Frank Sinatra, Jeanne Crain, and Mitzi Gaynor in The Joker Is Wild (1957)


(director: Charles Vidor; screenwriter: Oscar Saul/biography “The Story of Joe E. Lewis” by Art Cohn; cinematographer: Daniel L. Fapp; editor: Everett Douglas; music: Walter Scharf ; cast: Frank Sinatra (Joe E. Lewis), Mitzi Gaynor (Martha Stewart), Jeanne Crain (Letty Page), Eddie Albert (Austin Mack), Beverly Garland (Cassie Mack), Jackie Coogan (Swifty Morgan). Sophie Tucker (Herself); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel J. Briskin; Paramount; 1957)

Frank Sinatra is well-cast playing the comedian.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Joker is Wild is based on Art Cohn’s biography of the Prohibition era Chicago-based night-club singer and comic Joe E. Lewis. In the 1930s Lewis loses his voice after viciously attacked by gangsters for singing at another club when told not to by his current mob-connected night-club boss. Thereby he becomes solely a comedian.

The glum showbiz biopic tells of Lewis’ troubled life, his two marriages, his gang connections and his losing battle with alcohol. Frank Sinatra is well-cast playing the comedian. The Oscar®-winning song “All the Way,” written by Sammy Cahn, became part of Frank’s regular repertoire. Director Charles Vidor(“Gilda”/”Farewell to Arms”/”Song Without End”) keeps things gloomy and overlong. Oscar Saul’s script meanders all over the Windy City mob scene while trying to tell its bittersweet tale about its flawed Hollywood subject.

It recreates the atmosphere of the period accurately. Sinatra, even though not sounding or looking like Lewis, does an outstanding job making his character sympathetic.

Eddie Albert plays the long-time Lewis intimate and his piano player. Jeanne Crain and Mitzi Gaynor play the wives of Lewis–the debutante wife number one and dancer wife number two.

For me, just catching a whiff of Sophie Tucker onscreen made it worth seeing.