Pal Joey (1957)

An Essex-George Sidney Production
Released by Columbia Pictures

Producer: Fred Kohlmar
Director: George Sidney

Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley,
from the musical play by John O'Hara

The Stars:
Rita Hayworth as Vera Simpson
Frank Sinatra as Joey Evans
Kim Novak as Linda English

By Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
"I Didn't Know What Time It Was", "There's a
Small Hotel", "Zip", "I Could Write a Book",
"The Lady is a Tramp", "Bewitched, Bothered
and Bewildered", "My Funny Valentine",
"What Do I Care for a Dame?"

Song vocals for Miss Hayworth: Jo Ann Greer
Dances staged by Hermes Pan
Gowns by Jean Louis

Color, 111 mins. running time

Columbia Pictures originally obtained the screen rights to Pal Joey in 1941. A few years later, when they first planned to go into production, Rita was to star as the young showgirl, Linda, opposite Gene Kelly as Joey, in an attempt to rekindle their success in Cover Girl. Vivienne Segal was to play Vera, the older woman. Both Vivienne and Gene would've been reprising the roles they had played in the Broadway version. Unfortunately, MGM would not loan Kelly to Columbia Pictures, so the idea was abandoned.

For the screen version of Pal Joey that finally made it to the screen, Columbia first wanted Marlene Dietrich or Mae West to play Vera. When that failed to pan out, the role was offered to Rita, and she eagerly accepted. Frank Sinatra would play Joey and Kim Novak was given the plum role of Linda English. Rita would be playing the older woman but she was actually three years younger than Frank. At the time, Frank was at the height of his success as a movie star, so there was question as to who would receive top billing, Rita or Frank. The prized "star billing" was given to Rita. Frank's gracious response was, "Who else but Rita should get top billing? After all, in my mind, she always was and always will be Columbia Pictures! The studio may have built her into a star but just remember it was Rita Hayworth who gave Columbia status."

Another matter put under a microscopic lens was the casting of Kim Novak as the younger girl. People thought there would be some sort of feud between Rita and Kim, whom the studio was building up as Hollywood's new "love goddess". There was no such rivalry. The two actresses got along well during filming. Years later, Kim remembered Rita fondly, saying, "She knew it was Harry Cohn, not me...she was always charming and gracious."

Renowned lady's man Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra), having just arrived in San Francisco, is looking for a job as a nightclub entertainer. His search leads him to The Barbary Coast Club. When their emcee fails to show up for work, Joey steps right into his shoes. It's here that he meets a lovely chorine named Linda English (Kim Novak). She's a genuinely nice girl in whom Joey takes an immediate interest. The two are sent to entertain at an auction, and here Joey gets an eye-ful of wealthy socialite Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth). He quickly recognizes her as "Vanessa, the Undresser", a former burlesque queen who retired after marrying her wealthy husband. Now widowed, Vera remains one of San Francisco's wealthiest citizens. In her, Joey sees the chance to make his dream of opening his own nightclub come true. Vera would make the perfect business partner to provide the necessary funding.

Meanwhile, to be near Linda, Joey moves into the apartment next to hers (much to her chagrin). His usual tricks for winning a girl's heart don't seem work on Linda, but she warms up to him soon enough. As he's begun to make headway with Linda, Joey sets to work romancing Vera, in order to interest her in his business proposition. Though he likes Vera, he's really only interested in her money. Vera is aware of this, but she plays along because she's having a good time and likes Joey. The two become an item, and a frustrated Linda tries to keep her distance from Joey.

Plans for Joey's club, Chez Joey, get underway. Things are shaping up well, until Vera begins to realize that Joey is in love with Linda. To protect her interest (Joey) she tells him to fire Linda. Not wanting to hurt her, he tries to make her quit by assigning her the strip teaser role in the show. Linda sees right through his ploy, and says she'll stay on and do the strip. When Joey stops her just before the big moment during rehearsal, Vera gets the full scope of Joey's feelings for Linda. But she also loves Joey, and since he won't fire Linda, she decides to withdraw her financial support of the club. Now Joey is torn between the two women. Feeling he's good enough for either one, he plans to leave town. Now Vera only wants to see him happy, so she sees to it that he and Linda get back together. The two lovebirds leave San Francisco primed to make their own dreams come true together.

Pal Joey was very successful and Rita's performance was well reviewed. It was nominated for four Academy Awards. Pal Joey turned out to be Rita's final film under contract to Columbia Pictures. For the last twenty years Rita had been the studio's greatest "property", and she was anxious to strike out on her own. In the glory days of the studio system, stars were obligated to do whatever their studios asked of them, or face suspension. But by the 50's, as the power of motion picture studios began to crumble with the advent of television, many of the biggest names in Hollywood suddenly found themselves freed from the iron clad contracts they'd been under for so long. The next time Rita would work at Columbia Pictures, for They Came to Cordura, it would be as a free-lance actress.

Pal Joey was Rita's last musical but she went out true to form. Her musical numbers were wonderful, particularly "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered". After Pal Joey, Rita made many more movies, mostly dramas in which she was given the chance to display her well developed acting abilities. This is one of my favorite of Rita's movies. It brings together two of my all-time favorite entertainers, Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra, who sings one of his signature songs in the picture, "The Lady is a Tramp".

The Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered number
At the end of the "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" number.

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