Sunday, September 23, 2012
High Society (1956)
I approached High Society with some trepidation. It was a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, one of my least favourite classic Hollywood movies. Despite this I managed to enjoy it quite a bit. Made at MGM in 1956 it follows its model quite closely with even the characters’ names being unchanged. Charles Walters directed. Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly) had been married to C. K. Dexter-Haven (Bing Crosby). Now she’s getting remarried to the dull but respectable George Kittredge (John Lund). Dexter-Haven isn’t too happy about this since he’s still in love with Tracy. Tracy is, to put it charitably, a very strong-willed young woman. To put it less charitably she’s a control freak and a snob. She is appalled by the prospect of having press covering the wedding but she is blackmailed into allowing reporter Macauley “Mike” Connor (Frank Sinatra) and photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Celeste Holm) to do an exclusive feature on the wedding. They work for Spy magazine and the magazine threatens to do a story on her father’s affair with a showgirl if they don’t get the exclusive. Dexter-Haven is not exactly respectable, at least not in Tracy’s eyes. He’s a jazz fan and he’s organising a jazz festival. He’s allowed Louis Armstrong and his band to use the house for rehearsal. Satchmo offers some musical encouragement to Dexter’s plans to win Tracy back. Meanwhile Mike Connor has become somewhat smitten by Tracy as well. A big selling point for this movie was that it was the first time the era’s most popular singers, Crosby and Sinatra, had appeared in a film together. Both were not only huge singing stars but major movie stars as well, both having picked up Oscars for their acting. The casting of these two stars works quite well. Bing Crosby is no Cary Grant but he’s personable and amusing. Sinatra takes the James Stewart role from The Philadelphia Story and he handles this light comedy role fairly adeptly. It’s Grace Kelly who dominates the movie though. Making Tracy likeable in spite of her flaws isn’t easy but she rises to the challenge superbly. This was to be her last movie performance and it’s one of her best. Cole Porter provided the music. The songs are a little uneven but they do include several great tunes including Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and Well, Did You Evah? (a duet between Crosby and Sinatra which is arguably the highlight of the movie) as well as True Love which became a major hit. My idea of a great musical is that it should contain spectacular musical production numbers and lots of dancing (the Fred and Ginger and Busby Berkeley musicals of the 30s are my touchstones for musical magic). High Society lacks both these attributes. Although it was shot in Technicolor it could just as easily have been made in black-and-white. Don’t expect too many laugh-out-loud moments. The movie is mildly amusing at best, but then the same can be said (in my opinion) for The Philadelphia Story. I wouldn’t rate this one as a great musical but if provides a reasonable mix of romance, mild humour and music, with the music occasionally being very good indeed. Worth seeing for Grace Kelly’s spirited performance. Warner Home Video’s Region 4 DVD offers a pretty reasonable transfer and a few extras including a brief documentary.