Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
HIGH SOCIETY (1956)
Three men are in love with the same woman! 1950s gasp!
Tracy (Grace Kelly) is about to be married to George (John Lund). They’re putting together a mega-deluxe rich people wedding, but oops, her first husband Dexter (Bing Crosby) is snooping around and he still loves her!
No woman can resist his mating call of “buh buh buh buh buh”!
This nuptial bash is going to be so big and extravagant that a reporter named Mike (Frank Sinatra) is sent out to cover it. But then he falls in love with Tracy too! What a romantic dilemma!
Life is so hard!
Later, while hanging out near a swimming pool—ohhhhh, you knuckleknobs, this is a musical version of The Philadelphia Story, isn’t it? Wow. It took me a while, but yeah. I know this story. I saw the Jimmy Stewart movie. Well.
Um, you couldn’t tell us which play?
Okay, so I already think “everybody loves you, but only pick one” plots are underwhelming, and I know how this ends because I’ve seen another rendition of it. Hmm. Hmmmmm. Well, it’d better have fun performances and great music…
It does! Why, goodness me, everyone is an utter delight! Grace Kelly’s Tracy, for all her upper-crustiness, is very charming and down-to-earth. Plus, she’s a goddamn hoot when she pretends to be extra snooty to throw off the press.
She is at Ham Level: Critical.
Speaking of the press, both Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm are perfect as judgmental reporters Mike and Liz from Spy magazine. They spend the whole movie running around pricey mansions making “Can ya believe this shit?” faces, and they play off of each other remarkably well.
Aww, I want a Go Make Fun of Rich People Friend.
Bing Crosby’s a little harder to nail down. See, Dexter is quite the charmer, and a musician (*swoon*), but when he pulls stunts like hosting a jazz festival at same time and place as his ex’s wedding, or buying a gift to remind her of their relationship, he’s also a bit of a manipulative dick? “Hey, Bill, these are story issues, not acting issues,” says The Tiny Goblin That Lives Behind My Face, but I’m bringing them up because, while Bing’s charisma is through the roof in this flick, it’s kind of… unsettling when paired with his obsessive attempts to rekindle a romance with his former wife.
It’s time to clear your search history, Bing.
Then again, I guess we’re supposed to be okay with it since Tracy’s new man, Boring George, is boringly played by a boring John Lund.
Can’t root for him, his face isn’t even on the poster!
Oh, also, there’s a little kid running around with a crush on Dexter. She’s played by Lydia Reed and she’s pretty funny.
My highest compliment for child actors is usually “tolerable,” so good job!
Oh my goodness, and while Louis Armstrong doesn’t really have a character arc and is literally playing himself, ah, he is fun as hell.
This scene is amazing, let’s talk about it right now!
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
The opening of this movie is friggin’ wonderful. Louis Armstrong and his band perform “High Society Calypso” on a bus headed to Tracy’s mansion, and it’s just the most toe-tappin’est intro I’ve ever heard. Louis just straight up sings the backstory of all the characters, does a little scat, and winkingly shatters the fourth wall.
Please let the whole movie be this busload of musicians.
Oh, hrmm, yeah, you know how adults will joke with little kids that they’re going to marry them someday? And the kid says, “Eww,” and everybody laughs and that’s the end of it? Um, the song “Little One” is like that, except the kid swoons and Dexter croons right in her lovestruck face and it’s uncomfortable as fuck. When she leaves, he keeps singing and you realize he’s actually pouring his heart out about Tracy, but isn’t it kind of creepier that the same set of lyrics can be applied to your ex-wife or an 11-year-old child?
Fun fact, the game show that stole its title from this film’s song “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” did not listen to it very carefully, because the answer is a resounding, “Definitely not me.” This goofy rejection of aristocratic living is entirely too amusing, with Liz and Mike rummaging through a dining room, using every expensive thing they find as props, and doing their wackiest “I’m a rich asshole” voices. The whole sequence is a goddamn delight.
Try not to let Frank Sinatra’s net worth ruin this fun jab at the wealthy!
Hey, so I could use this paragraph to talk about the illusion of pure objectivity in film criticism, but instead I will say that “True Love” is a blissfully heartwarming song that’s even more touching when you’re snuggled up with a cutie. <3 We see a flashback to Dexter and Tracy’s happier days on a fancy boat, he sings about how lucky they are to have found each other, she lays in his lap, he plays the squeezebox, she touches his face, he chomps at her finger, it’s… it’s perfect.
Taking a 5-minute break for emotions, be right back.
Mike gets a quick ditty to tell Tracy “You’re Sensational,” and while the scene is nothing more flashy than telling her he thinks she’s swell, her “you’re nice too but are you really the second guy pulling this shit during my wedding party?” reactions are pretty great.
Have another, honey, you’ve earned it.
Then Satchmo plays some sad trumpet and Dexter starts singing “I Love You, Samantha” in another room. (Samantha is Tracy’s middle name that he prefers to call her by.) I found it a little forgettable, but props to Bing for singing while tying a tie, which I could never do.
This better not be a stunt guy.
Alright, brace yourself for a real showstopper. “Now You Has Jazz” has zero bearing on the plot, but who cares when Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong have a scat-off and everyone in the band just utterly brings it? This scene is pure, uncut joy and well worth the price of admission alone.
Or the price of Netflix, since this film is currently available to stream!
Hey, wanna watch Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby get shitfaced and sing a duet? You’re in luck! “Well, Did You Evah!” features Dexter and Mike throwing back drinks, swapping lyrical hoity-toity party gossip, and making fun of each other’s iconic crooning styles. A fair amount of the words are total gibberish, but they’re drunk, they’re in tune, and it’s entertaining as fuck.
Spoiler for this article: None of the literal filler in this song
is winning my coveted Mostly Filler award. Because it’s awesome.
And lastly, “Mind If I Make Love to You?” a.k.a. The Consent Song. What can I say? It’s pretty hot.
Hot and ethical! In the ’50s! Who knew?
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Sorry, this lyric from “You’re Sensational” would be clunky as shit even in medieval times…
“Making love is quite an art.
What you require is the proper squire to fire your heart…”
Alright, I’m just going to say it: I liked High Society more than the 1940 film adaptation of The Philadelphia Story. Yeah, I got nervous about my own assessment and wondered if I’m in the minority, and I seem to be. But, I think this comes down to a matter of personal preference, and I just don’t find romantic complications under the constraints of monogamy to be all that interesting. But what’s this? My least favorite parts of the otherwise well-written Philadelphia Story have now been replaced with incredibly catchy Cole Porter songs, performed by an ensemble of immensely talented musicians and vocalists that also have amazing chemistry with each other? Well, sign me up! And sign yourself up, too!
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)