Rita, Kim, & Frank: Pals of Joey

DATELINE:  Another Lost Classic

star power

From 1957 comes an overlooked musical from Rogers and Hart, based on a John O’Hara book. Pal Joey has top-drawer firepower with Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth, and Frank Sinatra.

Set in San Francisco with much location shooting, you will have a sense of what it was like in the Red Light district. Not a year later, Hitchcock would bring Kim Novak back to the setting for Vertigo.

Sinatra is in typecast form as the brash lounge singer who foists himself on whoever is handy. He downplayed what he didn’t like and made the character a version of himself. His dream is to have his own nightclub where he can sing and star. In the meantime, his two-bit hoodlum act wears thin on almost everyone, but he is a ladies’ man, as they used to say.

Sinatra could not have two better, bigger co-stars. Sinatra even gave Hayworth top billing as the “older woman.”  Mae West was originally considered for the role with Billy Wilder directing.

Rita Hayworth is on the cusp of middle-age and seems to be playing her patented Gilda a dozen years later. She is now a rich widow with a tainted show busy past. When Sinatra forces her to perform at a charity auction, she seems about ready to sing “Put the Blame on Mame,” and actually does a satiric number in which she strips off her gloves (both of them, this time).

Sinatra woos her for the start-up money for his lounge on Nob Hill—and voluptuous Kim Novak rises from the chorus to a featured singer and dancer.

Once the tunes start humming, you have a bunch of standards coming one after another: Sinatra sings “The Lady is a Tramp,” to Hayworth—and Hayworth sings “Betwitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” while Novak gives a sensitive rendition of “Funny Valentine.”

Sinatra even re-did the final fantasy dance scene with all three stars, which is sad because Rita Hayworth was a real dancer.

The film shines, despite changes orchestrated by producer Harry Cohn and Sinatra. It’s still classic crooner Sinatra.

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