by Les Phillips
Two musicals that should not have been made, and one that
must be made.
Joey (George Sidney, 1957), from the Rodgers and Hart musical,
book by John O'Hara, with Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, and Kim Novak.
I have read about the original productions of Pal Joey. There
was a production here in Boston four or five years ago (Huntington Theatre),
substantially reworked from previous versions, I think, and it got raves.
I can't tell from those accounts, or from this film, whether Pal Joey
can really work as a modern musical. The people who produced this film
did not care to answer that question. They wanted Sinatra, near the absolute
prime of his recording career, to sing "The Lady Is A Tramp"
and a number of other great songs, not all of which were originally in
Pal Joey, I think, and the rest could take care of itself. "My
Funny Valentine" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"
are songs for the female leads, Hayworth and Novak. Somebody dubbed Hayworth's
singing, and I can't imagine that the same wasn't done for Novak.
Sinatra was 42 when he made this film. He is supposed to be Hayworth's
younger boytoy - without looking it up, I'm sure he's older than Hayworth,
and he looks at least her age here. This helps desex the film, as do certain
small changes in lyrics (no longing for "the trousers that cling
to him" in this film). The nonsinging parts of Sinatra's performance
are lazy Rat Pack sleepwalking. He is of course tremendously magnetic
when he chooses to be; when he doesn't choose to be, he's just this jugeared
forty-two year old person; not unphotographable, but his looks are a bit
I have never understood Kim Novak except as a Hitchcock ice princess.
Daddy Long Legs
(Jean Negulesco, 1955)
Perhaps not strictly a musical, but there's some balletics
and original songs by Johnny Mercer. A whiff of the old fifties "Aren't
the French cute?" can be detected (An American in Paris,
Desperately desexed, on the surface. Fred Astaire is a rich middle-aged
Manhattan socialite who visits France and by chance observes Leslie Caron,
age 17 or so, a poor rural girl. Astaire is taken by Caron's obvious .
. . er, intelligence! Her grace and her, uh, maturity. Yes, that's it,
her maturity. So, because Astaire is very, very generous and liberal,
and because he wants to help the poor, he arranges to pay anonymously
for her new life in America, which appears to include four years at Smith,
or somesuch. He writes her anonymous letters for four years. He signs
them "Daddy Long Legs," with a little drawing of long legs as
part of the signature. Long legs?
Eventually they meet. Then, and only then, you understand, does
Astaire develop romantic feelings for his young charge.
The plot is embarrassing now, and surely was embarrassing at least subliminally
in 1955; an audience of any sophistication would have had to ignore the
obvious smutty subtextual implications.
One of those Disneyesque choir of angels keeps singing "Daddy Long-Legs,
Daddy Long-Legs," at certain emotional moments. It's meant to be
a lighthearted romp. Instead, I kept wondering when the police were going
to arrest Fred Astaire. The actors do not make this offbeat, lovable,
whimsical May-December relationship at all credible. Egregious Technicolor.
Sunset Boulevard (Fall 2004, starring Barbra
Streisand, directed by Barbra Streisand, produced by Barbra Streisand;
additional songs by Barbra Streisand)
I'm totally serious. Hollywood is convinced that big movie musicals can't
be sold to the public any more unless they're rock music or unless there's
some wacky angle, and perhaps they can't make money even then. So Barbra's
comeback triumph would occur on many levels - her comeback, Norma's comeback,
the comeback of an entire genre of film. Maybe you liked The
Prince of Tides or Yentl, or maybe
you did not, but I think they proved she can direct a film. (Any other
director would have terrible trouble with her, anyway; best not to let
anyone rain on her parade). She can act, and the role doesn't exactly
make her play against type. God knows she can sing; her recorded versions
of two of the songs from this musical (the only two good ones) knock the
top of my head off. Could she control her excesses? Possibly not; but
is that what you want Norma Desmond to do? Especially in the musical version.
And she's a very well preserved almost-sixty.
Babs keeps saying that she just want to hang loose, give some money away,
play a little politics, spend some time with her milquetoast husband.
So she could hire James Brolin to play Joe Gillis. She'd have to shoot
him onstage every night, so maybe the better idea is to cast the humpiest
singing twenty-year-old she can find - perhaps Josh Hartnett can be taught
to sing (or act) - and then they can hire Brolin to play the chauffeur.
He'd probably be pretty good in that role.
OK, so the rest of the casting needs work. But I'm really serious - it
would either be one of the most tremendous disasters in film history,
or an amazing reactionary triumph. I'd bet on the latter, I really would.
But, either way, it wouldn't be boring, and it wouldn't be sexless, either.
©2002 Les Phillips