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Thursday, June 16, 2016

HIGH SOCIETY (1956)

Two words that don’t spring to mind in relation to Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra are Road Company. Yet, that’s what you get on this reasonable facsimile musicalization of the Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart starrer THE PHILADELPHIA STORY/’40. There’s a good Cole Porter score, a typically underrated late effort*, and a fine fourth wheel in Celeste Holm*, but too much character development & comedy go missing with nearly an hour cut from Philip Barry’s original play. Worse, Kelly, as the rigid society gal who stoops to conquer her blind spots, misses nearly every laugh. The timing, blunt directness & brittle nature Hepburn turned on & off with such alarming precision are nowhere to be seen. (High comedy is no beginner’s game, and Kelly only made about ten features.) Crosby (as the ‘ex’ who wants her back) and Sinatra (as the gossip scribe who strays from his intended) might have worked, at least they play nicely together, but the trimmed script tosses out their motivations (reformed alcoholic/serious author). All that’s left is the dramatic outline and an emphasis on some of the play’s more unpleasant attitudes. Barry’s resolution for unforgiving daughter & roaming dad feels particularly moldy. Still, if you’ve seen the original version, and don’t mind hideous, antiseptic sets (could the lack of taste be deliberate?), the songs are rather ‘swellegant,’ and Kelly stunning as ever in her Hollywood swan-song.

ATTENTION MJUST BE PAID: *Porter’s late scores get taken for granted. But with two new standards, an old standard, a great novelty number, plus a charming throwaway (‘Little One’), why complain?

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Cary Grant & James Stewart were more than a match for roles played on stage by Joseph Cotten & Van Heflin. Hepburn was less taken with young, glamorous Ruth Hussey in for B'way's Shirley Booth, neither young nor glamorous. Here, Celeste Holm probably gets closer to Booth’s original conception.

DOUBLE-BILL: A Philadelphia Main Line society gal in real life, Kelly must have thought moving the story to Rhode Island ironic. Even more ironic, playing a princess in her underrated penultimate pic, Ferenc Molnár’s wise, hardheaded romance, THE SWAN/’56.

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