High Society with Celeste Holm, Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra
I'm just watching High Society right now and WOW...what a great movie. I've seen it a million times on afternoon TV in the '70s, but I haven't caught it in a while.
In 1940, Katherine Hepburn's movie career was in desperate condition. Her 1938 film BRINGING UP BABY, although recognized as a Howard Hawks's masterpiece today, was at the time a box office failure. The failure signaled the temporary end of demand for her talents in Hollywood, although she had HOLIDAY in the can (and costarring, like both BRINGING UP BABY and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, Cary Grant). So, she went back to the stage, in a play written specifically for her, and the subsequent hit was an unexpected and triumphant return to the screen for Hepburn. Her career never looked back again, especially when two years later she teamed with Spencer Tracy for the first time. Ironically, she originally requested that Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy play the Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart roles.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is such an extraordinarily well-done film that one can watch it repeatedly, reveling each time in new and hidden details. It strikes the perfect balance of being spectacularly well-acted, hysterically funny, and delightfully silly while maintaining an elegant veneer. The cast is nearly overwhelming in its quality, with Hepburn and Grant turning in especially fine performances. Jimmy Stewart is also superb, though he won an Oscar for this year that he probably didn't deserve. The Academy in 1940 may have been giving him the award as an apology for not having won the year before for MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Unfortunately, this meant that Jimmy Stewart's best friend Henry Fonda failed to win for one of the finest performances in the history of American cinema, as Tom Joad in THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Still, although the Oscar clearly should have gone to Fonda, Stewart manages a great turn. He and Grant manage a great moment when Stewart adlibbed a hiccup, and Grant, not batting an eye, adlibbed, "Excuse me." The rest of the cast is flawless. Too many excel to mention, but special mention must be made of Roland Young as Uncle Willie, Virginia Weidler in a marvelous turn as Tracy Lord's precocious younger sister, and the erstwhile Errol Flynn nemesis Henry Daniell as the devious and unscrupulous Sidney Kidd.
Although this film holds up magnificently upon reviewings, there is nothing like seeing it for the first time. I remember vividly how exciting it was to watch this in the lamentably demised Lincoln Theater in New Haven, Connecticut, having absolutely no idea how the film was going to end only five minutes before the closing credits. Who will Tracy marry? Will she marry? How will the film managed to tie up all the loose ends.
I have a list of my all time favorite lines from films. One of my favorites comes from this one. On the morning after Tracy has gotten rip-roaringly drunk, she has almost no memories of what happened, but what she does recall makes her fear that she might have been in a compromising situation with Jimmy Stewart. After Stewart assures the confused and fearful Tracy Lord that nothing happened because she was drunk and "there are rules about that sort of thing," the infinitely relieved Tracy says, "I think men are wonderful."
The film has managed to permeate our culture in subtle ways, from inspiring musical remakes, to providing famous adult movie stars with their names, to providing foundations for jokes (in the Rocky and Bullwinkle adventure "The Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam," whenever Bullwinkle sees his jewel encrusted small boat, he mutters under his breath, "Yar, yar").
First of all, Grace Kelly is GORGEOUS. I don't think there's anyone like her today...the only person that approaches her in the looks department is Nicole Kidman, but Grace Kelly is much more natural to watch (prolly 'cause she's not fighting off an Australian accent while she's acting), more graceful, and more naturally beautiful.
Celeste Holm (who originated the role of Ado Annie -- singing "I Cain't Say No" -- in Oklahoma on Broadway, and who is still alive) and Frank Sinatra do a fantastic number with all the wedding gifts called "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" It is a wonderfully inventive number where they use the different pieces of wedding silverware to modify their voices and to create sounds and movement to punctuate the song. Pure movie musical magic.
As an aside, there's a big "hangover" scene near the end which makes me think "I'd hate to be hung over in the '50s"...all those tight dresses and formal clothes don't make a hangover look like much fun. Track pants are the only way to go if your head's on fire...