Remakes are, in general. something peopled tend to avoid, because the concept itself doesn’t really have a good reputation. However, there are some exceptions. Sometimes, the remake can be as good as the original film, or even be better! Well, that’s all a matter of tastes. I’m telling you all this because, today, I’m participating in the They Remade What?! Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. It’s, as you may have guessed, a blogathon about movie remakes. On my side, I’ve chosen to compare The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) and its musical remake, High Society (Charles Walters, 1956). High Society is one of those great remakes. Just like The Philadelphia Story, it also became a classic.
I must say, if you’d ask me which one is my favourite between the two, I wouldn’t really be able to answer. Well, I might prefer The Philadelphia Story little bit more, but I LOVE them both. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. For this article, I won’t review the two films separately but will compare them together telling you what I prefer in one, what I like less in another, etc.
We all know the story of The Philadelphia Story and High Society, but let me refresh your memory. Tracy Samantha Lord (Katharine Hepburn/Grace Kelly) is engaged to John Kittredge ( John Howard/John Lund) and they are about to get married. She comes from a rich family and lives in a big mansion with her mother (Mary Nash/Margalo Gillmore) and her younger sister Dinah (Virginia Weidler)/Caroline (Lydia Reed) in High Society. Their uncle, Willy (Roland Young/Louis Calhern), lives not very far and often visits them. Their father, Seth Lord (John Halliday/Sidney Blackmer) has left the house and rumours say he’s having an affair with a young dancer. Two years before, Tracy had divorced from C.K Dexter Haven (Cary Grant/Bing Crosby) and isn’t too fond of him since then. Spy Magazine, a gossip magazine, is very interested in Tracy’s wedding and want a journalist and a photographer to cover the event. Mike Connors (James Stewart/Frank Sinatra) is the reporter who would be sent. Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey/Celest Holm) is the photographer. But how will they access the inaccessible Tracy Lord? This one especially doesn’t like gossip magazines. Well, that differs from one film to another. In The Philadelphia Story, C. K Dexter Haven will be their access card, introducing Liz and Mike to the Lord as friends of Junius (Tracy’s brother). Of course, she doesn’t believe him so Dexter has to confess his lie, but he also explains to her that she has no choice, because Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell), Spy Magazine publisher, has treated to publish a juicy article about her father and this dancer, if she refuses to receive a journalist for her wedding. In High Society, all this happens more quickly. As a matter of fact, it’s uncle Willy who learns Kidd’s project and tells Tracy. So, she will receive Mike and Liz, but she doesn’t have the intention to act normal and things will turn pretty strange…
The Philadelphia Story and High Society are not that much different, but they are all unique in their own way. And I’m not only talking about the fact that one is a musical and that the other one is in black and white…). Well, let’s see how.
The casting and the characters:
In the original version, Tracy Lord is interpreted by Katharine Hepburn and, in the remake, by Grace Kelly. This last one is my favourite actress between the two, but, in this film, I must admit Katharine Hepburn is hard to beat. She might be a little more suitable for the role. However, Grace is great too, and there are some scenes where she really steals the show. I’m particularly thinking of this scene when she is simply interviewing Mike and Liz without letting them time to ask HER some questions, as they are supposed to do. She’s just so funny in this scene. Katharine Hepburn is too, but Grace amazed me more. I must say, it’s also pretty unusual to see Grace playing someone a little too joyful due to the effects of alcohol and she handles this greatly.
I must give all the credits to James Stewart for the interpretation of Mike Connors. He might be the best one of them all, including the actors of both films. Well, let’s not forget that he won an Oscar for this film. How can we forget this scene when he goes to Dexter’s place in the middle of the night completely drunk? How can we forget his great complicity with both Katharine Hepburn and Ruth Hussey? Jimmy is great. OK? That’s not without reasons that he is my favourite actor. Frank Sinatra was good as Mike, but not as much as Jimmy. However, I must give him the singing credits because James Stewart was a good actor, but not an amazing singer! Well, that’s another way he can make us laugh (when he sings Over the Rainbow).
I don’t know if I prefer Bing Crosby or Cary Grant in these films. Well, in life in general, I prefer Cary, but here I must say I’m good with both. Bing Crosby might be a little more likable as Dexter, less arrogant than Cary Grant, but, in a way, I like them both equally. On the other hand, Cary might be a little funnier, but Bing charms us with his sexy low singing voice. Well, I guess they both win a place in my heart.
Between Ruth Hussey and Celest Holm, I think Ruth did a better job playing Liz Imbrie. She acts with a certain easiness that is fascinating to watch. Celest Holm was good too, but Ruth Hussey was more natural. I really love her in this film and her team work with James Stewart might be a little better than Celest Holm and Frank Sinatra’s teamwork. But don’t get me wrong, Celest Holm did a fine job too and I have always liked her as well.
Virginia Weidler is one of those child actors who can really sometimes steal the show as soon as she has the occasion to. Along with uncle Willy, her character, Dinah, is one of the funniest of The Philadelphia Story. The reason why we might remember her better than Lydia Reed is that, I’ve noticed, she appears more often in the film. But, in a way, I must say Virginia Weidler really was at the top. Complicity between Lydia Reed and Bing Crosby (Dexter) might be better though, and she really is adorable.
The interpretation of uncle Willy was greatly handled by both Roland Young and Louis Calhern. Young might be a little bit funnier, but Louis Calhern is one of those great character actors. He has a really refine humour in this film, which is highly appreciated. Honestly, just like Bing and Cary, I wouldn’t be able to say who gives the best performance, which one I prefer.
Mary Nash really is a delight in this film. She’s a mother who cares about her children. She’s a little crazy sometimes, but this is due to all the stress caused by the wedding. I must say, her acting was better than Margalo Gillmore’s one. This one was ok, but I’m sorry to say that she’s far from giving the best interpretation of the two films.
I don’t have much to say about John Howard and John Lund’s interpretation of George. Both plays him perfectly right because he is so boring, but I think that was meant to be. So, in this idea, they certainly did a great job. Well, I must say, in a way, I wasn’t really impressed by their acting, maybe because they were playing someone too ordinary to give them the occasion to develop their acting skills. I don’t have much to say neither about John Halliday and Sidney Blackmer, who both play the role of Seth Lord. John Halliday was a little better, but Sidney Blackmer was fine too.
We have to give a big credit to High Society for Louis Armstrong’s presence (playing his own role). This legendary man certainly adds a lot to the film and to its musical side!
Well, when we came to costumes, colour movies certainly help a little. It gives us the occasion to see how the outfits really look like. The costumes I’ll be focusing on are certainly Katharine Hepburn and Grace Kelly’s ones. Katharine Hepburn’s costumes for The Philadelphia Story were designed by Adrian. She wears some beautiful dresses. The wedding dress is really pretty because it’s simple, not too extravagant. But, we must say that Helen Rose, who design Grace’s costumes, kind of win the competition. I’m sort of jealous seeing Grace wearing such beautiful dresses! I would like to wear stuff like that too. The colors, of course, helps a lot as I said. I had the occasion to see some of these costumes during the Grace Kelly’s exhibition in Montreal. Believe me, it was a real treat for the eyes Ruth Hussey has some pretty interesting hats in The Philadelphia Story!
Before I continue, let me point out a little difference between the Dexter of The Philadelphia Story and the Dexter of High Society. The first one designs boats, that’s his profession, and the second one is a jazz singer. He organizes a little jazz festival the day before the wedding. Well, that’s a musical. Of course, there is some nice background music in The Philadelphia Story. This one was composed by the great Franz Waxman. Being a musical, High Society is certainly more noticeable for its music. You have some great tunes here! Those were composed by the great Cole Porter. My favourite ones are “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, “True Love” and “Now You Have Jazz”. This duet between Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong is simply unforgettable.
Ok, I’ve noticed something quite odd in High Society: we rarely see close shots or close-up. That’s the main reason why I prefer the editing of The Philadelphia Story, we are more able to see people’s emotions. Well, we can see and feel them in High Society too, because the actors are great, but some closer shots of the actors’ faces would have been appreciated. Continuing with the concept of editing, I might say that some scenes might be a little too long in The Philadelphia Story (I’m thinking of the one just before the wedding, when Tracy remembers what happened during the party, and the one between Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart at the party, just before they decide to go swimming). I guess the songs in High Society helped to avoid that.
The Philadelphia Story was based on a play. High Society was, I think, more based on The Philadelphia Story‘s film than on the play. Well, I’ve named some differences, but in general, both stories are pretty similar. The little differences don’t really influence the way the action progress. The lines do not completely change in High Society, we can find the same ones in both films. This scene when Mike (James Stewart) visits Dexter (Cary Grant) completely drunk includes some of the most memorable lines. In High Society, they sing a song instead. Well, in a general way, The Philadelphia Story might emphasize on its lines and High Society on its songs. The Philadelphia Story won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, but I’d be interested to read both screenplays, to really understand the differences I could have missed
I think each director were both perfectly suitable for their respective movie. The Philadelphia Story is such a “George Cukor’s film”, one last time pairing Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Those two always make a fine duo. Charles Walters was well-chosen to direct High Society. The man was greatly able to direct nice and easy comedies like this one. Of course, George Cukor would have been able to direct it, but I think it would have lost its pretty innocence, and it’s nice to see both films directed by different directors.
Well, these are the main elements I chose to compare The Philadelphia Story and High Society. You can now understand better what I prefer from one film to another. Honestly, I always have so much fun watching both. These are films I just never get tired of. The one I’ve seen the most often is The Philadelphia Story, but that’s because I’ve had the DVD for a longer time.
I was not alone in this marvelous blogathon, so, of course, as Grace Kelly says in High Society, “keep your lovely seats” and take a look at the other lovely entries!
Of course, thanks to Phyllis Loves Classic Movies for hosting this event!