Although never regarded as a musical classic, Pal Joey gets better with time. The (very loose) 1957 film adaptation of the 1940 Gene Kelly Broadway show represents genuine Hollywood star power: Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak all together in one production. Sinatra plays Joey Evans, a small time hustler who, in between run-ins with the law, makes a living as a crooner and emcee in nightclubs and strip joints. He arrives in San Francisco and bullies his way into a job, where he casts his eyes on show girl Linda English (Novak). He rents a room adjoining hers in a nearby boarding house and romance inevitably blossoms- despite the fact that Joey is flirting with and presumably bedding seemingly every other girl in the chorus. Linda is different, however...she's brainy and classy and makes it clear she won't settle for being Joey's latest flash-in-the-pan sexual conquest. Opportunities - and problems- arise for Joey when he meets Vera Simpson (Hayworth), a one-time stripper who is now a rich widow and the epitome of class and style with the Nob Hill crowd. Before long, Joey is involved in a menage-a-trois, trying to keep both women at arm's length from each other. As Vera's boy toy, Joey gets a taste of the good life-especially when she offers to bankroll his lifetime dream of opening his own night club, Chez Joey. Predictably, the jealousy between the two women jeopardizes his plans- and he is forced to make a difficult choice about the price of leading a life of entitlement.
The film, directed by George Sidney, boasts a wonderful score by Rodgers and Hart and include such gems as My Funny Valentine, Betwitched, Bothered and Bewildered and The Lady is a Tramp. The sequence in which Sinatra serenades Hayworth with the latter song is pure magic. The three leads exude plenty of genuine chemistry and the costumes by Jean Louis are eye-popping enough even without being so magnificently filled out by Hayworth and Novak, both of whom epitomize the kind of sex siren image virtually absent from the film world today.
The Twilight Time label has now expanded beyond releasing only Fox films and has brought Columbia's Pal Joey to its full glory via a Blu-ray edition. The transfer looks wonderful and the bonus extras include a recent interview with Novak that shows tantalizing glimpses of her on her country estate. (The interviews were previously released in Sony's Novak boxed set). Novak provides many insights into the film and the industry during that era. The Blu-ray also includes the original theatrical trailer, with original footage featuring Sinatra. Julie Kirgo provides the informative liner notes in the accompanying booklet, explaining that some of the key songs weren't in the Broadway original. She also informs us that Hayworth was cast as the older woman, even though she was younger than Sinatra!
Star power doesn't get any more genuine than this- and I found Pal Joey to be totally irresistible.
Click here to order the limited edition (3,000 units) from Screen Archives.