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High Society was a musical adaptation of the play The Philadelphia Story, which had been adapted into a successful film, starring Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, Cary Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven and James Stewart as Mike Connor, in 1940.  Here the respective roles are taken by Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and the setting is moved from Philadelphia to Newport, RI, in order to incorporate the Newport Jazz Festival.

Briefly the storyline starts on the eve of Tracy Lord’s second marriage.  Her first husband, Dexter, is in attendance, and is still much loved by the rest of her family.  A seedy magazine is planning on publishing an expose about Tracy’s father, who has run off with a dancer, unless the Lord family allow the magazine access to the wedding.  Tracy baulks at the idea, but to save her family’s reputation, agrees to the deal.  Macauley ‘Mike’ Connor is the journalist sent to cover the event, and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm) is the photographer.

Matters are complicated when it becomes clear that not only is Dexter still in love with Tracy, but Mike also falls for her!  The events which take place cause Tracy to look at the reasons why her first marriage failed, and she learns some truths about herself along the way.

It is impossible not to compare this film with The Philadelphia Story, and there are so many reasons why I should prefer the earlier movie, but for some reason, High Society won my heart a lot more quickly than its predecessor did.  For my money, Cary Grant was a far better Dexter than Bing Crosby – nothing wrong with Bing’s acting, but Grant looked far more the part – and Katharine Hepburn was (for me anyway) a superior actress to Grace Kelly.  She did not possess Kelly’s warmth, but Tracy Lord is supposed to be a cold character anyway, especially at the beginning of the film.  James Stewart is just about a better Mike than Sinatra, although I always enjoy watching both men on screen.  But for all that, High Society seemed the funnier film.  The musical numbers were wonderful – many aided by the wonderful Louis Armstrong, playing himself, in town with his band for the Jazz Festival.  The Crosby/Sinatra duet ‘Well Did You Evah’ is an absolute delight, with two of the best loved voices of the time going head to head and seeming to love every moment of it.  Grace Kelly did a fine job as Tracy, and it was entirely believeable to see not two, but three – the third being her prospective new husband – men in love with her.  Celeste Holm never disappoints, and she certainly didn’t here.

The ending – which I’m not going to reveal – did seem to ‘jar’ a little more than it did in The Philadelphia Story, but I can accept that, because the rest o the film was so instantly enjoyable – the scenes were Mike and Liz first arrive at the house and are introduced to the family were a real hoot.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable film, with some terrific music, and lots of laughs.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1956

Director: Charles Walters

Producer: Sol C. Siegel

Writers: Philip Barry (play ‘The Philadelphia Story’), John Patrick

Main cast: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Celeste Holm, Louis Calhern

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Click here for my review of the 2012/2013 stage production of High Society.

Click here for my review of The Philadelphia Story.

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William Holden, Frederic March, Grace Kelly and Mickey Rooney head up the cast in this film set during the Korean War, and based on actual events.  Holden is Lieutenant Harry Brubaker, a naval reservist, who has been called away from his civilian life to serve in the US Navy during the war.  Brubaker is unhappy about fighting a war which he doesn’t necessarily believe in, and is bitter about having to leave his wife Nancy (Grace Kelly) and their two daughters behind.  Nancy does however join him when he has a week’s leave in Tokyo, but duty calls, and he has to return to the war.  Frederic March is Holden’s Admiral, who has suffered the loss of his two sons to war, and Mickey Rooney is Mike Forney, a helicopter pilot who saves Brubaker’s life at the beginning of the film.

I’m so glad I watched this film – had it not starred William Holden, I doubt I would have bothered, as war films are not a genre I particularly enjoy, but I found it utterly compelling.  Holden is excellent as ever as the brave Brubaker; he is brave because he has to be, but his fear and longing to be back with his family are all too believable.  Kelly is also good as the wife who is frightened for her husband but determines to be brave and supportive.  Frederic March, as always, is superb, giving an air of gravitas and genuine sadness at the situation in which he finds himself and his men, knowing the losses that families are suffering every day.

The scenes when the men launch their attack on the titular bridges are action packed and very tense (the film won the Academy Award for special effects), and the moments where Brubaker spends quality time with his family are perfectly placed, and show the two worlds between which Brubaker and men like him are torn.

This is definitely a film worth watching, showing the men not just as heroes, but also as people, making a sacrifice for their country.  It is emotional and satisfying, and all in glorious Technicolor.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Mark Robson

Producers: George Seaton, William Perlberg

Writers: James Michener (novel), Valentine Davies

Main cast: William Holden, Grace Kelly, Frederic March, Mickey Rooney

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This film is essentially a remake of 1932’s Red Dust – and the film-makers obviously thought that the only man who could reprise Clark Gable’s role from the original was Gable himself – because he is the star of both films. Gable plays Victor Marswell, a big game hunter in Kenya. When earthy, sexy Eloise Kelly (Ava Gardner) arrives, the couple have a brief relationship. Things change when Donald and Linda Nordley (Donald Sinden and Grace Kelly) come to stay, Victor falls for Linda – and the feeling seems mutual…

I haven’t seen the film of which this is apparently a remake, but most reviews say that the earlier film is the better one. However, I really enjoyed Mogambo. Clark Gable is always worth watching, and although he looks older here, he still has that sex appeal that he is known for. He is well matched with Ava Gardner, who is simply stunning. Beautiful, sexy and funny, a large part of what made this film so enjoyable, was Ava’s performance (she more or less steals the show). I’ve always thought that Grace Kelly was over-rated as an actress, and although her performance here is fine, she pales in comparison to her two co-stars.

The adventure aspect of the story takes a back seat to the romance/love triangle aspect, but this is still an exciting and engaging film. I particularly loved the scenes were Eloise Kelly was feeding the animals.

If there was anything about this film that I didn’t like, it was probably the ending. I won’t spoil it by saying what happens, but I was surprised and slightly disappointed. Nonetheless, this is a very enjoyable film, which held my attention throughout. Definitely recommended.

Year of release: 1953

Director: John Ford

Writers: Wilson Collison (play), John Lee Mahin

Main cast: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden

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In this 1954 film, William Holden plays Bernie Dodd, director of a new musical who wants to hire Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby) to be the main character.  Elgin used to be something of a big star, but due to tragedy in his life has become an alcoholic.  Neither Elgin nor anybody else knows if he will have the commitment or ability to see the role through, but Dodd is determined to give Elgin a chance.  Elgin’s wife Georgie – “just a simple girl from the country” – seems to have too much control of her husband – and clashes with Dodd, who thinks that Elgin would be better off if she wasn’t there. But as the irascible director comes to know Frank and Georgie better, he starts to realise the truth behind their situation.

This is the film which controversially won Grace Kelly the Oscar for Best Actress – beating the favourite Judy Garland (for A Star Is Born – apparently there were just six votes between them).  I have often thought that Kelly is over-rated as an actress, but she actually is terrific here, playing against type.  It isn’t often that she looks frumpy or anything less than beautiful, but here she plays the weary Georgie Elgin, disappointed in life, disappointed in her husband.  She brings all of the character’s pent up frustration to the role and really sets her scenes alight.

Crosby is also great as the desperate Elgin – who wants so much to get his life back on track, but doesn’t know if he has the required strength to do so.  Holden really shines as the blunt but decent Dodd.

Terrific acting all round then, but still the storyline seemed a little clunky and disjointed at times – in the hands of three lesser actors, the film would not have worked for me at all.  The film is adapted from a play, and maybe the storyline plays better on stage.  However, the ending is somewhat downbeat, but still satisfying, and overall while this is not a film I would rush to watch again, I’m glad that I have seen it.

Year of release: 1958

Director: George Seaton

Writers: Clifford Odets (play), George Seaton

Main cast: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden

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Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a former tennis pro, discovers that his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) has had an affair with crime author Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).  Halliday is now back in London where the Wendices’ live, from his native New York.  Tony dreams up an ingenious plan to murder Margot in order that she can’t leave him, and so that he can will inherit her fortune.  He blackmails an old acquaintance into carrying out the murder, but things go wrong, and Tony has to come up with a Plan B very quickly…

I enjoyed this Alfred Hitchcock classic very much.  It wasn’t quite in the realm of To Catch A Thief, or North By Northwest, but there was a gripping storyline and plenty of tension.  The twists and turns were very clever, and I was never quite sure how things were going to turn out.

Grace Kelly looked stunning – as always – but I did think that at times her acting was a little unconvincing.  However, she was certainly good enough overall for this not to detract from the film.  Ray Milland was very convincing in his role, although his coldness and calculating nature meant that it was very hard to warm to his character, and I had no sympathy for him.  (Although Milland was excellent, I can’t help wondering if the character would have been more likeable if someone like Jimmy Stewart had played the part; but I suspect that the film may have suffered, had the character been more sympathetic.)  Cummings was fine as Halliday, although he was given little to do for much of the storyline.

Dial M For Murder is instantly recognisable as a Hitchcock movie – it has all the dramatic music and theatrical flourishes – possibly because the script was adapted from a successful play.  Most of the action takes place in the Wendices’ apartment, and there is a small cast, giving something of a claustrophobic atmosphere.  This is something that Hitchcock also did in Rear Window (also with Grace Kelly) and Rope, and it’s an effective trick.

This isn’t a murder mystery, as the viewer knows exactly what has happened from the outset – the mystery lies in whether or not Tony Wendice will get away with his plan.  I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who is yet to see it, but this is a gripping film, and any fans of Hitchcock or film noir should see it.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writer: Frederick Knott (adapted from his own play)

Main cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

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Cary Grant is John Robie, a former jewel thief, now a reformed character  living on the Frnech Riviera.  When a spate of cat burglaries occur, the finger of suspicion is pointed at him, and he determines that he will have to catch the thief himself, in order to prove his innocence.  Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) is a beautiful young woman holidaying and husband hunting in the Riviera with her mother – and her mother is one of the major targets of the thief…

Some director/actor combinations seem to work together really well (such as Tim Burton and Johnny Depp).  I think this may well be the case with Hitchcock and Grant – North by Northwest was a great movie, and so is To Catch A Thief.  (I actually prefer this film to North by Northwest, and I really want to see Suspicion and Notorious).  Cary Grant oozes charisma and charm, and is perfect as the suave John Robie, who has to try and outwit the thief and stay one step ahead at all times.

In all honesty, Grace Kelly does little more than the necessary love interest for John Robie, but it doesn’t matter.  Despite her main purpose for being on the Riviera being to look for a potential husband, she is no subservient and meek lady – instead she is witty and feisty and I felt that the two characters worked very well together.  Of particular note was Jessie Royce Landis, who played the mother of Frances Stevens (and who played the mother of Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest).  She provided excellent support and ended up being one of the most likeable characters.

There are plenty of witty and amusing moments in this film – it’s certainly not as dark as some of Hitchcock’s other films – and there is a greater focus on the romantic aspect of the story.  And the glamour!  I loved it – as the film largely centres on rich people in an exclusive part of France, this meant that some of the outfit were beautiful and extravagant.  The outfits at the ball towards the end of the film were also pretty spectacular.

As for the ending itself – I didn’t guess the identity of the thief, although other people have said that they thought it was easy to tell who it was.  It was a great ending, which finished the story perfectly.  Some people might call it Hitchcock-lite, but to me, this was a great film, pure entertainment and very enjoyable.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: David Dodge (novel), John Michael Hayes, Alec Coppel

Main cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis

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In Hitchcock’s thriller from 1954, James Stewart is photographer L.B. Jeffries, forced to stay at home with a broken leg, and nothing better to do than stare out of his rear window and watch the lives of his neighbours going on around him.  He becomes convinced that one of the neighbours has committed murder, and is determined to prove it, despite a lack of any evidence.  His girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) help him try to uncover the evidence he needs.

I love this kind of movie – apart from just a couple of scenes, everything the viewer sees is exactly how Jeffries sees it from his window.  This means that we are privy to only the things he is aware of, and this really places the viewer in the apartment with Jeffries.

James Stewart was great in the central role.  He plays an active man, who enjoys his varied and exciting work as a photographer, who is frustrated at being stuck in his apartment all the time.  Another source of frustration is his relationship with Lisa; while he thinks they have no future because they are so different, she is very much in love and can’t understand why he is not more enthusiastic about them being together. Grace Kelly does a great job in the role, and there seems to be real chemistry between the characters.  However, it is Thelma Ritter who makes a bigger impression – and nearly steals all of the scenes she is in, as the sharp minded and quick talking Stella.

The ending has been somewhat maligned, for reasons I won’t mention here, as to do so would be to give away spoilers, but I personally liked it, especially the very last couple of scenes.

This is not a film with lots of twists and turns and a lot of action – in fact there is very little action, but I still thought there was plenty of suspense, and would certainly watch this film again.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: John Michael Hayes, Cornell Woolrich

Main cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr

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