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HIGHER AND HIGHER(director: Tim Whelan; screenwriters: Jay Dratler/Ralph Spence/William Bowers/Howard Harris/based on the play by Gladys Hurlbut/Joshua Logan; cinematographer: Robert De Grasse; editor: Gene Milford; music: songs by Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, C. Bakaleinikoff; cast: Michele Morgan (Millie), Jack Haley (Mike O’Brien), Frank Sinatra (Frank), Leon Errol (Drake), Marcy McGuire (Mickey), Victor Borge (Sir Victor Fitzroy Victor), Mary Wickes (Sandy Brooks), Barbara Hale (Katherine Keating), Mel Torme (Marty), Paul Hartman (Byngham), Dooley Wilson (Oscar), Ola Lorraine (Sarah), Elisabeth Risdon (Mrs. Georgia Keating); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tim Whelan; RKO; 1943)
“Noted as the film where teen singing idol for the “bobby-soxers” Frank Sinatra had his first starring role in a film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted as the film where teen singing idol for the “bobby-soxers” Frank Sinatra had his first starring role in a film, who does a nice job even though he’s asked to do little but handle a few lines of dialogue and sing five of the film’s eight songs; Frank’s not essential to the plot, in basically a star cameo role where he plays himself. He croons the following two by songwriters Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, which became Sinatra standards: “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” and “This is a Lovely Way to Spend an Evening.” Tim Whelan (“Seven Days’ Leave”/ “Step Lively”/”Swing Fever”) helms this below average musical comedy that’s based on the 1940 play by Gladys Hurlbut. The black and white film would be forgotten today except for Sinatra’s singing.

Repeating his original stage role, Jack Haley plays the brash Mike O’Brien, a former vaudeville entertainer who is now the head servant in the household of society millionaire Cyrus Drake (Leon Errol). When Drake faces bankruptcy over bad investments and has thirty days to settle with the bank or get the boot from his Manhattan mansion, Mike cooks up a moneymaking scheme with the unpaid large servant staff whereby they’ll pass off pretty scullery maid Millie (Michele Morgan) as Drake’s real daughter Pamela (presently living with mom in Switzerland) and will introduce her as a debutante during the prestigious upcoming annual Butlers’ Ball and promote her to marry a wealthy bachelor and thereby everybody in the new corporation of Drake and his servants gets paid off. At the ball, the reluctant Millie is forced by Mike to go after the wealthy Sir Victor Fitzroy Victor (Victor Borge) and take him away from competing debutante Katherine Keating (Barbara Hale). Frank plays Drake’s nice guy singer neighbor, who performs at the ball and befriends Millie when she tells him she loves Mike but he ignores her.

The ridiculously contrived plot, just an excuse for the music, has Fitzroy turn out to be a fraud fortune hunter who is exposed by Keating’s maid Sarah (Ola Lorraine). In the end, everyone gets what they deserve (according to the script).

The comedy of errors stinks, as it’s just not funny and French actress Morgan as the female lead is dreadful while Haley is as close to being dreadful as you can possibly be without being dreadful. I think The New York Times critic who said it should have been called “Lower and Lower” got it right. The film has merit only if you just want to see a young Sinatra croon before he became higher and higher in the celebrity charts. Though Haley and Morgan got top billing, the film’s big draw was Sinatra. The ads for the big box-office movie read ‘The Sinatra Show.’


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”