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Warner Home Video presents
"I don't want to be worshiped. I want to be loved."
DVD Review"Based on a play by Philip Barry." That rather opaque title card in the opening credits of High Society is the only nod to the source material for this musical—such is the respect accorded writers in Hollywood, I suppose. But said play, of course, isn't some obscure little drama that a film producer dusted off and brought back from obscurity—it's The Philadelphia Story, probably more famous on screen than on stage, as the 1940 jewel of a comedy that persuaded the powers that be in the entertainment business that Katherine Hepburn was not in fact box office poison.
High Society is a musicalized version of that earlier film, and if it doesn't quite sweep away the memories of the Cukor picture, it's still got plenty of its own virtues, including a stellar cast and a score by one of the great American songwriters. Grace Kelly plays the Hepburn role: she's Tracy Lord, the astonishingly lovely heiress about to be married to George (John Lund), but this being the movies, the wedding won't go off just as beautifully as planned. Looking to bust things up is Tracy's inconvenient ex-husband, C.K. Dexter-Haven—Dex to his friends—who just happens to live next door, perfect for little unannounced drop-ins on the bride. Tracy's father, Seth, has been a naughty boy, too, and the Lord family cuts an unholy deal with that scandal sheet, Spy Magazine: Spy will suppress a story about Seth and his mistress in exchange for unfettered access to Tracy's wedding. Tracy finds this an appalling bargain, but the Lord name must be kept out of the muck—the members of the press dispatched for the job are Macaulay Connor (Mike to his friends) and his photographer, Elizabeth Embrie.
Remakes are always a little dicey—if the original version was beloved, the new one is likely to suffer by comparison; and if the first wasn't all that hot to begin with, the wisdom of remaking it is likely to be suspect. High Society certainly falls into the former category, and the new cast is in the unenviable position of trying to measure up to the first. But star wattage helps out in a big way—Cary Grant played Dexter in the original, and if Bing Crosby isn't quite as young and dashing as Grant was, he's got an easy charm and a set of pipes that allow him to make Dex his own. (He ties his bow tie just right, the first time out, while singing. That is one cool cat.) James Stewart won his only Oscar for his performance as Connor, and while Frank Sinatra may not quite rise to Stewart's level—who could?—he's a game and winning reporter hot on the trail of a story. Oh, and he can sing a little.
Cole Porter wrote some lovely songs for this—they're probably not in the first tier of his songbook, but Porter tunes that don't shine quite as brightly as Anything Goes or You're the Top are still Porter tunes. (Also, I know of at least two young women whose parents were so taken with one of the songs—I Love You, Samantha—that their daughters were named for it. Samantha is Tracy Lord's middle name.) Some changes have been made from the original - this story is no longer set in Philadelphia, for one, and the whole show has been moved to Newport, R.I., allowing the film to incorporate as part of its story Dex's sponsorship of the Newport Jazz Festival. This is basically a clumsy little device that's easily forgiven, for it's how Louis Armstrong is brought into the story—Satchmo pals around with Dex, and serves as sort of a Greek chorus for the thing.
But the whole thing doesn't quite hang together, in part because it's not really re-invented as a musical. Kelly sings passable harmony with Crosby on one number, but it's hard to make a full-boat Hollywood musical comedy when your lead character doesn't really sing or dance. (She looks so unbelievably beautiful, though, that apologies for her not singing aren't necessary.) Instead, she's pursued by maybe the best two popular singers of the 20th century, and being serenaded by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter—there's nothing wrong with that. Actually, though, the most successful musical numbers are a series of duets—Crosby and Sinatra together on Well, Did You Evah?, Sinatra and Celeste Holm acquainting themselves with the ways of the idle rich in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (I do), Crosby and Armstrong performing a jazz number because, well, because they're Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. This last one is especially strange, in the context of the story, as it features Tracy's ex-husband performing for her family the night before her second marriage.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Obviously made in a pre-video age, director Charles Walters favors master shots, which means that the faces of the actors on your television screen can be a little too small and difficult to make out—Walters is also overly fond of zooming in on his actors, which can be a little sudden and nauseous. But the colors are nicely saturated and nearly jump off the screen; the occasional boom shadow is the only thing detracting from the video presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The musical numbers sound especially fine in the remixed 5.1 track, and hissing, popping and crackle are at a pretty low level for a film of this period.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 34 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Philadelphia Story
Newsreel footage (01m:08s) of the Hollywood premiere for the film shows the arrival of those working on the picture, along with luminaries as various as General Omar Bradley and newlyweds Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Four original radio ads (19m:00s) feature lots of Crosby—the idea was to have Bing introduce the songs from the film, and then to play the appropriate cuts from the soundtrack. He also provides mock interview answers, designed to be spliced in with questions from local D.J.s, who could pass this off as an exclusive with one of Hollywood's brightest stars.
Best of all is Millionaire Droopy (06m:53s), a cartoon short in which Spike the bulldog tries to do away with poor old Droopy Dog. There doesn't seem to be any particular connection between the feature and this short, which has the distinct flavor of the Road Runner cartoons; given that Crosby's crooning style was a frequent target of Looney Tunes satire, I was a little surprised that one of those bah-bah-bah-boo shorts wasn't selected for this DVD instead.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsHigh Society is unlikely to eradicate your memory of or fondness for The Philadelphia Story, but with those names above the title and a batch of songs by Cole Porter, it's hard to go wrong with this one.
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