Monday, August 22, 2016

Must-See Movie: High Society

High Society (1956)
With a stellar cast and some catchy tunes, this is a no-brainer to see...but there are still some cons that go with the pros of how "must-see" this movie is.

Here's the story:  Jazz musician C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby) still holds a torch for his ex-wife, Rhode Island socialite Tracy Samantha Lord (Grace Kelly). He stays at a neighbor's house, bringing his full jazz band (including Louis Armstrong) to disrupt Tracy's upcoming nuptials to to a boring but wealthy man (John Lund).  But that's not the only conflict.  Reporter Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm) from Spy Magazine, a fictional tabloid newspaper, are there to cover the wedding.  They are essentially blackmailing their way in, holding on to some embarrassing information about Tracy's father.  So to prevent the tabloid from getting the true story, Tracy begins an elaborate charade, pretending to be overly snobbish and frivolous, as well as introducing the tabloid to the wrong people.  To make matters even more confusing, Mike falls in love with Tracy, and she wakes up on the day of her wedding confused and unsure of what to do.

Cons: The story is overtly fluffy, but that is to expected from a musical of the time, I guess.  The film garnered mixed reviews, often being compared as a lesser offering to "The Philadelphia Story," a previous adaptation in 1940 of the play with the same name.  That film starred 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.  I've seen that version, but without songs, the movie seems even more "slapsticky."  However, once again you have a fantastic cast that carries this thin plotline.

The other con is that I'm never a fan of movies where the bride or groom is engaged but is tempted by another person and calls it off.  There are a lot of them out there, both on cable television and the big screen ("Wedding Planner," "The Sweetest Thing," "The Wedding Singer," "Sweet Home Alabama," multiple Hallmark Channel and Lifetime movies...).  Not to say that I don't enjoy watching them, I just feel that it's become cliché.

But I guess if you take this movie in to context of the day, women felt that marrying a man of good standing was pretty much their only option in the 50's, especially if your only skill was a socialite.  Okay, so let's accept that... but Tracy gets a little drunk and has a very romantic evening with Mike, then doubts her entire engagement?  I don't want to spoil too much, but the story is a little eye-rolling at times.

Pros: The pros definitely outweigh the cons.  Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra get plenty of song time, so there are multiple songs gorgeously sung from the best crooners.  Also, I could listen to Louis Armstrong play and sing all day long.  Each one of them gets a solo, as well as an additional song with another cast member.

Grace Kelly is gorgeous to look at and her costumes are beautiful. She was only 26 at the time of filming.   Apparently this was her final role before becoming Princess of Monaco. In fact, in the movie she wears the Cartier engagement ring given to her by Prince Rainier III.

But the absolute best part of the film that I actually gasped out loud and had to rewind to watch again is when Tracy is at her uncle's house with Mike.  She pulls on a book on a shelf in what seems to be a library, when the entire wall opens up and reveals a fully-stocked, gorgeously-decorated bar.  In the background there were glass decanters labeled with the various kinds of alcohol and divine stemware and glasses. I turned to Dyno and said, "Okay, I want that!"

So enjoy the fluffy 50's story, along with the many songs and star power.  And if you'd like to help me build the library with the hidden bar for my home, let me know!

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