Frank, Bing, and Grace are sensational in... High Society (1956)
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of High Society is probably its predecessor, The Philadelphia Story. Every classic film fan has their own opinion about which is better, what works and doesn't work in the other, et cetera. I'm not really interested in that. Instead of comparing the films, I want to look at the merits of just one of them. (I'll admit upfront that I prefer The Philadelphia Story. The three leads are three of my favorite people who ever walked on Earth, for one thing. Funnily enough, my sister hates the 1940 film and enjoys High Society infinitely more.) I've never had the urge to vilify High Society for daring to be a remake of a pretty fantastic movie. They're allowed to co-exist, especially because they are both wonderful in their own ways.
The men became friends, and as collaborators, they were unstoppable. "Well, Did You Evah?" is one of the best musical moments in history -- and it's only two guys singing! There's no flash, no glitz, just the thrilling personalities of Bing and Frank. Maybe it's in my imagination, but I always feel like you can see in Frank's face how excited he is to be performing with Bing. To have a dream realized like that must have been amazing.
"Now You Has Jazz" is masterful, yet oh so simple.
here.) Once Sinatra committed to High Society, he suggested that the film should be directed by Walters, with whom he had just finished working with on The Tender Trap. Before becoming a director, Chuck had an extensive background as a dancer on Broadway and a choreographer for MGM. When asked by producer Sol Siegel who he wanted to
Walters did a lot of subtle work while at MGM, things that you wouldn't think were choreographed, such as a quick moment of Ingrid Bergman dancing around in Gaslight. During "Now You Has Jazz," Bing does all of these wonderfully on-point arm gestures that complement the lyrics and it looks so natural, like Bing improvised them on the spot. Nope. Walters did that. While he could certainly do flashy, Chuck excelled at quiet musical sequences too -- some people might even say that was when he
In his biography of Walters, Brent Phillips writes about how the choreography for "You're Sensational" came about:
"I couldn't think what to do," [Chuck] admitted. "[Then] I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, 'Just a minute. [Frank and Grace are] getting an awful lot of money, individually and collectively. I'm going to make them do the work.'" The next day he showed up for rehearsal with a simple directive: "Go with it, dears." When his stars became too artificial in their actions, he offered one final piece of advice: "Play it like a scene." With that, the performers acted--and aced--the Porter lyric, with Sinatra, lustful and lost, melded to Kelly's mute response. Her radiant mix of
For "Well, Did You Evah?" Walters had to stage and rehearse the scene without Sinatra, who notoriously hated rehearsal. Crosby, on the other hand, was always there to go through the number with Chuck, who called him "a hell of a worker -- if you put in a call for 8:30, he's there at 8:00." For his part, Crosby said "It was a pleasure to be in the picture. Chuck's a very fine director with great taste and sophistication. It was just a breeze, really." Fun fact: "Well, Did You Evah?" was first done on Broadway in Cole Porter's show DuBarry was a Lady in 1939. Guess who introduced it? Chuck and Betty Grable! When DuBarry became an MGM musical a few years later, Chuck was the choreographer.
This was a
picture of music,
then -- we
we had visitors,
and then more
such a sucha?
Besides a real "Prince"
They weren't kidding about the publicity. MGM had a lot to work with. First of all, you had the historic pairing of Frank and Bing. Add Louis Armstrong to the mix and it just gets more important. Then you have Grace Kelly's first musical. As if that wasn't enough, you have Kelly's announcement that she is engaged to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and her later reveal that High Society would be her last film before becoming Monaco's princess. She never returned to Hollywood.
While Chuck's directing and choreography are high on my list of my favorite things about this movie, I think I would have to say that the part I adore the most is the score. Cole Porter wrote some darling songs here, songs that frequently seem to be underrated by Porter fans. When I initially started collecting vinyl, this soundtrack was one of my first acquisitions and it made me appreciate the music so much more. The tunes are tremendous on their own, but when you have Frank and Bing singing them, the results are superb. I'd argue that the 1950's was when we saw Sinatra in his peak and nowhere is that more evident than in his vocal performances for "You're Sensational," "Well, Did You Evah?" and "Mind If I Make Love to You." Crosby, meanwhile, demonstrated that although he had been in the business longer than Frank, he could still show you a thing or two with songs like "Little One," "True Love," and "I Love You, Samantha."
If you ask me -- and you're at my blog, so you kinda are -- High Society and The Philadelphia Story should be held up as two separate objects. If you place them side by side, you have only yourself to blame for being disappointed because they weren't made for that purpose. One is a sparkling, razor-sharp romantic comedy and the other is a bubbly musical treasure. And guess what? They're both marvelous.
This post is my contribution to the Second Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon. You can read the other tributes here.