HIGH SOCIETY (1956) 

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Bing Crosby
Grace Kelly
Frank Sinatra
Celeste Holm
John Lund
Louis Calhern
Sidney Blackmer
Louis Armstrong
Margalo Gillmore
Lydia Reed

Charles Walters




About Kelly

Time: 107 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Musical/Romance/Comedy

Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score and Best Song.

Being a big fan of Grace Kelly and an even bigger fan of the material on which this film was based, I was very excited to see a musical version of one of my all-time favorite movies, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Instead of starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, this version gives us the stunning Kelly and the virtuoso pipes of Crosby and Sinatra as two of the men who vie for her love. Though updated, HIGH SOCIETY basically follows the original word for word, which should in itself make this extremely watchable. However, I just wasn't impressed and it's not just because I know what's going to happen. I revel in it when done by Grant and Hepburn. There's a spark between them that can't be denied, where you just know they belong together despite all the acidic barbs thrown into each other's face. Here the witty dialogue and wacky moments just lie there, spoken only to get to the next scene or song. There is practically no chemistry between Crosby and Kelly, who appear to only love one another because the script forces them to. Kelly is so uptight and bitchy, she projects none of the carefree abandon that is yearning under the surface of Hepburn's Tracy Lord. Of course, she does have better clothes, so that's something I guess.

The film opens with Dexter's (Crosby) return to Newport on the eve of his ex-wife's upcoming nuptials. Tracy (Kelly) is appalled by his presence and begs him to leave. She loves George (Lund) and there's nothing Dex can do to stop her from marrying him the next morning. Besides, she has bigger problems to deal with. Mainly, her father's blatant affair with a dancer which is going to be published for the whole world to see if she does not agree to let the tabloid write a story about her wedding. The reporter and photographer, Mike O'Conner (Sinatra) and Liz Imbrie (Holm), know nothing about the blackmail, which makes the families attitude towards them difficult to understand. However, they think maybe this is how the rich really act. Having to work for a living this is a whole new world to them. As much as she tries, Dexter seems to be constantly underfoot, which drives Tracy mad though she pretends it doesn't bother her. Despite her best efforts, she actually begins to enjoy the company of Mike and Liz. Since they have no preconceptions about her, she can be herself. It's tiring to always be perfect. Mike even begins to fall for this strange beauty, though Tracy is careful not to cross any lines.

That is until she drinks too much champagne at her bachelorette party, a grand affair at her Uncle Willy's mansion. George things she's drunk and should go home. Tracy, stressed to the max by the pressures surrounding her, feels that the night has just begun. She convinces Mike, who shares a similar opinion and is totally infatuated with her, to return to her parents home for more drinks and dancing. A quick swim brings their party to an early close when the water knocks Tracy out cold. Dexter, who's never far behind encounters the couple on their way into the house, as does George who wanted to know where Tracy disappeared to. It doesn't look good. George is appalled with the whole situation and tries to take his anger out on Mike, but Dexter beats him to the punch. The next morning, Tracy is all dressed up with nowhere to go. She doesn't remember what happened, but believes she wasn't the dutiful fiancee she should have been. What she wants from George is understanding. What she gets is disgust. He wants a perfect wife who will behave herself and that isn't Tracy. In the end, she marries the man who revels in her imperfections. Take a guess who that is.

"My dear boy, this is the sort of day history tells us is better spent in bed."

I know it's not really fair to compare the two movies, but if you're going to film a remake of a classic you'd better make it different enough to stand on its own. Just adding songs and changing the faces isn't enough. I'm sure they thought this would be the perfect way to get these three stars onscreen together and initially I'd have to agree. This story gives Kelly the chance to flirt with both men while rediscovering her one true love and her imperfect nature. What saddens me is this role turns her into the cold blond goddess she managed to avoid for most of her short career. Sure she may look that way, but in most of her films her intelligence, passion and vulnerability shine through. Here, she never looses that icy reserve, even when her dialogue and actions are supposed to show differently. There's no fire behind those eyes, no matter how much she tries to light it. Hepburn finds strength, redemption and acceptance from her foibles, willing to start anew under her own steam with her eyes open. She doesn't need a man to be happy, but is thrilled when Dexter gives her another chance to prove what a great wife she can be. Kelly just seems resigned to her fate, glad that Dexter decided to rescue her from her clearly unfit behavior and a boring future. It's funny how much sexual tension Kelly has with both Stewart and Grant in earlier pictures and how little with either of the men here. Maybe she was too involved with her upcoming nuptials to Prince Rainier to put much effort into her acting.

I have to admit that this is the first film with Crosby that I've see all the way through. I was not impressed. He's going through the motions of being charming without any of the effort, relying on his voice to get him through. His Dexter seems to only want Tracy because she's the prettiest girl in the movie, not because she's a kindred spirit. He may be a great singer, but his acting leaves much to be desired. Sinatra, who I enjoy more as a performer, manages to give his character a little pizazz, but none of the indignation or intelligence that Stewart gave the role. Celeste Holm was horribly miscast as Liz, Sinatra's eventual love interest. She's far too innately intelligent and classy for a lug like him. The music is wonderful with songs composed by Cole Porter and played by Louis Armstrong. However, they really don't add anything to the story and really slow down the pace of the film. The dialogue makes this a screwball comedy, needing a certain timing to be funny and effective. By altering that, the film just seems tiresome and dim-witted. If you're a fan of any of the leads, you'll probably enjoy this outing...as long as you haven't seen the original. They do a decent job, but it just doesn't compare to the triumvirate of Grant, Hepburn and Stewart. If you haven't seen either, do yourself a favor and watch THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. That's how romantic comedies are supposed to be made.

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