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USA 1956
Directed by
Charles Walters
107 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

High Society

From the opening scene of Louis Armstrong mugging his way through his “Satchmo” schtick in a back-projected version of the title song one can’t help but pine for the sophistication of MGM’s original film version of Philip Barry's 1939 hit Broadway play, the 1940 classic, The Philadelphia Story. Not that there is in principle any reason why that film shouldn’t have been turned into a musical but in so doing what was once a witty comedy of manners satirizing the idle rich becomes an over-stuffed, glossily self-congratulatory (it is shot in glorious “VistaVision” the opening credits tell us) travestying of the original.

To justify the casting of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the lead roles formerly played by Cary Grant and James Stewart, some of the initial fun of their deceptive arrangement is sacrificed whilst overall the comic verve of the original is lost in trying to incorporate the musical numbers,

Heading up the roster of sins is Crosby who then in his early fifties, even with a hair piece, looks old enough to be Grace Kelly’s father.  Close on his heels is Sinatra in his forties but even more damningly with none of Stewart’s countrified charm as a boy from South Bend, Idaho who might have, at least briefly, captured Tracy’s heart.  Kelly is better suited than Hepburn to the ice maiden role but on the other hand she lacks that actress’s abrasive personality and sharp tongue, thereby robbing the film of more of its fun. And for consistency's sake Celeste Holm lacks Ruth Hussey’s sardonic tom-boy appeal.

There is some consolation in Cole Porter's original score which features 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' and Crosby singing the novelty number "Now You Has Jazz" but director Charles Walters’ staging of 'True Love' is clumsy and the contemporary appeal of the Crosby and Sinatra duet (the movie’s only non-original number),  ‘Did Ya Evah?’) has long since evaporated. Perhaps if one hasn't seen the original one one would find this version less painful but if you haven't, do yourself a favour and see it first.

FYI: It was Grace Kelly's last film before retiring to marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco.




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