[Film Review] High Society (1956)

High Society poster.jpg

Title: High Society
Year: 1956
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance
Director: Charles Walters
Screenwriter: John Patrick
based on the play of Philip Barry
Music:
Cole Porter
Johnny Green
Saul Chaplin
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Cast:
Grace Kelly
Bing Crosby
Frank Sinatra
Celeste Holm
John Lund
Louis Calhern
Louis Armstrong
Margalo Gillmore
Lydia Reed
Sidney Blackmer
Rating: 7.5/10

High Society 1956.jpg

A musical treatment of Philip Barry’s warhorse play THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, HIGH SOCIETY is ingenuously ensorcelling in its aural and ocular extravaganza and conceivably modest in the sharp-tongued sparring, because when you have two top-drawer crooners at your disposal, plus a showstopper Mr. Louis Armstrong and his band as the icing on the cake, no one would blame director Charles Walters for veering into a different lane from George Cukor’s acerbic gender politics, not least because it is Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s celluloid swan song, a germane valediction where her glamor and pulchritude would be forever engraved in its apotheosis.

The story is a cheesy romp in its vein, on the eve of the wedding between socialite Tracy Samantha Lord (Kelly) and a lower-class but upstanding gentleman George Kittredge (a dead-serious Lund), Tracy’s ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Crosby), a jazz musician, feels compelled to woo her back because he still loves her deeply. And the advert of reporter Mike Connor (Sinatra) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Holm) from a tabloid magazine, who are assigned to cover the wedding in exchange of keeping a disgraceful skeleton in their family’s closet, arranged by Tracy’s uncle Willie (a tricksy Calhern in his curtain call), further muddies the waters while Tracy is deviled by the reminiscence of the happy days (in a yacht called “True Love”) in her first marriage and a “made of bronze” reproach from her two-timing father (Blackmer), which is a flea in one’s ear. Whereas she is self-aware of her “putting-on-a-pedestal” standing – “I want to be loved, not be worshipped”, but facing an embarrassment of riches, can she choose the right husband from the one her heart swoons, the one her mind dictates or the one her soul enchants? Her final say is a safe bet, but here, arguably at her most relaxed and animated, Grace Kelly aptly channels a more ethereal iteration of Katharine Hepburn’s Tracy with sheer candor and allure.

But ineluctably, a supreme frisson of elation and wonderment is amply purveyed by the music artistes, a smorgasbord of Porter’s pop standards and Armstrong’s jazzing skiffle, highlighted by a jingle novelty WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? between Sinatra and a phenomenal Holm, a tipsy Crosby-Sinatra duet WELL, DID YOU EVAH! and a central piece where Crosby introducing Armstrong and co. in the NOW YOU HAS JAZZ improvisation. It is all glitz and pomp, but one feel hard to resist its charm and strains, at bottom, what a menagerie of lollapaloozas to behold and hark, just surrender to it, the quintessential Golden Hollywood nostalgia and pizzazz!

referential points: Charles Walters’ PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES (1960, 5.2/10); George Cukor’s THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940, 8.1/10)

Oscar 1956 - High Society.jpg

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