Judge Patrick Naugle is more of a Stephen Sondheim guy.
Linda English: "My mother always says a lady's a lady wherever she
Frank Sinatra is arguably one of the biggest stars of the 20th Century. He dominated the musical charts in the 1950s and became a bigger than life personality over the course of his illustrious life. Even in his later years, Sinatra was treated as entertainment royalty, all the way up until his death in 1998. Sinatra graced the silver screen many times and honed his craft in musicals, which brings us to 1957's lavish Pal Joey, now available on Blu-ray care of Twilight Time.
Facts of the Case
Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra, High Society) is everything your mama warned you about: he's an amoral womanizer, a hustler, a shady business man, and an all around sneak. When thrown out of his current city, Joey ends up in San Francisco where he shoehorns himself into a singing job at a local club. There he sets his gaze on Linda English (Kim Novak, Vertigo), a warm and attractive singer with whom he slowly forms a friendship—and possibly a romance. At the same time, Joey strikes up more than a friendship with Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth, who was never in Shawshank Prison), a rich widow whom he finagles into financing his own nightclub. Vera isn't happy about Joey's friendship with Linda, which forces him to make one of the hardest choices in his life: Does he stick with the well-to-do Vera, or choose Linda and risk accepting low paying gigs for a chance at true love.
I had high hopes going into this Sinatra vehicle but, try as I might, I just could not get into the groove of Pal Joey. Over the last decade, I've made a conscious choice to stretch my movie watching habits, including many classic films I skipped over during a capricious youth filled with horror movies and dumb comedies. This journey has brought me to many acclaimed classics, some mediocre oldies, and a few real duds. While Pal Joey isn't a complete bust, it isn't an experience that tantalized my particular tastes. I never connected with these characters, finding the story to be slow and lacking real drama.
Pal Joey is based upon a stage show from the 1940s, itself born from New Yorker short stories written by John O'Hara. Because of the production code at the time, director George Sidney (who had previously helmed such big time musicals as Annie Get Your Gun and Show Boat) was under considerable pressure to trim any of the more provocative elements displayed on stage. I'm not sure if adding anything scintillating would have helped or hindered the movie (Sinatra's character being thrown out of town for cavorting with the mayor's underage daughter is the tawdriest it gets).
Pal Joey certainly didn't lack any talent behind-the-scenes. Sinatra was coming off such hits as Guys and Dolls and proved his acting chops in the drug-addled The Man with the Golden Arm (which I thought was a James Bond film when I was a kid). Rita Hayworth—a screen legend whose acting talents were matched only by her beauty—turns in a fine performance as the sultry Vera, while Kim Novak proves why she became a "girl next door" starlet. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), neither actress does their own singing. Throw in songs by Richard Rogers (Oklahoma!) and some of Sinatra's most famous hits ("My Funny Valentine") and it sounds like a sure fire hit.
Released in 1957 to positive reviews, Pal Joey generated great box office numbers. Unfortunately, a decades old hit doesn't always play to everyone's cinematic tastes. I enjoyed moments of the film, especially some of the musical numbers (many performed in nightclubs) and a few scenes where Sinatra gets to chew scenery. Frank was an interesting presence on film; like any singer turned actor, it was often hard to separate the crooner from his characters. His Joey straddles the line between being a louse and louse with a heart of gold. Though the strange thing is you get the feeling you're watching a character playing a variation on the real Sinatra.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition, I have to admit to being greatly underwhelmed by this transfer. Twilight Time (who bought the rights from Sony to release the film on Blu-ray) offers up an image that looks good but never displays a crispness or clarity found in recent classic film upgrades. The colors (all bright and beautiful) feel slightly muted, as if the negative was not properly cleaned. This may be the way purists want to seePal Joey, but to my eyes it looks soft and unimpressive.
Both the 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks do a fine job representing the original source material. Neither mix is immersive and, aside of a few ambient sound effects, they are predominantly front heavy. The musical numbers get the biggest boost and sound positively great through a home theater system.
Pal Joey (Blu-ray) offers a few bonus features, including a brief featurette on Kim Novak ("Kim Novak Backstage") that sports an interview with the actress, an original theatrical trailer, and an isolated mono score from composer Nelson Riddle.
I don't want to dismiss Pal Joey, because it's really not a bad movie. The songs end up being the best part of the experience, and whose heart doesn't skip a few beats listening to Sinatra belt out classics like "The Lady is a Tramp" and "I Could Write a Book"? Connoisseurs of movie musicals (a genre that's never been a personal favorite) will most certainly be in seventh heaven.
Fans will be happy to experience Pal Joey in HD. Me, not so much.
This court grants a reprieve, so true fans can make the final decision.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Columbia Pictures
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