High Society

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Before working at MGM, beginning in 1943, Charles Walters was one of the leading choreographers on Broadway. He had a good working relationship with Cole Porter which made him a seemingly ideal choice to direct Porter’s High Society (1956) at MGM. By this time Walters had already directed a number of lower budget musicals for the studio and even earned an Oscar nomination for Lili (1953).

But where Lili is a masterpiece High Society is not. The Vista Vision frame goes largely under utilized in Walter’s choreography and blocking. For the most part there isn’t much choreography in the grand MGM tradition since none of the leads could actually dance. The frame stays wide and relatively static as if the action were being shot live on a theater stage which dilutes the energy of Cole Porter’s music. The overall effect leaves High Society a cold and sterile affair.

Cole Porter’s music itself isn’t up the the maestro’s usual standards. The best song in Porter’s score is Well, Did You Evah which could easily have come from the far superior musical Kiss Me Kate. Otherwise the songs in High Society come and go from memory pretty easily. Louis Armstrong’s appearances have a certain energy, but even then Armstrong isn’t used very much at all.

There is plenty of Frank Sinatra hamming it up and chewing the scenery while Bing Crosby just does Bing Crosby. Grace Kelly is often associated with this film because it was her last even though she spends the majority of her time on screen doing one of the worst impressions of Katharine Hepburn. This speaks to the real problem with High Society which was its failure to differentiate itself from its source material The Philadelphia Story (1940).