High Society Reviews
Tracy Lord is a beautiful heiress that is about to marry her second husband. Things are awkward when her ex-husband lives next door and is a heavy participant in the festivities. Things become even more complicated when handsome and persistent reporter Mike Connor arrives to report on the extravaganza.
"That's an awful thing to say to anyone."
"That's an awful thing to have to say."
Charles Walters, director of Easter Parade, Lili, Walk Don't Run, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Dangerous When Wet, Please Don't Eat the Daises, and Go Naked in the World, delivers High Society. The storyline for this picture is fun and entertaining with some good musical numbers but doesn't take itself too seriously. The acting is awesome and the cast includes Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Celeste Holm, John Lund, and Sidney Blackmer.
"Where we headed?"
"I'm not ready."
This was recently added to Netflix with a couple other Sinatra films. This was very fun, entertaining, and a great display of how remarkable Sinatra's talents truly were, singing and acting. This isn't a perfect classic picture, but it is worth a viewing for fans of the genre.
"Isn't it time for your milk and arsenic?"
If I watched High Society without ANY knowledge of TPS, I might have enjoyed it a little more than I did. But it was hard to watch it in a bubble. What was comparable to TPS? Better, even? The staging probably - I loved the lavish society home sets. What wasn't? Everything else.
The cast, for starters. Grant vs Crosby. Well, they are both the apex of their epochs in urbanity, and cool. But Grant perfectly balanced this urbanity with vulnerability and fire in TPS, something Crosby would (could?) never do. Crosby has always been far too narcoleptic for my taste, too cool for ANY school. And here, in HS, he once again looks like he could take it or leave it. The film, and the leading lady.
I didn't buy that romance, and not because of the quarter century age gap. Crosby just didn't seem to care that much about Ms Kelly. Few sparks, minimal chemistry, no fire. Nothing like Grant and Hepburn in TPS.
Speaking of which...
Well, look. No one is disputing Grace Kelly is a stunner. The epitome of class. Ice cool. But SO hot. But she's no Katie Hepburn. No one is, granted. Ms Kelly tries hard. Her drunken scenes are excellent. I was actually surprised by how good she WAS. She's by no means bad. But she doesn't essay a Tracey Lord HALF as vulnerable and desperate and REAL as Ms Hepburn - who really was the lynchpin and the heart of TPS - her scenes with everyone resonated more comedically and dramatically than any scene in HS.
Except for a couple of times. Frank Sinatra surprised me here. Later in his career, Frankie seemed to take too many pages outta Crosby's too-cool-for-school playbook - but here, I thought he was great. Lacking the dramatic chops of (even a young) James Stewart - and the romantic angle with Mike and Tracey here is utterly unconvincing. But Sinatra is great in his earlier scenes playing the cynical journo line - especially when he's reacting with Celeste Holm to the inane, insane high society around them. In fact, their duet to Cole Porter's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" is the absolute (non-Louis Armstrong) highlight of the film - toe-tapping, and funny.
Otherwise the songs (apart from Louis, of course, and the Bing/Frank duet "Did You Ever?" while they are getting sloshed) are quite disposable - mostly Bing crooning or Grace trying her best.
Sigh...it sounds like I'm being hard on this film. I didn't mean to be.
It's light and frothy and disposable and fun, and occasionally funny. I loved the eye-raising that goes on about the alcoholic idleness of the filthy rich. I loved the excessive drinking. I hated (much like in TPS) the cringe-worthy justifications tossed about for Tracey's father's cheating. Grrr.
So, it's a fun, mostly forgettable Hollywood product. But one element in unforgettable. Louis Armstrong. His voice, his smile. His awesomeness. He's only onscreen for maybe ten minutes all up, but he makes the film for me.
"Can you dig old Satchmo swingin' in the beautiful High So-ci-yu-tee!"
I certainly can, Louis.
I can dig, very much.
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 fašade? 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.
What a disappointment. Louis Armstrong seems shoe-horned in purely to meet other commercial aims of the studio. All the characters are utterly unlikeable. Grace Kelly is gorgeous but Tracy Lord is as unpleasant as they come - I really couldn't begin to see why everyone fawned over her, and I stopped caring long before the end.
The film claims it's about love, but none of the characters seem to even vaguely like each other. Their actions are frequently unbelievable and usually enfuriating.
I even lost interest in the songs - they were mere blips in a deeply disappointing experience. Awful.