Monday, May 30, 2016


High Society was released 60 years ago, and surprisingly here is a tough review from Bosley Crowther. It originally appeared in the NY Times of August 10, 1956...

INTELLECTUALLY speaking, there was never much sense or sanity to Philip Barry's "The Philadelphia Story," either as play or film. Its tale of a young society woman whose psyche was so confused that she could think herself thoroughly devoted to a priggish fiancé, a magazine writer and her ex-husband all within the span of one day was a sheer piece of comedy contrivance. And its attractiveness on stage and screen was due almost wholly to the sparkle of Katharine Hepburn as its erratic heroine.

But now that its brittle material has been cast into a musical film, there is little chance of disguising its bright but synthetic qualities. "High Society," its new name set to music, is as flimsy as a gossip-columnist's word, especially when it is documenting the weird behavior of the socially elite. And with pretty and lady-like Grace Kelly flouncing lightly through its tomboyish Hepburn role, it misses the snap and the crackle that its un-musical predecessor had.

To be sure, there are moments of amusement in this handsomely set and costumed film, which was served up in color and VistaVision at the Music Hall yesterday. One stretch is when Frank Sinatra as the magazine writer sent to do a story on the mores of society plies the haughty heroine with wine and somewhat unhooks her inhibitions. Mr. Sinatra makes hay with this scene.

Some others are when Louis Armstrong and his band are beating out some catchy tunes that have been borrowed from old Cole Porter albums or especially written by him for this show. In spite of the austere suroundings of a gold-plated Newport chateau, Mr. Armstrong beams as brazenly as ever and lets the hot-licks fall where they may.

In the musical line, Mr. Sinatra and Bing Crosby also sing some fetching songs that more or less contribute to a knowledge of what is going on. Their best is "Well, Did You Evah?", a spoof of the haughty and blasé, and Mr. Crosby makes "I Love You, Samantha" (whoever she is) a pleasingly romantic thing.

However, there do come tedious stretches in this socially mixed-up affair, and they are due in the main to slow direction and the mildness of Miss Kelly in the pivotal role. The part was obviously written to be acted with a sharp cutting-edge. Miss Kelly makes the trenchant lady no more than a petulant, wistful girl.

And we must say that Mr. Crosby seems a curious misfit figure in the role of the young lady's cast-off husband who gets her back at the very end. He wanders around the place like a mellow uncle, having fun with Mr. Armstrong and his boys and viewing the feminine flutter with an amiable masculine disdain. He strokes his pipe with more affection than he strokes Miss Kelly's porcelain arms.

Contributing to the general hubbub of pre-wedding day preparations in the Newport set are John Lund as the stuffy fiancé, Celeste Holm as a smart photographer, Louis Calhern as a wicked old uncle and Margalo Gillmore as the mother of the bride. Lydia Reed as an impish younger sister is kept pretty closely confined. She appears to have the waspish nature that Miss Kelly could use to good advantage...

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