High Society is the musical version of The Philadelphia Story. So instead of Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and James Stewart, you have Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. Either way, a strong cast. Really, the movies are identical, except for all that singing. It really raises two questions: whether some movies would be better if there were more musical numbers, and whether other musical movies would be better without all the singing.
Sadly enough for High Society, the answer in this case is no and then yes. I've no doubt that there are some movies that would be greatly improved by adding a Cole Porter score. The Philadelphia Story is a love story, even a romantic comedy, but it's also kind of serious, too. Too serious, I think, for a Cole Porter score.
High Society is not a bad movie. The whole cast is great, Grace Kelly is so beautiful you want to slap yourself, the songs are great, and it's got Louis Armstrong. If you have never seen The Philadelphia Story, you might like it very much.
Songs and Dance: All singing, not really any dancing at all. You know, when I was writing this, I was thinking there wasn't much to impress me in terms of the songs, which felt like a betrayal to Cole Porter. But then I started looking for clips, and I remembered that I like this one, and oh, that one was good, too, and don't forget this other one! The thing is, there is a heck of a lot of talent in this picture.
Here is Bing and Frank. This song was added at the last minute, because it finally occurred to someone that they had made a whole movie starring both Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and not once did they sing together. I love the banter they have going on both in the song and in the talking between the lyrics.
Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I could try, but he would start complaining about five minutes in, saying he'd just rather watch The Philadelphia Story.
I saw this movie a long time ago. I remembered a scene at the beginning of Fred Astaire dancing in a toy store, and then a scene at the end where everybody was walking down the street singing the titular song. Somehow, in my head, those two bookending numbers became the whole movie to me. As a result, I was not really looking forward to watching it again. Finally, I actually did watch it, and I realized that even musicals have more to them than two songs. This one even had a plot and stuff.
This one has a sort of Pygmalion feel to it, except instead of Henry Higgins teaching Eliza Doolittle to act like a lady, we have Don Hewes (Astaire) teaching Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) to dance. He's trying to get back at Ann Miller, his former dance partner who was really kind of a jerk for the whole movie. It's yet another movie set in the vaudeville era about those crazy vaudevillians. Aside from all the, you know, musical stuff, the script is very good, too. There are some great one-liners and sight gags, and a really funny scene where a French waiter describes a salad. You had to be there.
Songs and Dance: Very good all around. This might be the first movie I've mentioned featuring Ann Miller, but I am a fan. And of course, everyone knows that Fred and Judy can sing and dance. The songs are all by Irving Berlin, including some of the classics: Steppin' Out with my Baby," "A Fella with an Umbrella," and the title song. The lyrics are clever and the melodies are playful. What's not to like?
Here is a clip from Fred and Judy's show. See? It's cute!
Will I Make Josh Watch It: Maybe? I would not call this required viewing in terms of musical theatre education, but I think it's one of the most enjoyable ones I've seen in a while. It's just a solid example of the genre - everyone is mostly happy and nice and sometimes people sing and dance.
There's No Business Like Show Business
It took me a while to figure out why I didn't like this movie very much. It's got talented performers (Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Ray) and great songs (Irving Berlin again), and yet, I was just so bored by it. I've decided that the problem was with the plot. It feels so tacked on. I realize that complaining about the plot of a musical is missing the point a bit.
Here's how this movie happened: They had a lot of Irving Berlin songs lying around and one Ethel Merman. So they made a movie. The End. I knew that before I watched it, so it's entirely possible that this knowledge colored my perception. It sounds like the wrong way to make a movie, doesn't it? Shouldn't you start with a good story and then go from there?
I don't know how to write a movie. I do know that I didn't care what happened to the characters in this one. That is usually a pretty good indicator that the movie is not well-written.
Songs and Dance: Hey, at least these were good! Donald O'Connor had a really neat sequence where he danced in a garden full of Venus de Milo style sculptures (but not naked and with arms). Then they came to life and danced with him. I picked this number ("Lazy") with Marilyn, Mitzi, and Donald. I could have picked any one of several renditions of "Alexander's Ragtime Band," but I really liked the contrasting styles in this one. Plus, it's just so darn fun.
Will I Make Josh Watch It: Not a chance. I don't even really want to see it again.