High Society (1956 film)

High Society is a 1956 American musical romantic comedy film directed by Charles Walters and starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. The film was produced by Sol C. Siegel for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and shot in VistaVision and Technicolor, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

High Society
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCharles Walters
Screenplay byJohn Patrick
Based onThe Philadelphia Story
by Philip Barry
Produced bySol C. Siegel
CinematographyPaul C. Vogel
Edited byRalph E. Winters
Music byCole Porter
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • July 17, 1956 (1956-07-17)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.8 million[1]
Box office$8.2 million[1]

The film is a musical remake of the 1940 screwball comedy film The Philadelphia Story, which was based on the 1939 play The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry. High Society's screenplay was written by John Patrick and involves a successful popular jazz musician (Crosby) who tries to win back the affections of his ex-wife (Kelly), who is preparing to marry another man. The cast also features Celeste Holm, John Lund, and Louis Calhern, in his final film, with a musical contribution by Louis Armstrong. The film was Kelly's last professional appearance before she married Prince Rainier III and became Princess consort of Monaco.

Plot edit

Successful singer-composer C.K. Dexter-Haven (the grandson of a Newport "robber baron") is divorced from wealthy Newport, Rhode Island, socialite Tracy Samantha Lord. Dexter, who lives next door to the Lord estate, remains in love with her but she is now engaged to socially prominent and snobbish George Kittredge. As Tracy prepares for her upcoming wedding, Dexter is busily organizing elements of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Meanwhile, Spy, a tabloid newspaper, possesses embarrassing information about Tracy's errant father, Seth Lord, and has coerced the family into allowing reporter Mike Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie to cover the nuptials. Tracy, resenting their forced presence, begins an elaborate charade, including introducing her Uncle Willy as her father, while Seth is passed off as "wicked" Uncle Willy.

As a wedding gift, Dexter gives Tracy a scale model of their former sailboat, "True Love," which evokes her memories about their happy honeymoon aboard it. Tracy gradually realizes George knows little about her true self and has instead created an idealized image of her. When Tracy drives Mike around Newport, he notices some neglected mansions; Tracy explains many owners have been forced to board up or sell off their properties due to high taxes. Her Uncle Willy is selling his own estate. The two form a mutual attraction, leaving Tracy to choose from three very different men during a course of self-discovery. During the wedding-eve party at Uncle Willy's house, George catches a tipsy Tracy kissing Dexter on the patio. George leaves Tracy in an empty room to sober up but, still tipsy, she climbs out the window and runs into Mike. George finds her again after she and Mike have had a swim in the Lords' pool. The next day, Tracy has hazy memories of the previous night. She initially intends to go through with the wedding, then prods George into agreeing to call it off. While informing the waiting guests the wedding is canceled, Dexter suddenly proposes that he be the groom. Knowing she loves him, Tracy accepts. Liz and Mike, who now realize they love each other, tell Tracy and Dexter that they are not writing a story about the wedding or other events to protect the family's privacy.

Cast edit

Production edit

L–R: Director Charles Walters, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly

Filming took place between January and March 1956. The location scenes were mostly shot in and around Clarendon Court in Newport, Rhode Island, which was then owned by Mae Cadwell Hayward,[2] and later purchased in 1970 by Claus von Bülow.[3]

The location, according to Turner Classic Movies, enabled them to take advantage of the Newport Jazz Festival, established in 1954, incorporating it into the film by giving Crosby's character a background as a descendant of a Gilded Age robber baron who became a jazz composer and friend of jazz star Louis Armstrong, who plays himself in the film, and patron of the Festival.[4] As name-checked by Crosby in the song "Now You Has Jazz", where each musician takes a small solo, Armstrong's band members were Edmond Hall (clarinet), Trummy Young (trombone), Billy Kyle (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass), and Barrett Deems (drums).

This film featured Kelly's final role before she became Princess of Monaco; it was released three months after her marriage to Prince Rainier III. In the film, Kelly wore the Cartier engagement ring given to her by Rainier.[5] Sinatra was 40 and Crosby 53 while playing the love interests of Kelly, who was 26 during the filming. Sinatra biographers George Jacobs and William Stadiem claimed Crosby kept his distance from Sinatra during the production and remained strictly professional when Sinatra desired companionship, and that it "killed" Sinatra to think that Crosby considered himself a higher class singer. However, this is rejected by TCM, which states that "in spite of a rumored rivalry between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, the two worked together very amicably during the shoot."[4]

They claim that Sinatra was fascinated with Grace Kelly – as were many of her previous co-stars – and would have loved to have an affair with her but feared rejection and embarrassment in front of Crosby, who had previously had an affair with Kelly.[6]

The sailboat used in the film, the True Love (originally the Venona II based on the Malabar design by John Alden built for racing), sails on Seneca Lake out of Watkins Glen, NY as an excursion boat for Seneca Sailing Adventures, LLC.[7]

Musical numbers edit

Armstrong and Kelly on the set of High Society, from the New York World-Telegram

Producer Sol C. Siegel paid Porter $250,000 for his first original film score in eight years;[8] it introduced a couple of pop standards, including "True Love" and "You're Sensational". Not only did Sinatra and Crosby collaborate for the first time,[8][9] but behind the scenes two master orchestrators – Conrad Salinger and Nelson Riddle – melded their arrangements under the baton of Johnny Green. Armstrong and his band get a couple of standout moments and Kelly has her only role in a musical.

  1. "Overture"
  2. "High Society Calypso" – Louis Armstrong & his band
  3. "Little One" – C.K. (Bing Crosby)
  4. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" – Mike (Frank Sinatra), Liz (Celeste Holm)
  5. "True Love" – C.K. (Crosby), Tracy (Grace Kelly)
  6. "You're Sensational" – Mike (Sinatra)
  7. "I Love You, Samantha" – C.K. (Crosby)
  8. "Now You Has Jazz" – C.K. (Crosby), Armstrong & his band, individually introduced by name
  9. "Well, Did You Evah!" – C.K. (Crosby), Mike (Sinatra)[9][10]
  10. "Mind if I Make Love to You?" – Mike (Sinatra)

A soundtrack album was released the year of the film's release and was a major success in both America and the United Kingdom. It has been said[citation needed] that one of the main reasons star Sinatra was drawn to the film was a mock-tipsy duet with his boyhood idol Crosby on "Well, Did You Evah!", a song from an earlier Porter show, DuBarry Was a Lady (1939), re-adapted and added at the last minute when it was noted that the two singers did not have a duet to perform in the film.[11]

The title of the song "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" gained new significance a half-century later as the title of a global game show franchise. "I Love You, Samantha" has also become a jazz favorite for improvisations.[citation needed]

Release edit

Critical reception edit

Opening on July 17, 1956, High Society garnered mixed reviews, often being compared as a lesser offering to The Philadelphia Story, a previous adaptation in 1940 of the same play starring Cary Grant in the Crosby part, Katharine Hepburn in the Kelly role, and James Stewart in an Oscar-winning turn as the reporter played in the remake by Sinatra. Variety observed: "High Society should spell high finance business all over. It's a solid entertainment every minute of its footage. Fortified with a strong Cole Porter score, film is a pleasant romp for cast toppers Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra who, tactfully, get alphabetical top billing. Their impact is almost equally consistent. Although Sinatra has the top pop tune opportunities, the Crooner makes his specialties stand up and out on showmanship and delivery, and Miss Kelly impresses as the femme lead with pleasantly comedienne overtones. This is perhaps her most relaxed performance ..."[12]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described it as "flimsy as a gossip-columnist's word", missing "the snap and the crackle that its un-musical predecessor had."[13] According to Time, in spite of its "Who's Who cast" the film is "simply not top-drawer"; a "good deal of the screenplay seems as dated today as the idle rich ... [Kelly] lacks the gawky animal energy that Katharine Hepburn brought to the 1939 play and the 1941 movie, [Crosby] saunters through the part rather sleepily, without much of the old Bing zing [, and] Sinatra plays the reporter like a dead-end kid with a typewriter."[8]

Box-office edit

Trailer for the film

At the North American box-office, High Society was a success. It was one of the 10 highest-grossing films of 1956 in the US and Canada earning $5,602,000, and $2,656,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $1,148,000.[1]

Awards and nominations edit

High Society received two Academy Award nominations, and nearly received a third. The film was initially nominated in the 1956 Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture Story, even though it was based on the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story and thus was not eligible in that category. Moreover, the nominated writers, Elwood Ullman and Edward Bernds, had written not this film, but a 1955 Bowery Boys film also titled High Society.

According to the book Inside Oscar, Steve Broidy, president of The Bowery Boys home studio Allied Artists, told the press, "This just proves what we've known all along – that the Bowery Boys series couldn't have lasted this long if not for the fine writers." The joking in the press aside, Ullman and Bernds sent a telegram to the Academy Award Board of Governors, acknowledging the error and requesting that their names be removed from the final ballot.[14]

Year Award Category Nominees Result Ref.
1957 Academy Awards Best Scoring of a Musical Picture Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin Nominated [15]
Best Song "True Love"
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
1957 Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Musical John Patrick Nominated [16]

Broadway adaptation edit

More than 40 years following the film's release, High Society was adapted for the stage as a Broadway musical with several Porter songs from other sources added to the score. The stage version of High Society opened on April 27, 1998, at the St. James Theatre, starring Melissa Errico as Tracy Lord, Daniel McDonald as C.K. Dexter Haven, Stephen Bogardus as Mike Conner, John McMartin as Uncle Willie, and, in her Broadway debut, a 12-year-old Anna Kendrick as Dinah Lord. Kendrick and McMartin received Tony Award nominations for their work as Best Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical. The show ran for 144 performances.[17][18][19]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Hughes, Tyler (January 19, 2013). "The Gilded Age Era: Clarendon Court, Poor Sunny's Newport "Cottage"". thegildedageera.blogspot.com. Archived from the original on October 11, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  3. ^ Stanley Green, Hollywood Musicals Year by Year, Hal Leonard Corporation, 1999, p. 207
  4. ^ a b "High Society (1956) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on October 13, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  5. ^ "Grace Kelly's Engagement Ring". The Royal Post. October 13, 2011. Archived from the original on December 28, 2013. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
  6. ^ Jacobs, George; Stadiem, William (2004). Mr. S: The Last Word on Frank Sinatra. Pan Macmillan. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-330-41229-2.
  7. ^ "True Love". Sail True Love. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c "Cinema: The New Pictures". Time. August 6, 1956. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  9. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 22 - Smack Dab in the Middle on Route 66: A skinny dip in the easy listening mainstream. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries. Track 3.
  10. ^ "Well Did You Evah" from Bing Crosby Hit Songs-131-140 at the Internet Archive. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  11. ^ "High Society - Trivia". Internet Movie Database. IMDb. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  12. ^ "High Society". Variety. July 18, 1956. p. 6. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  13. ^ Bosley Crowther (August 10, 1956). "No Philadelphia Story, This: 'High Society' Lacks Hepburn Sparkle". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  14. ^ Wiley, Mason (1996). Inside Oscar. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 273–274. ISBN 0-345-40053-4.
  15. ^ "The 29th Academy Awards (1957) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Oscars.org (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  16. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  17. ^ High Society Archived March 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine at the Internet Broadway Database.
  18. ^ Brantley, Ben (April 28, 1998). "THEATER REVIEW; Party Animals, or, Frolics Of the Rich and Tacky". The New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  19. ^ "List of 1998 Tony Award Winners". Playbill. Playbill Inc. Retrieved January 9, 2024.

External links edit