Classic Film Reviews: Pal Joey (1957)

Pal Joey
source: Columbia Pictures

The year is 1957.

Seventeen years after its release, Columbia Picture’s cinematic ‘dictator’ Harry Cohn is dying to bring the romantic dramedy Pal Joey to the silver screen.

Filled to the brim with sexual explicit scenarios and slick dialogue, it took Cohn numerous re-writes and several years to finally have his pipe dream realized.

Cagney, Grant and even Gene Kelly (due to Louis B Mayer‘s greediness) all turned down the lead role before Cohn settled on ole’ blue eyes, himself.

By the time Sinatra came into the fold, the script had been through various iterations, eventually ending with the finished, cleaned up product that moviegoers know as 1957’s Pal Joey.


The film starts off in San Franciso with noted womanizer Joey Evans (played by Sinatra) stepping off the bus in search of new employment. He’s a drifter, a playboy, irresponsible, but that doesn’t stop women from falling for his ‘sweet nothings’.

While walking down the North Beach pier, Evans spots an advert featuring an old friend, bandleader Ned Gavin. He diligently writes down the address and quickly saunters over to the nightclub, hoping to run into Ned; what finds instead, is the club’s owner, Mike Miggins.

Knowing he needs work, Joey haggles Miggins into giving him a job as a singer – which Evans exceeds at. During one his many performances, his warbling catches the eye of a young, blonde chorus girl named Linda (played by Kim Novak.) They get along well, which leads Joey to harass her until she accepts his advances.

Later that night, during a charity auction, a wealthy, older woman shows up to the event, stealing the gaze of every onlooker. Vera Simpson, played by Rita Hayworth, a former stripper who Joey recognizes immediately, turns out to be the sponsor of the auction and the sole investor of the club.

Pal Joey 1957 3
source: Columbia Pictures

Joey, rudely, suggests that she does another performance for “old time’s sake” which earns him a swift slap to the face.

After striking out with Vera, Evans offers to walk Linda home. She’s hesitant to succumb to his wanton ways but, tolerates him when she finds out that they’re sharing an apartment together.

This doesn’t stop Joey from chasing after the older woman, however. Despite using insults as a disguise for flirting, Vera welcomes him back with open arms.

She reciprocates his advances which gives Joey an ego boost. When Vera returns to the club one night to make amends, he gives her his unbridled attention. Vera toys with him, and at the end of his session, she leaves without paying her astronomically large bill.

Guess who gets fired because of his indiscretions?

Luckily, Joey gets to redeem himself if he’s able to get Vera to return her investment in the club.

At this point in the film, Linda’s cold shoulder begins to warm gradually, and the thought of dating Joey seems to appeal to her.

Oooh, but wait! Not so fast.

You can never teach an old dog new tricks.

Linda breaks things off with him after he misses a dinner date they planned the night before, presumably the night he was meeting with Vera.

Joey couldn’t care less.

A couple of lies and champagne bottles later, Joey succeeds in seducing Vera and they begin to ‘go steady.’ But, their relationship is based on mutual gain rather than one that’s based on love.

Pal Joey 1957 4
source: Columbia Pictures

Joey uses Vera for cash, and she uses him for companionship. Joey reveals to Vera that he wishes to have his own club one day. That intrigues Vera and she slyly suggests that she could invest in this new “project.”

The new place, dubbed “Chez Joey” is already a step up from his old place of employment. Decked out in chiffon, lace, and a multilevel stage, Joey’s already large ego doubles in size, essentially biting the hand that fed him. Taking matters into his own hands, Joey shrugs off Vera and reconnects with Linda, promoting her as the featured act.

Vera, naturally, is upset at this display of dominance and orders Joey to fire Linda. Instead of doing the honest thing and letting her go, Joey demands her to turn her singing act into a stripping one, knowing that it would make her uncomfortable.

Linda catches on to Joey’s charade and deduces that Vera is forcing him to do this. She takes matters into her own hands when, later that night, she finds Joey waiting for Vera on a ‘houseboat’ of sorts.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Linda gets revenge by sloppily attacking (or kissing, really) Joey until she passes out in a drunken stupor.

Pal Joey 1957 5
source: Columbia Pictures

The next morning, Linda apologizes for her behavior and agrees to perform the ill-suggested strip tease for Joey. Later that night during Linda’s performance, the men in the crowd get a bit too rowdy for Joey’s liking.

Pangs of jealously ring through Joey’s chest.

He yanks Linda off the stage and tells her to perform a song instead, much to her delight.

Vera, however, can’t believe what she just witnessed. Angered at Joey’s disobedience Vera threatens to pull her funds from the club thus forcing its closure.

For the first time in his life, Joey keeps his integrity. He lets it close.

Linda has other ideas, though.

She reconvenes with Vera to discuss the situation. She suggests that if Linda were to leave town, she would reconsider. Obviously, that’s not feasible so, Linda gives up and goes to find Joey.

While driving around downtown San Franciso, Linda finds Joey walking out of ‘Chez Joey,’ bag in hand. After reflecting on his time spent drifting through the Golden State, Joey realizes that it may be time to settle down and live an honest life. And with that, he suggests that he and Linda continue their act as ‘Linda and Joey Evans’ leaving Vera alone, troubled and companionless.

Conclusion

Pal Joey 1957 2
source: Columbia Pictures

Take an up and coming starlet whose studio is desperately trying to turn her into the next Marilyn Monroe despite her objections and pair her up with an ‘aging’ femme fetale who’s grasping on to the last vestiges of fame before the Hollywood machine™ puts her out for good and you get the musical comedy-drama Pal Joey.

Directed by George Sidney and spearheaded by Harry Cohn, this iteration of Pal Joey is the watered down version of the stage play of the same name.

In the stage play, Joey is a real piece of work.

He uses and abuses the two women, and in the finale that leaves with nothing but his suitcase and a bruised ego. In the classic ‘Hollywood-ified’ version, in the end, Joey and the much younger Linda run off together, leaving Vera and her millions in the dust.

This difference is the main reason why Harry Cohn had such a difficult time adapting this to the silver screen.

Fortunately for Columbia and Cohn, the film still managed to earn multiple Academy Award nominations, including ones for Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

Pal Joey is truly an underrated film. One of Novak‘s best, it’s a shame not many people know about it.

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Drunk Paul Newman

Drunk Paul Newman
Notice any similarities?

Alcohol.

Friend to many, detriment to most.

It can be sipped and savored with friends, tossed around by co-workers and was religiously used by classic Hollywood movie stars as a way to ‘self-medicate’ decompress after a long day of shooting.

More often than not, alcohol is used as a plot device, with screenwriters using the liquid as a physical manifestation of the inner turmoil that the characters are suffering with.

There are two instances where Hollywood’s resident salad dressing salesman™, Paul Newman begins a movie he’s starring in drunker than a freshman at college tailgate party.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Cool Hand Luke were made almost a decade apart from each other, but, they still manage to touch on some similar themes.

Drunk Paul
source: Warner Bros.

In Cool Hand Luke, Lucas Jackson was a free spirit. We see this when he gets sent to prison for drunkenly cutting off the heads of parking meters. When ‘Luke’ arrives at the labor camp he proceeds to “have a bit of fun” by ‘stirring the pot’ among his fellow prison mates and the guards.

Inmates like ‘Dragline’ played by George Kennedy, at first, found ‘Luke’ peculiar, wanting to put him in his place before he gets out of line. Eventually, the pair becomes allies as they join forces to fight against the tyrannical reign of the sadistic prison guards.

The question is, what led Luke down this path?

He was a decorated war veteran, presumably dealing with some sort of mental stress from being in such a high-risk environment, he had a face to die for with the charms of a KPop idol oozing out of every pore and he had the intrapersonal intelligence to make friends with everyone that came in contact with him.

What happened?

Well, according to the film, ‘Luke’ had some family issues, specifically with his sick mother. This, combined with the added mental scars from his war days may have led ‘Luke’ to have a “happy go lucky” attitude about life. This explains why he was up at 3 A.M vandalizing parking meters without a care in the world.

He’d pretty much lost everything: his mom, his mind, and by the end of the movie, his will to live.

Drunk Paul 2
source: MGM

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick’s situation is slightly different.

While ‘Luke’ didn’t care too much for other people’s opinions, Brick, on the other hand, cared too much.

This has him fall into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression where not even the advances of his very attractive wife Maggie, played by Elizabeth Taylor, can rescue him from the grasps of perpetual sadness.

Brick’s problem’s, unlike ‘Luke’, stems from his overbearing, classically Southern father ‘Big Daddy’ played by Burl Ives. At the climax of the film, ‘Big Daddy’ and Brick air their grievances with a 10-minute long conversation about the latter’s stubbornness. During the “talk” Maggie saunters in and explains to her father-in-law that it was the loss of his best friend Skipper that sent Brick into this state.

Maggie had always been jealous of their relationship. Brick spent every waking moment of his life with ‘Skip’, naturally that would make any woman upset. As payback, Maggie ruins their friendship, which probably contributed to Skipper’s suicide.

With that out in the open, the first scene of the movie where Brick drunkenly stumbles upon a track and field course and attempts to hurdle every last one of the barriers before being humbled by a broken leg makes sense.

Brick was trying to recapture his youth. He wanted to go back to a time where there were no family picnics, no responsibility, and no doting wives.

He blamed Maggie for his best friend’s death, is it any wonder why he didn’t want to sleep with her anymore; well, that and several other reasons.


In the end, alcohol was just a coping mechanism for deeper problems for each of these men- a side effect of the emotions they were both dealing with.

Paul Newman had a knack for picking good scripts. He certainly didn’t disappoint with these two and I am forever grateful.

 

 

The Free For All Blogathon…

Elvis was a foodie 2
The key to his heart? Food, probably…

I’ve always been intrigued by Elvis.

His music, legacy, the way he styled his hair- everything.

My curiosity for the man spiraled into obsession when a couple of months ago, I stumbled upon the music documentary (or ‘rockumentary’, if you prefer), Elvis: That’s the Way It Is otherwise known as, the ‘Elvis Show.’

Sure, he’s been in several films, many of which I have a deep attachment to, but I’ve always regarded him as a musician first, actor second.

This documentary cemented that belief for me.

Elvis is a foodie
source: MGM

The film gives viewers a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at Elvis and his band during Las Vegas rehearsals for his Summer Festival that took place during the month of August 1970.

The 108-minute documentary shows a different side of Elvis, one that’s playful, outgoing and group oriented. Perhaps, the most telling part of the film was how much Elvis cared for his bandmates. There were several scenes where Presley was joking around and ‘ribbing’ his contemporaries like he would his family members – it was astonishing to see.

Normally, the Elvis that I’ve thought about was cold, distant and rather aloof. This ‘rockumentary’ changed the way I perceived him.


Once the movie ended I immediately wanted to know about the man I’ve neglected for so long. One of the first pieces of information I ran into was Elvis‘ fondness for food, particularly a sandwich dubbed the ‘Fool’s Gold Loaf.’ The contents of the meal include a hollowed out loaf of Italian bread, filled with a pound of bacon, with peanut butter and grape jelly rounding out the ingredients.

It’s a monstrosity, but it’s totally Elvis.

I can imagine him with bandmates, sitting around with wide eyes after rehearsals while they eat these things, talking about anything and everything. From life to religion, to that cute brunette that was sitting three rows from the back during one their concerts.

Imagine the stories they must’ve told.

That’s an endearing thought to have. Country boy Elvis and friends talking about the world and it’s inhabitants, with a beer in one hand and a calorie-loaded sandwich in the other.

 

If you wish to read the rest of the entries in this blogathon click: here.