Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Monday, January 28, 2008


THE JOKER IS WILD (1957). Director: Charles Vidor.

Hollywood-style biopic of singer-comedian Joe E. Lewis, who has his throat slashed after he leaves one mob-owned club to go to a better one against his bosses wishes. He manages to continue his career but can't commit to one woman who loves him (Jeanne Crain) and marries another (Mitzi Gaynor), but would rather drink, gamble and carouse. Frank Sinatra generally offers a perfectly good if second tier performance but does have at least two great moments: when he collapses in horror in the hospital after fully realizing what has been done to him, and when he gets drunk while giving his night club act. Sinatra introduced the song “All the Way” in this and gives a great performance of it in the opening minutes of the film. In later sequences, of course, he has to sing without his usual elan to show how Lewis' voice has been adversely affected. Crain and Gaynor are both fine, as is Eddie Albert as his pianist and friend, but Beverly Garland, a long-underrated actress, really scores as Albert's wife. After South Pacific Mitzi Gaynor was seen as kind of “white bread,” but in this she's rather sexy. Not a great movie by any means, but it holds the attention and is certainly a good bet for Sinatra fans. It also gets points for not having a standard happy ending, although some will be annoyed by its inconclusiveness.
Verdict: Worth a look. **1/2.

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