The Philadelphia Musical
"High Society" has one huge, gigantic problem and that is it is a musical adaptation of Philip Barry's play which was the source for the wonderful screwball comedy "The Philadelphia Story". There is no way that anything, even a musical could get close to the brilliance of "The Philadelphia Story" when using the same story and it doesn't matter than with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly "High Society" has some wonderful stars because it was and is just one thing a musical imitation. As such it has to be said that the various musical numbers are quite entertaining but the rest of the movie just feels weak in comparison.
With her wedding to George Kittredge (John Lund) just days away socialite Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly - To Catch a Thief) is less than impressed when her ex husband C.K. Dexter-Haven (Bing Crosby - White Christmas) returns to his neighbouring mansion and starts making a nuisance of himself. And it doesn't help that Spy magazine has a damning story on her father and so she has to agree to allow journalists Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra - Young at Heart) and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm) to cover her wedding to stop the story from being published. But it all gets messy as Tracy starts to find Mike quite attractive whilst C.K. Dexter-Haven still has feelings for his ex wife.
One of the daftest things is I liked the storyline when I watched "The Philadelphia Story" but when watching "High Society" I found it disappointing, despite it being for the exception of a couple of minor changes exactly the same. The trouble is that if "The Philadelphia Story" had never been made I would have found the "High Society" version much better but it feels so weak in comparison. And much of that weakness is down to the casting rather than the actual storyline itself as although it feels a little unevenly paced and lacking the real sense of comedy, it is just the same.
But it is that casting and although Bing Crosby can play smooth he is not in the same league as Cary Grant despite at times coming across as if he is drawing on his characterisation. The same with Frank Sinatra as whilst he can play the chip on the shoulder style character it feels dull compared to James Stewart's characterisation. And then there is the divinely beautiful Grace Kelly but once more she just doesn't match up to the great character which Katharine Hepburn created, coming across as a cheap imitation as she tries to find the snappiness of Tracy Lord but ending up feeling fake. It's actually quite annoying as Crosby, Sinatra and Kelly were all great actors but instead of making the characters their own they feel like they were imitating what Grant, Stewart and Hepburn delivered but never matching up.
And as already mentioned the actual comedy of the storyline, the amusing situation of Tracy on the eve of her wedding finding herself getting romantically involved with journalist Connor whilst her ex Dexter-Haven tries to spoil things just doesn't come off. Again much of the humour feels like a pale imitation of what we saw in "The Philadelphia Story" and it becomes a struggle to laugh.
The saving grace for "High Society" are the various musical scenes which break up the dullness. Listening to the likes of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", "True Love" and the comically entertaining "Well, Did You Evah" makes it worth while. But strangely for a musical there are not enough musical moments and whilst I like Louis Armstrong his inclusion as a guest of Dexter-Haven feels so forced it makes it a bit cheesy.
What this all boils down to is that "High Society" is in fact rather a disappointing movie thanks to the fact that it is weak when compared to "The Philadelphia Story". It doesn't really help that for a musical there are no where near enough musical moments and in effect there are only 3 which are really memorable. And it is those 3 musical moments which makes "High Society" average rather than below average.