On April 19th in 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier the sovereign ruler of Monaco. Grace had met Prince Rainier a little less than a year prior, in May of 1955. By saying “I do,” Grace gave up her successful, Oscar-winning Hollywood career and assumed her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco. She didn’t plan to give up her career after the wedding, but was pressured to do so by her new husband. As a result, the last film that Grace made was High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.
The Philadelphia Story was released in 1940 and was the film that saved Katharine Hepburn’s career. In the original film, Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, an affluent young woman who is marrying for the second time to George Kittredge (John Howard). Tracy is part of the Philadelphia upper-crust. Her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) re-enters her life after arranging for Spy Magazine to cover Tracy’s wedding. Two years prior, Tracy had divorced C.K. due to him not meeting the impossible standards that Tracy sets for her friends and family. She also thought he drank too much and her critical opinion of his drinking caused him to imbibe even more.
On the same day, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and Elizabeth “Liz” Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) a reporter and photographer, respectively for Spy Magazine arrive at the Lord estate. They are planning on covering Tracy’s wedding for their magazine. Complications ensue when Mike starts falling in love with Tracy, much to Liz’s chagrin. Liz harbors an unrequited crush on Mike. Meanwhile, Tracy is irritated with her ex-husband, C.K.’s constant presence. However, he helps her to realize that she needs to relax and stop being so judgemental of the people in her life. She is not perfect herself, so it is unfair to hold others to such a high standard.
In the musical remake of High Society, the action is moved from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island. Grace Kelly assumes the role of Tracy and plays the role very well. She plays a haughty socialite just as well as Katharine Hepburn. Both women have a similar way of speaking, with a very pronounced mid-Atlantic accent. Interestingly enough, Grace herself is from Philadelphia and hails from the very same world depicted in The Philadelphia Story. However, I think I prefer the shift to the Newport locale. I love that the famous Newport Jazz Festival is used as a backdrop for High Society. The jazz music is also an excellent addition to the story, as Bing Crosby stars as C.K. Dexter Haven, Cary Grant’s role from the original film. Throughout the film, C.K. is busy organizing the festival, with Louis Armstrong and his band serving as the Greek chorus for the events in this film. C.K. also happens to live next door to the Lord estate, making his constant presence believable.
In High Society, it is Tracy’s father, Seth Lord, who has invited Spy Magazine to cover his daughter’s nuptials. The magazine has obtained some unflattering details about Seth’s various infidelities. Seth makes a bargain with Spy Magazine and allows them to send over a couple employees to cover the wedding. Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm), a reporter and photographer respectively, arrive and are invited to stay at the Lords’ home. The scene where Mike and Liz arrive plays out in a similar fashion in both High Society and The Philadelphia Story. Tracy resents their intrusion and carries out an elaborate farce, including speaking French with her little sister and having her sister make an entrance dancing en pointe and then performing a song while playing piano. For her part, Tracy acts like a complete ditz, figuring that she needs to fit the image that the tabloids have of her. For the record, I find Virginia Weidler’s “Dinah” really annoying in The Philadelphia Story and prefer Lydia Reed as little sister, “Caroline,” in High Society. Weidler is the more talented performer, but there’s just something about her that makes me want to smack her.
What I love about High Society is that there are more scenes between Tracy and C.K., giving us an idea as to why they fell in love in the first place. The Philadelphia Story hints at that, such as when C.K. gifts Tracy a miniature replica of their yacht, “True Love,” that they sailed around in during their honeymoon. In High Society, not only does C.K. gift Tracy the miniature replica of the “True Love,” but we’re treated to a flashback sequence of C.K. and Tracy singing “True Love” on their boat. I love any singing scene that involves characters playing a small accordion. This was also a fun scene where we actually hear Grace singing with her own voice. Thank goodness they did not dub her with someone like Marni Nixon. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Nixon was an excellent singer, but her voice is so out of place in so many of the films where it is heard (case in point, Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady).
I also love Grace Kelly’s costumes in this film. Her costumes are gorgeous, especially the blue chiffon dress with silver embroidery she wears during the party Tracy holds on the eve of her wedding. Katharine Hepburn’s dress in the same part of the film is incredible, but I think Grace has the edge. Grace also gets to wear a much better wedding dress during the film’s finale. I am not a fan of Katharine’s gown with the big girdle like thing across her waist. At the beginning of the film, Grace wears a simple beige blouse with beige slacks and red flats and she looks amazing. The woman could wear a stained sweatsuit and look fabulous.
One of the highlights of High Society is the duet between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. This scene replaces the drunk scene between James Stewart and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story. The original scene is very funny, as Mike cannot stop hiccuping as he talks to C.K. However, with both Sinatra and Crosby in the cast, it is a no-brainer that a duet between the two men would have to take place. Sinatra and Crosby were often pitted against one another, with Sinatra being viewed as the crooner who would take the elder Crosby’s place. However, nothing could be further from the truth and the two men were lifelong friends. Their duet, “Well, Did You Evah!” is one of the highlights of the film.
It would also be remiss of me to not mention the amazing Louis Armstrong. He and his band serve as the Greek chorus, setting the scene for the film and then commenting on the action throughout. He provides a fun presence to the action and of course, since he’s performing at the Newport Jazz Festival, which is being planned by C.K., we are treated to a wonderful performance by Louis and Bing Crosby. The two men perform “Now You Has Jazz” and it is amazing. I would have loved if Louis Armstrong and his band had been hired as the entertainment at Tracy’s party on the eve of her wedding.
The ending of High Society plays out exactly the same as it does in The Philadelphia Story, the dialogue is almost repeated word-for-word. However, for whatever reason I find Tracy and C.K.’s quick decision to remarry more believable in High Society, even if I’m not totally sure on the coupling of Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. However, the two actors did date in real life, so I guess it is plausible!
While The Philadelphia Story is regarded as the “better” film, I have perhaps the controversial opinion that I find High Society more entertaining. I love the casts of both films equally. I do enjoy The Philadelphia Story, at one point owning four copies. However, given the choice between the two, I would watch High Society. The jazz music and more “fun” feel make the film for me. I love all the Bing and Sinatra performances. Louis Armstrong is amazing. Grace Kelly is gorgeous. I just love it. It was amazing to see High Society in the theater last year.
(Singing)Frank Sinatra as “Mike Connor” and Bing Crosby as “C.K. Dexter Haven” performing “Did You Evah?” written by Cole Porter in High Society (1956).
MIKE: Have you heard that Mimsie Starr
C.K. Oh, what now?
MIKE: She got pinched in the Astor bar
C.K. Sauced again, eh?
MIKE: She was stoned
C.K. Well, did you ever?