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USA 1957
Directed by
George Sidney
111 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Pal Joey

When it was originally staged on Broadway in the mid-'40s Richard Rodgers and  Lorenz Hart's musical with its candid look at showbiz back-stage realities marked a shift away from the kind of lightweight material that had characterised stage musicals to that date. George Sidney's tacky, sanitized screen adaptation (complete with a substituted happy ending) is a toothless affair however, its jaunty sexism dating it badly.

The book by John O'Hara based on his short stories in 'The New Yorker' tells the story of the title character (played by Frank Sinatra), a predatory night club entertainer and two-bit Lothario and his attempts to bed a sweet chorus girl, Linda (Kim Novak), and at same time persuade a wealthy widow and former stripper Mrs. Prentice Simpson (Rita Hayworth) to bank-roll him in his own joint.

In the role originally played by Gene Kelly and re-jigged as a vehicle for Sinatra, the Joey character is turned into a supposedly hip, swingin' guy with a heart that beats beneath his smart-alec patter. Sinatra with his skinny frame, oleaginous pock-marked appearance makes for an unconvincing ladies' man even if Hayworth, in her last film appearance of note (she was given top billing on Sinatra's insistence), had, although only 39 year old, lost her bloom. Sinatra's lack of appeal in the central role is even more obvious in Joey's pursuit of Linda, a luminous, up-and-coming Novak (she was 24, Sinatra 42) who in her musical numbers is reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, the career role model Columbia had in mind for her.

Although none of them had been in the stage production and it doesn't make a better film as such, there are some great, now standards - 'My Funny Valentine', 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered', 'I Didn't Know What Time It Was' and a swinging rendition of 'The Lady is a Tramp', a song that Sinatra went on to make very much his own. On the other hand the wistful 'Lover, Come Back To Me' which had been in the original was, unfortunately, left out.




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