Hollywoodland Reviews: High Society (1956)

Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra star in High Society.
Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra star in High Society.

“I’ve made a terrible fool of myself, which isn’t at all unusual.” – Tracy Samantha Lord

When The Philadelphia Story was released in 1940, it was a surprise box office and critical hit and ‘box office poison’ Katharine Hepburn’s career was revived. So it was no surprise that 15 years later, MGM wanted to recreate the magic (and we all thought this was a new Hollywood trick!). Except this time, The Philadelphia Story became a movie musical called High Society.

Sinatra and Crosby in a scene from High Society.
Sinatra and Crosby in a scene from High Society.

With a score by Cole Porter and musical performances by the iconic Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, it was sure to be just as incredible as its predecessor. Gold on top of gold, right? Add Grace Kelly to the mix in the role that Katharine Hepburn made famous and there was no doubt this would be a runaway smash hit. Kelly had just recently won the Academy Award for Best Actress and High Society was to be her final film before she retired from Hollywood to become the Princess of Monaco, as she had just become engaged to Prince Rainier III a few weeks before filming commenced. Kelly, of course, would use her own 10.5 carat Cartier engagement ring in the film. Well, wouldn’t you?

Grace Kelly and her engagement ring in High Society.
Grace Kelly and her engagement ring in High Society.

Grace Kelly was only 26 when filming began for High Society in January 1956 while her on-screen love interests Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were slightly older at 40 and 53 respectively. Rumour circulated at the time that Sinatra was ‘fascinated’ by Kelly, like many of her male co-stars before him. But he feared her rejection and embarrassment in front of Crosby who previously had a love affair with Kelly during the filming The Country Girl two years earlier. Helen Rose designed all the costumes for the movie including Kelly’s wedding dress. For Kelly’s own wedding that would take place later that year, Kelly had hoped to enlist Edith Head, who had designed her iconic costumes in her Hitchcock movies, to design her own wedding dress. But MGM offered to cover the costs of the royal wedding dress if she would agree to have Helen Rose design it. She did and it turned out to be a spectacular marketing ploy by MGM and a true Hollywood fairytale wedding.

The original Helen Rose design and Kelly wearing it in High Society.
The original Helen Rose design and Kelly wearing it in High Society.

High Society was released on July 17, 1956 to generally mixed reviews. Often being compared as a lesser offering to The Philadelphia Story. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times commented: “No ‘Philadelphia Story’, ‘High Society; lacks Hepburn sparkle.” While Variety wrote: “Fortified with a strong Cole Porter score, this film is a pleasant romp…”

Crosby, Kelly, Sinatra and Holm in a publicity shot for High Society.
Crosby, Kelly, Sinatra and Holm in a publicity shot for High Society.

I agree with the latter review. This is one of my favourite stories and I love both movie versions of it. I would even love to see, dare I say it, a modern remake. The chemistry between all the characters is electric and fun and it is so wonderfully brought to life in both adaptations. High Society holds a special place in my heart and is probably my favourite Grace Kelly movie. The music is incredible and takes the film to another level. One of my favourite songs? ‘Now You Has Jazz’ featuring both Crosby and Armstrong in a toe-tapping duet. I have included it below for your viewing and listening pleasure but please, go one step further and watch the entire film. I am sure you won’t regret it.

High Society

Director: Charles Walters

Producer: Sol C. Siegel

Screenplay: John Patrick

Music: Cole Porter

Starring: Bing Crosby as C.K. Dexter Haven

Grace Kelly as Tracy Samantha Lord

Frank Sinatra as Mike Connor

Celeste Holm as Liz Imbrie

Louis Armstrong as himself

Release Date: July 17, 1956

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