Pal Joey

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The setting is San Francisco; Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra) is a second-rate singer, a heel known for his womanizing ways (calling women “mice”), but charming and funny. When Joey meets Linda English (Kim Novak), a naive chorus girl, he has stirrings of real feelings. However, that does not stop him from romancing a former flame and ex-stripper (Joey says, “She used to be ‘Vera…with the Vanishing Veils'”), now society matron Vera Prentice-Simpson (Rita Hayworth), a wealthy, willful, and lonely widow, in order to convince her to finance his dream, “Chez Joey”, a night club of his own.

Soon Joey is involved with Vera, each using the other for his/her own somewhat selfish purposes. But Joey’s feelings for Linda are growing. Ultimately, Vera jealously demands that Joey fire Linda. When Joey refuses (“Nobody owns Joey but Joey”), Vera closes down “Chez Joey”. Linda visits Vera and agrees to quit in an attempt to keep the club open. Vera then agrees to open the club, and even offers to marry Joey, but Joey rejects Vera. As Joey is leaving for Sacramento, Linda runs after him, offering to go wherever he is headed. After half-hearted refusals, Joey gives in and they walk away together, united.


Today, we celebrate the 100th birthday of one Francis Albert Sinatra. How fitting is it that I pulled out one of his forgotten musicals, Pal Joey. I’ve heard a few things about this, but no one can really tell me whether it is good or bad, so let’s find out for ourselves, shall we?

What is this about?

Joey Evans is charming, handsome, funny, talented, and a first class, A-number-one heel. When Joey meets the former chorus girl (“She used to be ‘Vera…with the Vanishing Veils'”) and now rich widow Vera Simpson, the two lecherous souls seem made for each other. That is, until Linda English comes along. Linda is a “mouse on the line” and built like there’s no tomorrow. But she’s the typical good little girl from a good little home — just the right ingredient to louse up Joey’s cushy set up.

What did I like?

Story. A singer down on his luck and run out of one town shows up in another desperate for  job. In his desperation he gets caught up in the proverbial love triangle and we have our story. Tale as old as time, my friends. Sometimes things like this are recycled so much that they lose their lustre, but for me and this tale, I was in it from the get go.

Frank-ly speaking. Many people know Sinatra for being one of the best crooners around, but he was quite the capable actor, as well. That is a tidbit of his career that is always overlooked, and I can’t really tell you why. He commands the screen and the audience’s attention, portrays emotion, and of course belts out a few tunes. What more do you want from a leading man?

Take a risk. At the time of its release, showing excess amounts of skin on screen was still a no-no in society, so it comes as a shock that Rita Hayworth’s character is a former stripper and that Kim Nowak does a striptease, showing lots of leg and had she not been stopped, her beautiful curves may have been on full display. I applaud the film for taking the risk at a time when these kind of things were just not the norm (my how we as a society have fallen into a filthy abyss).

What didn’t I like?

Down with Rita. Rita Hayworth was long considered one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, but seeing her in this will make you question what they were looking at. Now, that isn’t to say she is ugly, because she is still has her looks, just aged a bit. At the time this film was made, Hayworth’s career was on the decline. I find a bit of humor in the fact that they made her the villain, of sorts, and up and coming Kim Nowak the naïve chorus girl protagonist. I can’t help but feel Hayworth deserved something more befitting of her talents than to play a washed up, bitter, divorcee who just happens to have been a burlesque dancer in her prime.

Songs. I was reading about the production of this musical and, like many musicals of this era, most of the songs were cut and replaces with tunes from other shows. I really wish I knew why they did that, because it makes no sense. The songs work on stage, so who is to say they won’t work on screen? It is so frustrating!

Forces united? As the film comes to a close, Nowak and Hayworth are seen in a car smiling together. This after nearly coming to blows not 5 minutes earlier. What happened? How did they reconcile and all of a sudden become best friends? I would imagine this is a scene for the film and not the stage production, but I could be wrong.

Final verdict on Pal Joey? I feel as if this relied too heavily on Sinatra’s star power. That isn’t taking anything away from the man. He does a great job, but if you take him out of the equation, you really aren’t left with much. Compounding on that, I didn’t get the feeling that anything is memorable. Right now it is fresh in my mind and I am struggling to recall what went on in the picture. It should not be that way. So, so I recommend it? I have to say no. There are much better Sinatra films and musicals out there that deserve your time and, while this isn’t totally horrible, it is quite forgettable. The very definition of mediocrity.

3 out of 5 stars


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