Pal Joey (1957)

by Paul on December 21, 2012

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★★★

 

Pal Joey (1957) is a musical comedy film loosely based on the stage musical of the same name. It tells the story of a down on his luck, womanizing nightclub singer named Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra).  Joey ends up working at a two-bit club in San Francisco, where he meets a young, naive chorus girl, Linda (Kim Novak). Although Joey is fully dedicated to winningPal Joey (1957) Linda over, she adamantly refuses to have anything to do with Joey and his unflattering reputation.

At a performance for a charitable fundraiser, Joey notices a wealthy widow named Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth). He recognizes her from before she was married, when she worked as a stripper under the name “Vanessa The Undresser”. Vera is attracted to Joey, and Joey sees the advantages of having Vera’s financial support, since he has dreams of opening up an upper class nightclub of his own. Joey is still falling for Linda, and Vera can see that it is going to be a problem, but has no intention of going down without a fight.

Pal Joey isn’t an original or emotional film. It doesn’t pretend to be dramatic, and it comes nowhere close to even trying to convince us that it’s a great musical. Both Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak had their singing dubbed by Jo Ann Greer and Trudy Erwin, and although Rita Hayworth is always an exceptional dancer, in this film she is never given the opportunity to “wow” anybody. The closest they could get was to have her do a mock striptease that ends up being disappointing Pal Joey (1957)because it doesn’t begin to give Hayworth a chance to actually dance. Likewise, the chorus numbers all seem a bit tired and uninteresting. The dancing for the entire film is easily forgettable. Director George Sidney has attempted to make Rita Hayworth seem like an aging widow looking for some happiness in her golden years, but Hayworth was only 39 at the time (three years younger than Sinatra), and she doesn’t look the part. What the film should have done is make Hayworth’s character want to get back on the stage so that we could have a series of numbers that included Hayworth and Sinatra together.

Frank Sinatra is the one shining light of which Pal Joey takes full advantage. This film belongs to Sinatra, and nobody comes close to touching him. Obviously Sinatra had more dramatic roles, as well as roles that were more highly acclaimed, but Pal Joey stands out because it is a light hearted role, and the songs and even his character are marvelouslyPal Joey (1957) suited to play to his strengths.

After seeing Pal Joey, the first thought I had was that there would never again be any reason for anyone to try and sing, “Lady Is A Tramp”. I am officially giving the song to Frank, as he has plainly proven that nobody can sing this song better than Ol’ Blue Eyes. This one song alone is worth watching Pal Joey, but luckily Sinatra doesn’t stop after just this song. His performance in the film is slyly charming, and even though the character that he plays is supposed to be somewhat revolting and despicable, he is easily the most likeable person in the film. He was praised by critics at the time of the film’s release, and he even won a Golden Globe for Best Actor: Musical Or Comedy.

Pal Joey (1957)In 1957, everyone seemed to love Pal Joey. It received mostly positive reviews and was the 10th highest grossing film of the year. Audiences may have even liked this film better than the stage musical on which it is based.  Perhaps I just expected too much because of the cast. In the end it’s just a Frank Sinatra show with some highly talented, under used girls standing around him.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

R.A. Kerr December 27, 2012 at 10:52 AM

I really like Sinatra as an actor, and he is very good here – as you’ve pointed out. He really is a despicable character, but you can’t help but like him!

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Paul December 27, 2012 at 3:31 PM

I have loved Sinatra ever since I was a child, but you’re right, this movie has him play such a loathsome character in this movie that it is hard to love him. (Even though he is the hero of the story.) I still would watch him in anything.

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