The first thing we hear in High Society is tuneful jazz, its voicing helmed by the toothy Louis Armstrong, who sings with a flashy grin and a smoky baritone. He is the prologue to the film, catching us up to date - playboy C.K. Dexter Haven has just been divorced by Tracy Lord, a stunningly gorgeous socialite who is about to marry a square, George Kittredge.
As soon as we're introduced to Haven, we instantly like him. He carries a self-confident, slightly smug demeanor on his back that tells us that he is ready to poke fun at the upper class in which he is surrounded by - it doesn't hurt that he is portrayed by Bing Crosby, who we know will sing at some point in the film, who we know will use his easy charisma to win back Tracy.
But Tracy is in a different zone from her ex-husband. In her first scene, she is surrounded by wedding gifts, not feeling a bit guilty that they are from her first, complicated, and quite brief marriage. Tracy is unable to grasp the fact that, because she is getting married again so soon, it makes her appear like an airhead who doesn't have enough love in her heart to sustain it.
Her caramel-tinged blonde beauty and slightly Anglo voice makes her a sophisticated minx that carries the sexiness of a goddess - but underneath her unearthly good looks, we know that she cannot be contained. While she likes the idea of Kittredge, she knows deep down that she is still in love with Haven, who toots her horn wherever she goes.
There are times where she doesn't seem to fit into the bourgeois way of life, a polar opposite of the woman who portrays her, the incomparable Grace Kelly, who left Hollywood once the film was finished to marry the Prince of Monaco.
A remake of 1940's The Philadelphia Story, High Society could have collapsed under the weight of the flawlessness set by its source, but by changing it into a musical romantic comedy, with an entirely new set of charming stars, it stands completely on its own. It changes skepticism into adoration.
At first, we can't help but make comparisons. Does Kelly have the comedic timing set so perfectly by Katharine Hepburn? Does Crosby match Cary Grant's sly façade? Do Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm have the same outsider accessibility James Stewart and Ruth Hussey brought as the snooping but energetic reporters? Never do these questions have to be answered, because the cast brings something new to the table that is neither weak or improved upon - the film simply does not feel like a remake.
Charles Walters fine tunes each scene in a way that shoos away mimicry. He knows how to use his actors, bringing out their strong suits rather than hiding them. High Society drives with the cheeriness of a stage play, keeping us cheekily entertained while not floating away with feathery lightness - there is plenty of wit, song, and color to be spared, and we are given the chance to be reminded why both the story, and the actors, are so classically beloved today.
The ensemble has a rapport that cannot be ignored. Whether she be alongside Crosby, Sinatra, or John Lund (a bland actor who gives us the bland Kittredge), Kelly shows each relationship's attitude with masterful enthusiasm. Though her career was cut short, she was blessed with a filmography that makes us fall in love with her over and over again, making her seem like a revelation instead of a Hollywood veteran.
The scene stealers are proven to be Sinatra and Holm quite quickly - it's odd that Sinatra wasn't given the role of Haven, but he brings so much suavity to Mike Connor it's a wonder he hasn't stolen every woman in the building. Holm, one of the greatest character actresses of all-time, has a bevy of terrific one-liners to sell and a knowing personality that makes her stand above every person in the room. What makes High Society so great is that the actors all fit like gloves in their roles, and once the singing comes along, it isn't an annoyance, but rather, a reason to love them even more.
The film closes like it began - Louis Armstrong turns to us, smiles in glee, and informs us of the unfortunate reality: the film is over. When a musical wraps up and we instantly want to see it again, we know it's a downright good one. No, High Society might not have the quintessential status of its source, and no, it isn't remembered in the same way as other musicals of the period, such as Singin' in the Rain, but it's a classic in its own right that deserves to be known as something more than Grace Kelly's last film.