confirmed in modern sources, Kelly met Prince Rainier Grimaldi of Monaco at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. The two corresponded for months, during which M-G-M, hoping to capitalize on their romance, offered Kelly the role of “Princess Alexandra.” As soon as production wrapped on The Swan in Dec 1955, Rainier visited Kelly at her family home in Philadelphia, and they announced their engagement on 5 Jan 1956. The studio held the release of The Swan to correspond with Kelly’s wedding day, on 18 Apr 1956. As noted in a modern source, “Any resemblance between MGM’s Ruritanian romance and the much publicized real-life fairy-tale marriage was anything but coincidental, despite the studio’s ludicrous token denial.” Kelly made only one more feature film, M-G-M’s High Society (see above), which was shot prior to her marriage. Prince Rainier and his subjects disapproved of their princess being involved in filmmaking. Kelly’s marriage was, according to some biographical sources, an unhappy one. After three children and a lifetime of charity work, she died on 13 Sep 1982 in a car accident, at the age of fifty-two.
       The reviews were unanimously favorable toward The Swan , and Kelly in particular. The HR critic stated, “She will be the girl who stood right on the threshold of becoming the next Garbo.” The LAT reviewer commented, “If by any chance The Swan should be Grace Kelly’s final picture, then this remarkably successful star will have attained a lustrous culmination to her movie career.”
       The Molnár play had previously been filmed in 1925 by Famous Players-Lasky, directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki and starring Frances Howard and Adolphe Menjou; and in 1930 by United Artists under the title One Romantic Night , directed by Paul L. Stein and starring Lillian Gish and Rod La Rocque (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Jan 56   pp. 24-5, 45-6.
Box Office   14 Apr 1956.   
Box Office   21 Apr 1956.   
Daily Variety   11 Apr 56   p. 3.
Film Daily   11 Apr 56   p. 10.
Films in Review   Jun-Jul 1956.   
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jul 1955   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Aug 1955   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Sep 1955   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Sep 1955   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Sep 1955   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Oct 1955   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Dec 1955   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Mar 1956   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Apr 56   p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner   11 Dec 1955.   
Los Angeles Times   8 Apr 1956   part IV, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times   19 Apr 1956.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   14 Apr 56   p. 857.
New York Times   27 Apr 56   p. 21.
Variety   11 Apr 56   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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