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High Society Reviews

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Anthony L

Super Reviewer

March 10, 2014
High Society is a much loved classic but in all honesty, the story line is fairly awful. I'm usually the first to say, bad story = bad film, but this is one of the very few exceptions and for good reason. It's impossible not to love the introduction and epilogue given by the great Satchmo himself, Louis Armstrong, Grace Kelly's final and in my opinion, best performance as Tracy Lord and Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, singing together and representing the new vs. the old. That wonderful scene whereby Crosby acknowledges Sinatra as being the new wave of crooner is just wonderful. All that and some of the musicals best songs, including one of my favorites; "Well, Did You Evah". It's pretty hard to resist.
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

February 23, 2012
It's often the case that when 'serious' films with 'proper' stories are turned into musicals, they lose whatever substance or intelligence they had the first time round. It's an idea that can be supported by any number of musicals which have emerged in the early-21st century: musical versions of Shrek, Legally Blonde and Monty Python and the Holy Grail seem symptomatic of our culture's desperate need to recycle itself into more escapist, empty and fleeting forms.

The best thing to do at this juncture would be to pull out an effort from the 1950s, the golden age of Hollywood musicals, as an example that this trend has, at the very least, not always been the case. Unfortunately, this is not possible with High Society, one of the highest-grossing films of 1956. Charles Walters' remake of The Philadelphia Story successfully removes whatever substance or comic charm existed before. It still has some qualities of its own, but is ultimately a poor relation.

The first question is this: was a remake entirely necessary, beyond the obvious financial motivation? The remake doesn't really add anything new to the storyline, or put a new spin on the material by updating it. It doesn't even solve the central contrivance of the original, surrounding an ex-husband turning up at the wedding of his ex-wife, coinciding with the arrival of tabloid reporters. The original was notable for using this obvious plot device to get around the Hays Code, which prohibited the depiction of extra-marital affairs on screen. Without this context, High Society is exposed as a confection - there is no sensible reason for these characters to be interacting in this way.

It is possible to make a melodrama in which a woman has to choose between two or more paths in her life, symbolised by a couple of love interests. The most obvious example would be The Red Shoes, in which a ballet dancer has to choose between the artistic fulfilment of her director and the earthy compassion of her boyfriend composer. But equally you could point to the work of Douglas Sirk, particularly All That Heaven Allows, which served as the main inspiration for Todd Haynes' superb Far From Heaven ten years ago.

The big problem with High Society is that there is no subtext to anchor the central relationship. It's not that we need there to be subtext to enjoy the characters; the main theme of The Red Shoes isn't really brought to our attention until the climactic last twenty minutes. But when you have a cast of so many famous faces, we need something to believe that we aren't just watching a lot of stars enjoying themselves with no regard for the plot. There isn't the same level of contempt that is shown in The Millionairess, but the longer we spend in the company of Bing, Frank and Princess Grace, the less memorable the experience becomes.

Because the film is populated by famous people effectively playing themselves, we don't really believe in or care about any of the characters. The film quickly descends into a series of scenes of rich people either moaning, dancing, expressing regret or making fools of themselves. The natural charisma of Sinatra and Crosby, coupled with their obvious singing talent, means that we don't get quite so annoyed that we want to leave. But charm and affection in and of themselves are not enough to sustain what is already a rather frothy story. The only exception to this is the character of Caroline, Sam's younger sister played with great panache by child actor Lydia Reed. There is a real energy to her performance which is really lacking elsewhere, and she only gets 5 minutes of screen time at the beginning and end.

The lack of empathy we have for the characters is reinforced by the stagey direction. Walters began his career as a choreographer, and he does appear to be more interested in the dancing than anything else. The sets he uses on the film feature lots of big, open rooms with all the furniture spread out so that the cast can dance around them, and he relies too greatly on wide shots to capture the movement of the characters. The only close-ups we get, showing the characters' emotional shifts, are when the characters are standing still having drinks or gossiping in corners. The opening five minutes reinforce the stagey nature of the film: before the opening credits we get a fairly long overture with just a blue title card for company.

In defence of Walters, these kinds of conventions were present throughout 1950s Hollywood, and were down as much to the actors' preferences as those of the director. Many of the greatest stars of Hollywood musicals came from the stage, where performances were done 'in one take' and the show could not be stopped if any mistakes were made, lest the suspension of disbelief be broken. Gene Kelly famously insisted on restarting a dance routine from scratch whenever he made a mistake in any film he made. It may simply be that Walters was not as talented as someone like Michael Powell, either as a director or as an editor.

There are also a couple of redeeming features which prevent High Society from being entirely consigned to the dustbin of history. The musical score is pretty decent, providing a number of vaguely memorable set-pieces for the main stars. The film features Cole Porter's first film score in eight years, and a fair portion of the master's wit remains. 'What A Swell Party This Is' is a very fine duet, and a fitting way for two legends (Crosby and Sinatra) to cement their first screen appearance together. And 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?' is well-staged with inventive use of props for comic effect.

Any film which features Louis Armstrong can't be all that bad, and High Society benefits greatly from his presence. From our first encounter with his band, performing 'High Society Calypso' in the back of a bus, he lights up the screen whatever he's doing, and his jazz numbers with Crosby are very fine indeed. Armstrong and his band serve as a musical counterpart to the journalists, being vaguely impressed with the living standards of the idle rich, but also quick to roll their eyes at all their outlandishness and eccentricities.

The other redeeming factor for High Society is the odd moments of whimsy which punctuate the early stages, and which seem to have escaped from a completely different film. In one scene about 20 minutes in, Sinatra and his co-star Celeste Horn are greeted by the family for the first time. But instead of it being an awkward introduction, with Grace Kelly suppressing her fury at the tabloids covering her wedding, Sam and Caroline attempt to throw the reporters off the scent by pretending to be French. It's a really odd scene, coming across as a whimsical predecessor to the domestic mind-games of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

But although this little moment is rather fun, it hints more than ever at the central problem with High Society. Somewhere in amongst the bright colours, swirling dresses, cocktails and camera shutters, there is a smarter, weightier, more ambitious and more entertaining film trying to get out. The flaws with High Society demonstrate all the values of The Philadelphia Story as a piece of drama, showing how all the qualities of both the play and original film have been watered down and bowdlerised by Hollywood convention.

High Society is the very definition of tosh. It is riddled with flaws left, right and centre, but the flaws are not quite bad enough to get seriously annoyed about. Neither wholly bad nor perfectly passible, it is a bland, flimsy meringue of a film; without either the comic timing or cinematic quality of the original, it just sits on the screen for 111 minutes doing nothing in particular. Whatever the merits of individual scenes or songs, as a whole it really disappoints, leaving the traditionalists longing for the original and the radicals dying for the David Lynch version, otherwise known as Eraserhead.
Lewis C

Super Reviewer

October 15, 2010
"If my wonderful, beautiful, marvelous virtue is still intact, it's no thanks to me, I assure you."

High Society is an irreverent, star-studded, music infused lite-romance set amongst the idle rich of Newport, Rhode Island. Quite funny and rarely serious for long, High Society revolves around wealthy and gorgeous Samantha Lord (Grace Kelly), and the three men competing for her affection as her wedding day draws near.

Bing Crosby stars as her ex-husband, John Lund as her current fiancĂ (C), and Frank Sinatra as a visiting reporter come to cover her wedding for a gossip rag. Most of the entertainment from the film comes from Sam bouncing around between the three men, as she goes from a frosty goddess to a warm, fun woman truly ready to marry. I'm sure her behavior in the movie seemed a bit risquĂ (C) at the time, but it's all ultimatly innocent in the end. And of course by the finale, (almost) everyone is happy.

There are quite a few songs sprinkled throughout the movie, with Crosby, Sinatra, Kelly, and Celeste Holm all getting a chance to belt out a tune or two. Louis Armstrong serves as something of an on-screen narrator, and also plays occasionally with his band. The songs are pleasant, with more than one or two likely to have you humming along.

Grace Kelly fans will be quite pleased with this, as she rarely looked more stunningly beautiful and gets to show off both her comedic skills and singing talents. She's quite funny, here, and carries a large share of the comedic burden as the movie goes on. Her chemistry with all the other leads is solid, and she carries off Samantha's mini-transformation quite well. Basically, if you weren't a fan of hers before seeing this, I'd be pretty amazed if you weren't smitten with her by the time the credits roll. This was her last role before leaving Hollywood for Monaco, and she definitely went out on a high note (pun not intended).

High Society is a charming, fun movie that should appeal to fans of classic films, musicals, or any of the cast. It's hard not to smile as you watch it, but why would you want to avoid it, anyway?
Jeremy S

Super Reviewer

March 28, 2006
Grace Kelly, Bing Cosby, Frank Sinatra, What a cast, not to mention great music, ie, It's in the stars next July we collide with Mars.
Mr Awesome
Mr Awesome

Super Reviewer

March 6, 2010
High Society is a pointless re-make of the Philadelphia Story, with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart roles, and Grace Kelly doing her best Katherine Hepburn imitation . As this is a semi-musical (there are some songs and they seem loosely based upon things happening in the plot of the movie), most of the highlights revolve around the appearance of Louie Armstrong and his band (this in spite of the fact that the songs just aren't very good). What's especially bad are the lackluster performances by Sinatra and Crosby (Sinatra in particular, delivers some laughably bad scenes). There are dozens of musicals more deserving of attention, watch them instead.
jjnxn
jjnxn

Super Reviewer

September 20, 2007
Not quite as good as the Philadelphia Story but on its own terms very enjoyable and a fitting end to Grace Kelly's film career.
Jennifer X

Super Reviewer

September 10, 2007
A light, frothy piece of fun. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is so going on my iPod.
garyX
garyX

Super Reviewer

May 31, 2007
It's a classic musical, but it's still a musical. Give me Philadelphia Story EVERY time.
Michael G

Super Reviewer

November 20, 2006
Muscials by and large piss me off, but remake of The Philadelphia Story is great. Plus Louie Armstrong is in it.
Laura C

Super Reviewer

April 10, 2010
First off I am not a huge fan of "The Philadelphia Story" despite the great cast and solid story. Maybe it's blasphemy to say it but Katherine Hepburn irritated the crap out of me, I found Grant's performance to be lifeless but was however thoroughly charmed by Jimmy Stewart (as always) and quite liked his partner in crime Ruth Hussey.
So watching this musical lite remake wasn't exactly a priority but when it came on tv I felt like I had nothing to lose as the original wasn't especially meaningful to me.
I am glad I gave it a chance, i quite liked it. I thought Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and especially Celeste Holm were well cast. The title of the film is far better than the original. I also appreciated how the film walked a fine balance of addressing a few social issues such as asking if being rich makes you inherently immoral and the role a society wife or daughter plays (is their life meaningful?) while remaining lighthearted.
While I am not a huge fan of musicals I enjoyed the music and was glad the numbers were few and far between, just the way I like it.
Sunil J

Super Reviewer

June 7, 2008
Boo. A remake of the Philidelphia story that's pretty blah and lacking in originality.
May 5, 2013
A musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. Despite the identical plot and musically inclined cast, the magic of Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant are lost. It is still an enjoyable musical, but not the classic its predecessor was.

Grade: B
October 29, 2012
I've heard the party song in this soo many times I was so excited to hear/see it in it's original context!!!
TonyPolito
May 22, 2010
A 1956 romantic musical romp at the apex of its genre. Bing Crosby and

Frank Sinatra's on deck a-croonin' away and Grace Kelly's delivering her loveliness and enchantment while she lounges against poolsides, sailboat decks and highbrow cocktail parties - all in Technicolor / VistaVision treatment.

Plus there's dreamy costuming, bookends/cameos delivered up by Louie Armstrong and a Cole Porter score (that debuted "True Love," "Well, Did You Evah" & "Mind if I Make Love to You?").

On the off-chance a viewer would even care about the libretto that frames all this talent, it's a love triangle, where Crosby's the prodigal ex-spouse. Place your bet before the window closes, then enjoy the lyrical trot around the track - which happens to be the mansions and waters of Newport, Rhode Island. Naturally, it's neck-and-neck right down to the photo-finish.

"High Society" is a re-tooling of the 1940 Cary Grant / Katherine Hepburn / Jimmy Stewart Oscar-laden film "The Philadelphia Story," which was, in turn, sourced from the earlier Broadway show. The dialogue's not quite as snappy as within Hepburn's vehicle.

RECOMMENDATION: "High Society" is a superior sojourn through mid-Century nostalgia. Check it out.
August 30, 2009
the idea of remaking a classic like The Philadelphia Story and adding a bunch of songs doesn't sound like a movie i would like at all. but i love the cast - bing crosby and frank sinatra are always entertaining to me and grace kelly is as delicious as ever in this flick. add in louis armstrong and some humorous dialogue and i quite enjoyed it despite the musical elements being a little hit-or-miss for me.
bballgirl1334
July 13, 2009
I knew it was gonna be like the philladelphia story but i didnt think it would be that close and at parts there was to much singing for me but it still like it.
jam233
June 14, 2009
This musical can't compare to the movie it is a remake of - The Philadelphia Story, but with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby in the cast, it can't be too bad. I think if they left out the musical numbers it would have been better, but it is a good score. Professional production great costumes and art direction.
February 6, 2009
Well, it's identical to The Philadelphia Story only with different players and musical numbers. So I knew how it would go/end/etc. Not bad though.
narniangirl2006
February 6, 2009
This movie is great cause it has Frank Sinatra AND Bing Crosby in the same movie!!!! i love the musicals, but this one would prolly beatht tehm all. the part where Frank and Bing are drunk and singging together, its priceless.
Living4real
December 18, 2008
I love this movie if only for the music. The cool thing about this one is that the musical numbers are tied into the movie script. L. Armstrong plays a few and gives commentary on how things are shaping up. The cast is a delight and so is the zany antic that get involved. A definite movie to see one evening.
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