(director: George Sidney; screenwriters: Dorothy Kingsley/based on the musical play by John O’Hara, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart; cinematographer: Harold Lipstein; editors: Viola Lawrence/Jerome Thoms; music: Morris Stoloff; cast: Rita Hayworth (Vera Simpson), Frank Sinatra (Joey Evans), Kim Novak (Linda English), Barbara Nichols (Gladys), Hank Henry (Mike Miggins), Bobby Sherwood (Ned Galvin), Elizabeth Patterson (Mrs. Casey); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fred Kohlmar; Columbia; 1957)
“The film goes up in flames when its ’50s morality rears its ugly head.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director George Sidney (“Scaramouche”/”Viva Las Vegas”/”Kiss Me Kate”), a man of questionable taste, does an injustice as he cleans up the risqué stage musical romance and takes the soul out of the play. It’s based on a down-and-out womanizing nightclub singer who realizes his dream of being a nightclub owner by being a heel. Sidney bases the showbiz story on the John O’Hara book and the music by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, from their hit Broadway musical Pal Joey of 1940. The play was successfully revived on Broadway in the early fifties. Dorothy Kingsley does the rewrite, which keeps the great Rodgers and Hart score (with tunes such as “I Could Write a Book,” “My Funny Valentine,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”), though it sanitized “Bewitched.” The filmmaker does a disservice to the O’Hara story by purging it of its deeper meaning and lacing it with sentimentality, thereby depriving it of the bite it had in the play. Both lady stars had their singing dubbed; Rita Hayworth by Jo Ann Greer and Kim Novak by Trudy Erwin. Frank Sinatra sings a smashing version of “The Lady is a Tramp.” Gene Kelly was set to get the lead, but MGM refused to loan him out to Columbia. Rita got the part because Columbia studio boss Harry Cohen was irked at her for walking out of him after this film ends her contract and wanted to show her there was a new star in the wings at Columbia. Cohen introduced the younger Kim as Rita’s beautiful rival in the story just to get her goat.

Nightclub singer Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra) is bounced out of town for romancing the mayor’s underage daughter, and winds up in San Francisco. Joey runs into his old friend, band leader Ned Galvin (Bobby Sherwood) at the Barbary Coast Club and in a pushy way lands a job as an emcee from owner Mike Miggins (Hank Henry). Joey hits on Linda English (Kim Novak), the “nice girl” who works with Ned as a chorus girl and is seeing him. He also chases a rich widow posing as a society lady, Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth), whom he recognizes as a former striptease chorus girl and soon becomes her kept man. The restless cat, who now realizes his ambition to be a nightclub owner of a palatial Nob Hill place he calls “Chez Joey,” is torn between his own greedy instincts and the two women (as the nice girl has also fallen for him). Joey stands to lose the club before it even opens unless he makes the right choice in women. From hereon unbelievable sentimentality takes over and the film goes up in flames when its ’50s morality rears its ugly head. Joey is ordered by Vera to fire Linda; but when he can’t just fire her, he makes her do a strip-tease number believing that will get her to quit. But when she doesn’t quit, Joey puts a halt to the rehearsal of Linda’s striptease number. The idea being that this shows that Joey has found true love.

The only reason one could like such a conventional film is because of the music. The directing is uninspired, the acting is wooden, there’s hardly any dancing, the dialogue is trite and the pacing is awkward. But the music is Rodgers and Hart gold.

Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, and Kim Novak in Pal Joey (1957)