Though Charles Walters' High Society has never been snubbed in the world of movie musicals, it's not earned its rightful place as one of the best in the pantheon either. A remake of the brilliant George Cukor 1940 screwball The Philadelphia Story starring the power trio of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart, 1956's High Society has constantly been judged against its predecessor it isn't witty enough, there's less chemistry among the leads, and there's no Kate Hepburn. Of course, such critiques are ridiculous we might as well criticize The Philadelphia Story for lacking color, musical numbers, and Louis Armstrong. The two films are very different; they contain their own timely style and cleverness, one with cutting dialogue, the other via the genius of Cole Porter, whose tunes easily flow through the scenes as playfully as Katharine Hepburn breaking Cary Grant's golf club in two. Unlike the big production number musicals of the time, High Society keeps its proceedings low-key and natural, as if these elite people just break into "True Love" mid-sentence and then go about their idly rich ways. And why not? Shifting settings from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island (where the Newport Jazz Festival occurs an easy way to have Mr. Armstrong drop into the household), the story concerns rich, pampered, spoiled Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly), the reluctant ice goddess, preparing her wedding. A gorgeous, humorous snob (she's never an insufferable blue-blood), Tracy's on to supposedly greener pastures with the spoilsport dullard George Kittredge (John Lund). This safe union seems appropriate for Tracy after her first marriage to composer C.K. Dexter-Haven (Bing Crosby) was, to say the least, torrid. But as bad as Bing can be, Dexter is a bad boy, an erratic fellow and (gasp!) jazz performer who's best friend is Louis Armstrong himself. When a cynical gossip-rag catches wind of the upcoming nuptials, they assign wiseacre, hard-boiled reporter Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) and a photographer (Celeste Holm) to cover the event, hopefully to capture the potentially gruesome details. And they've got a good scoop Dexter's still nuts for Tracy and is determined to stop the ceremony. Things get even nuttier when Mike falls for the irresistible Tracy and she, confused and drunk, has a little fling with Mike. We understand her temptation: In the original, a love-struck Jimmy Stewart rapturously cooed the illuminated ice goddess Tracy; in the re-make, Frank Sinatra serenades her with the beautiful "You're Sensational." What could a girl do?
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Though High Society is less obviously class-conscious than The Philadelphia Story, it still notes the differences between rich, the new rich, and the working class with gentle points. Eccentric C.K. not only allows a posse of non-service-oriented black men into his house, he even sings with them in the charming Crosby-Armstrong duet "Now You Has Jazz." There's a level of competition between Crosby and Sinatra as they deliver one of film's biggest highlights, "Will Did You Evah," during which Sinatra cracks the in-joke "Don't dig that kind of crooning chum" to a "bah-bah-booing" Crosby. Other standouts are the Sinatra-Holm duet, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and Louis Armstrong's (who opens the film almost like a Greek Chorus) calypso "High Society." The picture is gorgeously shot in Technicolor, Cole Porter's songs are timeless genius, and the performances are delightful. Really, how much closer to perfect can a movie get? Warner Home Video's High Society DVD offers a pristine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) showcasing the film's bright palette of colors Sinatra's baby blues, Kelly's ruby red lips, and everyone's fetching '50s wardrobes. Audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1, pronouncing the music in crystal clear excellence (monaural French also is on board). Extras include Tex Avery's CinemaScope cartoon gem "Millionaire Droopy," a premiere newsreel (watch for Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds), trailers for High Society and The Philadelphia Story, and the mini-doc "Cole Porter in Hollywood: True Love," in which a short account of the film is shared by Celeste Holm. However, one important fact some may overlook is that this was Grace Kelly's last Hollywood role before becoming Princess Grace of Monaco. Watching the gorgeous, top-of-her-form Kelly here can only make one feel sad that her career ended so soon; High Society was a glorious send-off. Snap-case.
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