High Society

High Society ★★★★

The Philadelphia Story is plain and simple the better film. Let’s get that straight right off the top. Bing ain’t no Cary, Frank no Jimmy, and although the Princess has a special charm all her own, it’s not the same sassy sauce that Katherine can dish up.

I have to admit, though, I have more fun watching High Society.

Right off the top, after we’re graced by Satchmo’s gravely strains underlying the opening credits, his wink to the audience ‘End of song, beginning of story’, semaphores that High Society isn’t planning on taking itself too seriously. Not that The Philadelphia Story is particularly earnest; I think it more that director Charles Walters wanted it to be made clear he didn’t want to compete with Cukor’s classic.

On the downside, there really is no chemistry between Bing and Grace … Bing is an affable enough fellow, in his brylcreem and baggy trouser sort of way, and his winning-the-girl-with-song shtick works well enough in his other films, but somehow his easy charm doesn’t hold a candle to Cary Grant’s smoldering masculinity and razor sharp wit. Tempo and pace can’t compete either, which is somewhat expected when you have to drop in a musical number every 15 minutes, but it never drags or feels disjointed. Finally the tour of the ‘playground of the rich and the graveyard of the wealthy’ was rather forced. It was painfully obvious to see that it was a convenient device to a: garner some sympathy for Tracy and the idly rich, b: Give Young Blue Eyes the chance to profess his sudden love away from prying eyes, and c: to profess said love by way of another Sinatra musical number. I can abide ‘c’, but ‘a’ was unnecessary in the story … the charm of Hepburn and clan was that they were unapologetic of their stature, and finally ‘a’ would have been best eliminated, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

On the upside there’s Grace Kelly’s performance; while not comparable to Katherine Hepburn, and certainly taken from Hepburn’s style and playbook, she looked like she was genuinely enjoying playing against type in what she knew was her final role before transitioning to royalty. I read the rock on her finger in the movie was Ranier’s. While chemistry ( and plausibility ) was lacking in the Bing / Grace relationship, it was quite evident in the Crosby / Sinatra pairing. Screenwriter John Patrick also fixed the biggest issue I’ve always had with The Philadelphia Story by de-emphasizing the Mike Conner / Tracy Lord romantic connection. That’s why I think the eliminating Conner’s pass during the ‘graveyard tour’ would also have been an improvement. It then would have reduced the relationship to a drunken flirt, and nothing more. I have a soft spot for the song True Love; a song guaranteed to be sung on every Bing Crosby Television special (of which there were many) of my youth. This is despite the awkward memory of my Mom and Dad always joining in the crooning, much to my chagrin. Of course the biggest upside are the multiple Luis Armstrong numbers. Man, that cat can swing. Seeing it all in glorious VistaVision and Technicolour doesn’t hurt, either.

High Society is kind of a slow moving, lumbering cruise ship compared to the yare racing sloop that is The Philadelphia Story; but sometimes, despite the exhilaration of the latter, you can have more fun on the former.

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