(On Cable TV, July 2018) Considering the high esteem with which I hold The Philadelphia Story (Hepburn! Grant! Stewart!), you may think that I wouldn’t be so happy about its musical remake High Society. But that’s not the case! I like musicals, and High Society is a great musical, justifying its existence by doing things that the original film couldn’t do. The fun starts early as the film features Louis Armstrong and His Band introducing the setting in song before turning to the audience and winking, “End of song, beginning of story.” I like my musicals self-aware, and the tone thus having been settled, we’re off to the races as Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra end up forming the triangle at the centre of the story. Kelly plays her princess-like role well enough—not up to Katharine Hepburn’s level, but the irony level is off the chart considering that this would be her last film before becoming a member of the real Monaco royalty. Crosby and Sinatra are effortlessly charming as usual—“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” is sensational, and “Now You Has Jazz” has Armstrong taking centre stage for a welcome encore. The film is at its weakest when running through the motions of repeating its inspiration, and at its strongest when it goes off in song and dance numbers. I really enjoyed it—especially as a musical.
(On DVD, February 2018) I’m hit and miss on most musicals, but so far I’m three-for-three on Gene Kelly directed musicals (plus an honorary mention for On the Town) including the sometimes maligned Hello, Dolly! I’m not saying that it’s a perfect film or even on the level of Singin’ in the Rain: The romantic plot between the film’s two leads is unconvincing, some numbers are dull, Barbra Streisand is arguably too young for the role, the first half-hour is barely better than dull and the film doesn’t quite climax as it should (the biggest number happens long before the end). But when Hello, Dolly! gets going, it truly shines: Walter Matthau plays grouchy older men like nobody else before Tommy Lee Jones; Barbra Streisand is surprisingly attractive as a take-charge matchmaker suddenly looking for herself; the B-plot romantic pairing is quite likable; the period recreation is convincing and the film’s best numbers (the parade, the restaurant sequence) are as good as classic musicals ever get. As with other Kelly movies, it’s a musical that understands its own eccentric nature as a musical, embracing the surrealism of its plotting and the most ludicrous aspects of its execution. It’s awe-inspiring in the way ultra-large-budget movies can be: the parade sequence is eye-popping and the hijinks at the restaurant are a delight. Seeing Louis Armstrong pop up to croon his own take on Hello, Dolly! in his inimitable voice is a real treat. It doesn’t amount to a classic for the ages like other musicals, but Hello, Dolly! Is still a heck of a lot of fun even today, and it’s quite a bit better than what the contemporary critical consensus has determined.