Frank Sinatra in Pal Joey.
Pal Joey was originally a Broadway play that starred Gene Kelly. When Kelly came to MGM it was supposed to be made into a film, and Kelly would reprise his stage role. Instead, the project sat around for some 10 years before Sinatra, always eager to play a gigolo, took over as the lead.
Sinatra stars as lady killer/night club singer, Joey Evans. As the movie opens he is being kicked out of town for messing with the Mayor's under aged daughter. He ends up in San Francisco singing in a dive on the wrong side of the tracks. He vows to turn over a new leaf, but before he knows it, he is back to flirting with every girl in the chorus and falling for one in particular, Novak.
To further complicate his life, a rich society lady, Vera, shows up one night at the club. Joey recognizes her from years before when she was a stripper. Joey lays the charm on her and they end up going to her yacht. Vera explains that her husband died three years ago. Joey then says, "Three years is a long time between drinks." Vera then slaps Joey, but they still end up enjoying a drink. I love old movie's euphemisms for sex. Before you know it, Joey is Vera's boy toy. He makes himself available for sex, whenever she wants it, and she agrees to put the money up for a nightclub, Chez Joey. Joey moves the entire staff from the dive to his new club, including Novak who is now competing with Vera for Joey's attention.
Frank Sinatra was at the very pinnacle of his 1950's "cool" phase. He works the hat and overcoat for effect better than Humphrey Bogart. He had just starred in High Society the previous year and had just released his popular album Songs For Swinging Lovers. In 1957, he was to the middle aged what Elvis Presley was to the teenagers.
Pal Joey was Hayworth's last movie for Columbia Pictures, after being with them for 20 years. Novak was Columbia's current sex symbol on the rise and their answer to Marilyn Monroe. Novak would have her time in the spotlight, but she never quite reached the stardom of Hayworth or Monroe.
The cast is great, but one of the best things about Pal Joey are the songs. I love that old swing/pop standard music and was surprised to find that I knew almost every song in the movie. Nearly every song is a classic standard. From My Funny Valentine to Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered to The Lady is a Tramp to, my personal favorite, I Could Write a Book, I was singing along the entire movie. This soundtrack is Rogers and Hart's best work.
The one drawback to Pal Joey is, one that always bugs me and my brothers, that of the ambiguous ending. Joey ends up with one of the girls but nothing is set in stone. She suggests marriage to him. He shrugs that off and then they walk off together. Normally I would assume that meant a happy ending, but Joey is played as such a gigolo the whole movie that I hardly feel that he will actually settle down.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (1957)