The Heroine’s Journey in “High Society”

After opening with a calypso tune from the inimitable Louis Armstrong, “High Society” really has nowhere to go but down, yet somehow director Charles Walters manages to keep this Technicolor musical sparkling through the next 100 minutes.

A re-telling of the 1940 hit “The Philadelphia Story” (which starred James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant), “High Society” retreads the story of wealthy “cold goddess” Tracy Samantha Lord (Kelly), whose upcoming marriage to a boring businessman is scuppered by the arrival of her previous husband, the “jukebox hero” Dexter (Crosby) and a pair of reporters from a cheap tabloid (Sinatra, Holm).

While it never comes close to the screwball charm of Hepburn and Co’s outing, this is still a great musical… and one that’s previously been grossly underrated.

Hopefully this reissue will remind audiences about both its charm and its fantastic selection of Cole Porter numbers, including “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, “Now You Has Jazz”, and the hilarious Sinatra/Crosby duet on “Well, Did You Evah”.

There’s also lots of fun to be had watching the cast bounce off each other. While Crosby’s so relaxed he looks half asleep, the rest of the players are full of life, from Sinatra’s cynical reporter to Kelly’s radiant exuberance, not to mention the understated comedy of Celeste Holm, who almost steals the show as the droll foil to the others’ lovestruck antics.

Although Walters’ direction is painfully flat, the scenes still sparkle, and the drunken wedding party is hilarious (with a wasted Kelly shouting “I’m sensational!” to anyone who’ll listen), matched only by the hangover the next morning when even the rattle of the breakfast china is too much to handle.

It’s a fantastic comedy and a musical that thoroughly deserves to be reassessed.