“High Society” is not a bad movie – it’s really not. In a vacuum, it would be quite a fun musical. How can you go wrong with the musical talents of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, fighting over the non-musical but always radiant Grace Kelly? And there’s even Louis Armstrong around as a bonus.
But the trouble is that “High Society” does not exist in a vacuum. It’s a musical remake of one of the all-time classic screwball comedies, “The Philadelphia Story.”
When “High Society” came out, long before DVD, Netflix or Turner Classic Movies, remakes didn’t have to look over their shoulder quite as much as they do today, when all of the previous versions are on tap. Nowadays, a remake has to compete with every single one of its previous versions.
When Bing is introduced in “High Society” as musician C.K. Dexter Haven, it just sounds wrong. Cary Grant is C.K. Dexter Haven, and he’s definitely not a musician. Grace Kelly is beautiful just being Grace Kelly, but only Katharine Hepburn is Tracy Lord. And Jimmy Stewart is Macaulay Connor, the gifted writer forced to slum at a gossip magazine. Sinatra, whose character in “High Society” is named “Mike,” just doesn’t seem right for the part.
“High Society” is not without its charms. But it will always be an imitation of the real thing.