Virginie from The Wonderful World Of Cinema, and Emily from The Flapper Dame, are co-hosting this 4th annual blogathon celebrating Grace Kelly. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
1956 was a key year in Grace Kelly’s life. She had become engaged to Prince Rainier of Monaco after the pair had met and fallen in love the previous year. Grace was about to embark on a new chapter in her life. Unfortunately her new path in life meant that she had to bid farewell to her film career. In 1956, Grace Kelly appeared in what would become her final film. For her final screen performance she played a society heiress called Tracy Samantha Lord. The film was called High Society.
The 1956 film was a musical remake of the 1940 classic, The Philadelphia Story, which was an adaptation of Philip Barry’s 1939 stage play of the same name. The original film had succeeded in resurrecting Katharine Hepburn’s film career. Katharine Hepburn’s performance, coupled with the overall success of the film, succeeded in destroying the cruel label of “box office poison” which had been attached to her name for some time. The film had also seen James Stewart’s hilarious performance rewarded with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
It was never going to be an easy task to remake a film that was so highly regarded. Charles Walters, the man behind such classics as Easter Parade, Three Guys Named Mike, and The Tender Trap, took on the task of directing the remake. The legendary Cole Porter penned the songs used in the film.Joining the cast as Tracy’s three love interests were Bing Crosby as Dexter, the ex husband of Tracy; Frank Sinatra as the mischievous reporter, Mike Connor; and John Lund as Tracy’s new fiance, George Kittredge.
Bing, Frank and John as the three men in Tracy’s life. Screenshots by me.
I think that High Society manages to stand alone from the original film due to the different ways in which the actors perform their roles and also because the film is a musical. I like to call this film a reinterpretation of the original story, rather than a direct remake.Whenever I watch High Society, it feels as though I’ve joined friends at a fabulous party, one which is overflowing with fun and wit. The film is uplifting, touching, glamorous and funny. The songs and musical sequences are all fabulous and they are sure to have you singing right along with them. This film has also become my favourite Grace Kelly film. I think she’s wonderful in it.
A few scenes from High Society. Screenshots by me.
I also love that we get Louis Armstrong acting as our guide to this society world. Louis also performs several songs in the film, and he and Bing Crosby perform a duet together. I also love how Louis breaks the fourth wall at various points in the film and speaks directly to us.
As much as I like this film, I do have to concede that it lacks the character development of the original and some of it does feel a bit rushed. I also wanted a little more joy and excitement during the ending. If you have seen the original film, then you won’t really be able to help but compare the two films as you watch this one. Some viewers don’t like the pairing of Bing and Grace here due to their age difference. Personally I have never had a problem with age gaps in relationships,either on screen or in real life, so I don’t care about that issue at all. I do think that there should have been some more scenes between Bing and Grace, either as flashbacks to show the Haven’s marriage, or some more scenes when he comes back into her life as she prepares to marry. I wanted many more scenes between them and a bit more focus on their relationship.
In the scenes they do share together, I have to say that Bing gazes at Grace with such tenderness and warmth, and she looks back at him with equal warmth and affection. Bing’s performance at first doesn’t come across as really being that good, but if you watch his eyes and expressions you will see that the performance is subtle, but it is most definitely there to be seen.
Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm are clearly having a lot of fun together as the reporters. I love their duet performance of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Celeste is hilarious as Liz, and she steals all the scenes that she is in. Frank is very good in the role of Mike, and you miss him when he isn’t in a scene. But sadly Frank is no Jimmy Stewart. I’m afraid that Frank’s performance lacks that special spark that Jimmy’s has in the original. I do like Frank’s performance, but I think that he and Celeste could both have done with more character development to work with.
Louis Calhern provides the comic relief of the film as Tracy’s Uncle Willie. There is strong support from Sidney Blackmer as Tracy’s stern father. Margalo Gillmore is also very good as Tracy’s mother. Lydia Reed is adorable as Caroline(I much prefer her performance over Virginia Weilder’s in the original) and I love the Little One scene between her and Bing.
Grace Kelly is the heart and soul of the film. She sparkles like a bright jewel whenever she is on screen in this film. I think that she delivers a very touching performance as a woman desperate to be loved for herself alone. There are several scenes where she expertly conveys how hurt or vulnerable Tracy is. Grace captures this woman’s pain and frustration so well.
I often wonder if Grace saw some of her own life mirrored in this character and her story. Grace was often(and still is today)seen as merely a beautiful screen goddess, rather than the good actress, and the complex and warm real woman she actually was off screen. I for one can certainly see parallels between her own life and Tracy’s.
If you think that Grace always played cool and remote women, then you should check her out in this film, where you will get to see her play a funny, sweet and easily hurt woman. I always think it is such a shame that she never acted again after this film.
As the film begins, we find the wealthy citizens of Newport about to be shaken free from their stuffy traditions by a dose of true love, and by the arrival of the great Louis Armstrong and his band. Louis and his band are in town to perform at a jazz festival organised by his old friend Dexter Haven(Bing Crosby).
A few scenes featuring the legendary Louis Armstrong. Screenshots by me.
In Newport, preparations are not only underway for the jazz festival, but also for the society wedding of the year. Heiress Tracy Samantha Lord(Grace Kelly)is about to get married to the decent, but dreadfully dull, George Kittredge(John Lund).
Much to Tracy’s annoyance her wedding is being covered by pushy magazine reporter, Mike Conner(Frank Sinatra), and his photographer pal, Liz Imbrie(Celeste Holm). This intrusion leads Tracy and her little sister Caroline (Lydia Reed) to prank these visitors and have a little fun at their expense.
Tracy’s ex-husband and neighbour, Dexter Haven stops by to wish her every happiness for the future. Tracy and Dexter may well have had problems in their marriage, but the pair still love one another and Dexter in particular can’t bring himself to sever all connections with his girl.
The rest of the film focuses on whether these two will get back together or not. Tracy and Mike also have a few moments where it seems that they may well be falling for one another too.
At the heart of the film(even more than the romance)is Tracy’s desperation to be loved for who she is inside, not for her external beauty alone. George puts his fiance up on a pedestal and considers her a goddess, rather than seeing her for the flesh and blood woman that she really is. Mike admires her spirit and personality. Her own father even refers to her as being made of bronze. Only Dexter completely sees her and accepts her for who she is in every way. Can Tracy find the happiness she so desperately craves?
This film may well not be as good or as highly thought of as the original is, but it is certainly a lot of fun. The performances, costumes and songs are all fabulous. The duet between Bing and Louis, and the duet between Bing and Frank, are two highlights of the film. Cole Porter’s witty and catchy lyrics will stay in your mind long after the film has finished. Grace Kelly’s lovely performance will linger in the memory too. I think this was the perfect film for her career to end with.
What are your thoughts on the film and Grace’s performance in it?