Film of the Week 29.11.20.

It is well known that I am an enthusiast for stage and screen musicals, so I was delighted when, High Society appeared on the TV schedules. Made in 1956 by MGM this was a remake of the 1940 romantic comedy, ‘The Philadelphia Story’. That was in turn adapted from the 1939 stage play that starred Katherine Hepburn. But Hepburn was regarded as ‘box office poison’ following a series of flops and MGM propped her up with Cary Grant and James Stewart-the result was a major Oscar winning hit.

For the remake MGM went for an all- star line -up with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra with ten hit songs by Cole Porter and the musical giant, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong. This is not an all singing all dancing musical, but a romantic comedy satire on the lives of the idle rich in Newport, Rhode Island where socialite Tracy Samantha Lord is about to re-marry following her divorce from jazz singer Dexter Haven. But he lives next door and inconveniently turns up for the wedding triggering her emotional turmoil.

Kelly is luminous in what would be her last film before becoming Princess Grace of Monaco and she wears the Cartier diamond engagement ring from Prince Rainier during the film. The 56 year- old Crosby croons and cruises through the film as ex-husband Dexter while the 40 year -old Sinatra shows what a good comedy actor he could be. The film was sadly also the last for the character actor Louis Calhern, who died later that year. He was a stalwart of MGM films but had been in films since the 1920’s and had a distinguished stage career.

The songs are great, it looks terrific and this is a musical that has class. You can see it on BBC 4 on Thursday and on the I-Player.

Bill Cunningham