AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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High Society
Director: Charles Walters (Dir)
Release Date:   17 Jul 1956
Production Date:   18 Jan--6 Mar 1956
Duration (in mins):   107 or 111
Duration (in feet):   9,591
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Cast:   Bing Crosby (C. K. Dexter-Haven)  
    Grace Kelly (Tracy Lord)  
    Frank Sinatra (Mike Connor)  
    Celeste Holm (Liz Imbrie)  
    John Lund (George Kittredge)  
    Louis Calhern (Uncle Willie)  
    Sidney Blackmer (Seth Lord)  
    Louis Armstrong (as himself) and his band
    Margalo Gillmore (Mrs. Seth Lord)  
    Lydia Reed (Caroline Lord)  
    Gordon Richards (Dexter-Haven's butler)  
    Richard Garrick (Lord's butler)  
    Richard Keene (Mac)  
    Ruth Lee (Matron)  
    Helen Spring (Matron)  
    Paul Keast (Editor)  
    Reginald Simpson (Uncle Willie's butler)  
    Hugh Boswell (Parson)  

Summary: As socialite Tracy Lord prepares for her wedding to priggish George Kittredge at her Newport, Rhode Island estate, her ex-husband, millionaire song writer C. K. Dexter-Haven, organizes a jazz festival for the same weekend, using his neighboring home as a rehearsal hall. On the eve of her wedding, Tracy informs her precocious kid sister Caroline that she has not invited their father, Seth Lord, because he has left their mother for a chorus girl. Soon after, when Tracy hears Dexter play her and Dexter's favorite tune, she runs to Dexter's and accuses him of setting up the festival to disrupt her wedding. Dexter confesses he is still in love with her, but reminds Tracy that she left him because her expectations for him differed from his own. Tracy retorts that instead of becoming a respected composer, Dexter has lowered himself to being a "jukebox hero," and leaves. Back at the Lords’, Uncle Willie calls to tell Tracy’s mother, Mrs. Lord, that Spy magazine will withhold a slanderous article about Seth's affair in exchange for being allowed to send reporter Mike Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie to cover Tracy's high-society wedding. To appease her mother who fears for the family's reputation, Tracy agrees to the blackmail, but she and Caroline greet Mike and Liz, who arrive shortly after, with exaggeratedly gauche mannerisms and interrogate them about their lives, while avoiding any questions about their father. Soon after, George and Dexter arrive at the Lord house, prompting Liz to request a photograph of Tracy standing between her past and future husbands. Tracy reluctantly agrees, but later intentionally knocks the camera over, ruining the film. Tired of the reporter's constant badgering about her father, Tracy introduces her Uncle Willie as "papa" when he arrives at the house. The family goes along with the lie and when Seth arrives, they call him "Uncle Willie." Later, as they peruse tables filled with extravagant, impractical wedding gifts, Mike and Liz confide that they would rather have true happiness than be married into a wealthy, but obviously disfunctional family. Later at the pool, Dexter suggests to Tracy that she soften her expectations of George to ensure a happy union and notes that she has little tolerance for "human frailty." Later alone, Tracy unwraps Dexter's wedding gift, the model of their honeymoon yacht, and fondly remembers the first few romantic weeks of her and Dexter's marriage. Suddenly, George interrupts her reverie to promise unfailing adoration of his "goddess." Upset that she might be seen as distant, Tracy demands that she be treated as a real woman. When Tracy later confronts her father about his affair, Seth supposes that his philandering is an attempt to maintain his youth and suggests that Tracy is partially to blame for refusing to show him any affection. Distraught by the day's events, a drunken Tracy takes Mike on a drive to tell him that his presumptions about the Newport upper class are unfair. As they stop at Uncle Willie's house for a drink, Tracy admits she has been sheltered by wealth, while an enamored Mike insists that Tracy needs only the right man to "fire her heart." Although her inhibitions are diminished by alcohol, Tracy flees the room when Mike tries to embrace her. After returning to the house, Tracy overhears Dexter sing a love song for his "Samantha," her nickname, rekindling her attraction to him. Later at the bachelor ball held at Willie's house, Dexter, Louis Armstrong and his band entertain the crowd with jazz, while George insists that Tracy sleep off her drunkenness alone in a parlor. Meanwhile, Mike wanders into a study, where he shares glass after glass of champagne with Dexter until the men break into song about the "swell party," mocking the haughty crowd. Later, Tracy climbs out the parlor window and joins Mike on a walk back to the Lords’ house, where Mike tells her that she is a "flesh and blood" woman. After embracing him, Tracy jumps into the pool, fully clothed and swooning at the compliment. While escorting Liz back to the Lords’ house, Dexter asks her why she and Mike have not married, prompting the patient Liz to reply that Mike must first outgrow his love for Tracy. Meanwhile, George, having discovered Tracy missing, rushes to the Lords’ house, where he, Dexter and Liz witness a woozy Mike carrying Tracy back from the pool, both soaking from a swim. Horrified by what he assumes is a case of infidelity, George prepares to take a swing at Mike, but Dexter jumps in and punches him instead, hoping he has saved Mike from a savage blow of the truly jealous groom. The next morning, as dozens of wedding guests arrive, Tracy is so hung over that she has forgotten the previous evening's escapade. When she asks Mike about the night, he tells her only that he enjoyed himself. In a moment alone, a guilt-ridden Tracy asks advice from Dexter, who suggests that a mistake can sometimes help a couple learn. Soon after Mike and Liz announce they are through with dirty journalism and so will not to publish the story, George arrives and proclaims that he is undecided about continuing the wedding. When Tracy cannot provide an explanation for the previous evening, Mike informs the worried groom that the "affair" consisted of only two kisses and a swim, prompting Tracy to accuse Mike of thinking her too "unattractive and distant" to sleep with. After Mike tells her he did not want to take advantage of her drunken state, George, now full of self-righteousness, tells Tracy he can forgive this one mistake. Tracy, realizing the larger mistake is marrying George, tells her fiancé that she "couldn't bear a perfect man." As George marches off and the processional music begins, Tracy, at a loss for words, seeks Dexter's coaching to address the awaiting crowd. As she repeats his phrasing unthinkingly, Tracy parrots that she eloped with Dexter two years ago and then announces she will now marry him in a full ceremony. Tracy turns to Dexter, ecstatic at his off handed proposal, and then thanks her father for helping her become more human. Meanwhile, Mike and Liz, inspired by the turn of events, decide to marry, as a jazzed-up version of the processional begins again. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
  Bing Crosby Productions  
Production Text: A Sol C. Siegel Production
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Charles Walters (Dir)
  Arvid Griffen (Asst dir)
Producer: Sol C. Siegel (Prod)
Writer: John Patrick (Scr)
Photography: Paul C. Vogel (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Hans Peters (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ralph E. Winters (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
  Richard Pefferle (Set dec)
Costumes: Helen Rose (Cost)
Music: Johnny Green (Mus supv and adpt by)
  Saul Chaplin (Mus supv and adpt by)
  Conrad Salinger (Orch)
  Nelson Riddle (Orch)
  Albert Sendrey (Orch)
Sound: Dr. Wesley C. Miller (Rec supv)
  Lowell Kinsall (Sd)
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie (Spec eff)
Dance: Charles Walters (Mus numbers staged by)
Make Up: Sydney Guilaroff (Hair styles)
  William Tuttle (Makeup created by)
Color Personnel: Charles K. Hagedon (Col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "High Society Calypso," "Little One," "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" "True Love," "You're Sensational," "I Love You, Samantha," "Now You Has Jazz," "Well, Did You Evah?" and "Mind If I Make Love to You?" music and lyrics by Cole Porter.
Composer: Cole Porter
Source Text: Based on the play The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry (New York, 28 Mar 1939).
Authors: Philip Barry

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Loew's Inc., Sol C. Siegel Productions, Inc. & Bing Crosby Productions 16/7/1956 dd/mm/yyyy LP6945

PCA NO: 18065
Physical Properties: Sd: Perspecta Sound, Westrex Recording System
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: VistaVision

Genre: Musical
  Romantic comedy
Subjects (Major): Ex-spouses
  Snobs and snobbishness
Subjects (Minor): Bachelor parties
  Fathers and daughters
  Idle rich
  Newport Jazz Festival
  Yellow journalism

Note: After the opening credits, Louis Armstrong appears with his band on a bus bound for Newport, RI, singing the song "High Society," in which he introduces the story's main characters. After finishing the song, Armstrong tells the audience, "End of song, beginning of story." Armstrong also makes voice-over story predictions several times throughout the film, and closes the picture by playing a Jazz version of the wedding processional for the newly reunited "Tracy Lord" and "C. K. Dexter-Haven." He then tells the audience, "End of story." A flashback sequence, as remembered by Tracy, recounts her honeymoon with Dexter aboard their yacht True Love and the song they sang [“True Love”] celebrating their romance. An epilogue acknowledging the cooperation of the Newport Jazz Festival (which was founded in 1954) follows the closing onscreen credits.
       As noted in a 5 Feb 1956 LAT article about producer Sol C. Siegel, arranging for the three top-billed stars, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, to appear in the same film was difficult, but resulted in M-G-M’s highest grossing film of 1956. During pre-production, both Crosby and Sinatra were appearing in other films and had scheduled road tours, while Kelly had already made plans to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco and suggested she might be retiring. Although Kelly was scheduled to star in M-G-M's Designing Woman (see above) and had several years remaining in her M-G-M contract, High Society was her final film. Some modern sources have erroneously stated that The Swan , which was both produced and released prior to High Society , was her last film. For more information on Kelly, her marriage to Prince Rainier and death in 1982, please refer to the M-G-M 1956 film The Swan (see below).
       High Society marked the first time popular singers Crosby and Sinatra had appeared in a film together and also marked Cole Porter's return to film scoring for the first time since the 1949 film Adam's Rib (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). High Society also marked the singing debut for Kelly, whose recording of "True Love" with Crosby became a popular hit and won a Grammy award. Of the nine songs included in the film, only one, "Did You Evah?" was not written expressly for the picture; Porter wrote the song for his 1939 Broadway musical Du Barry Was a Lady , starring Ethel Merman and Bert Lahr and featuring Charles Walters, who directed High Society .
       According to a 29 Jul 1955 HR news item, Howard Keel had wanted the role of Dexter, while an 11 Jan 1956 HR “Rambling Reporter” article noted that Patty McCormack was considered to play “Caroline Lord.” Portions of the film were shot on location in San Marino, California. According to M-G-M press materials found in the AMPAS Library production file on the film, Armstrong's six-piece band made its feature film debut in High Society , although Armstrong himself had been in numerous films since the 1930s. Modern sources add that Armstrong’s band included the following musicians: drummer Barrett Deems, clarinetist Edmond Hall, pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Arvell Shaw and trombonist James Young. Modern sources also credit Robert Franklyn with additional orchestrations.
       Philip Barry’s play had previously been filmed by M-G-M as their 1941 Oscar-winning film The Philadelphia Story , starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart and directed by George Cukor. That film was also the basis of two Lux Radio plays (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). As noted in reviews, the setting of the original play and movie was Main Line, Philadelphia, while the 1956 film was set in the socially elite Newport, Rhode Island, home to the Newport Jazz Festival. The Newport setting provided the impetus for Armstrong and Dexter to come to the town.
       Although High Society received rave reviews and became M-G-M’s most successful 1956 film, some reviewers criticized Siegel for miscasting Crosby and Kelly, pointing out that Crosby was possibly too old to play Kelly's love interest and Kelly did not fit the "austere" yet madcap role for which Hepburn had received an Academy Award nomination in The Philadelphia Story . High Society was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music-Scoring Musical Picture. Cole Porter also received a nomination for Best Music (song) for "True Love." When the Allied Artist Bowery Boys series comedy, which was also entitled High Society (see above), inadvertently received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing (Motion Picture Story), Allied Artists withdrew their film from the final ballot upon realizing that Academy members had intended to nominate M-G-M's High Society , but had nominated the comedy by mistake.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   21 Jul 1956.   
Box Office   28 Jul 1956.   
Collier's   8 Jun 1956.   
Cue   11 Aug 1956.   
Daily Variety   17 Jul 56   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Jul 56   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Jul 1955   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jan 1956   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jan 1956   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jan 1956   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jan 1956   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Feb 1956   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Mar 1956   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Jul 56   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Aug 1956   p. 2.
Los Angeles Times   5 Feb 1956.   
Los Angeles Times   7 Mar 1956.   
Motion Picture Daily   17 Jul 1956.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   28 Jul 56   p. 3.
New York Herald Tribune   10 Aug 1956.   
New York Times   10 Aug 56   p. 9.
New York Times   12 Aug 1956.   
New York Times   19 Aug 1956.   
New Yorker   18 Aug 1956.   
Newsweek   6 Aug 1956.   
Time   6 Aug 1956.   
Variety   18 Jul 56   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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