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Seventeen years after its premiere on Broadway in 1940, Pal Joey (1957) finally made its way to the silver screen after numerous attempts by Columbia studio boss Harry Cohn to cast and produce it. Along the way, the central character, Joey Evans, evolved from an irredeemable, womanizing heel who preys on chorus girls to a likable nightclub crooner torn between his love for a struggling singer and a chance to further his career with a rich, predatory club owner. The stage musical starred Gene Kelly and was based on a series of short stories by author John O'Hara.
When Cohn first purchased the rights to the play, he wanted Kelly for the lead but the latter was already under contract to MGM and Louis B. Mayer wanted too much money for Kelly's services. Cohn then pursued James Cagney and later Cary Grant for the title role. As for the character of Vera Simpson, Joey's wealthy sponsor, such actresses as Gloria Swanson, Grace Moore, Ethel Merman, and Irene Dunne were considered. The advent of World War II put the project on hold until the early fifties when the play was successfully revived on Broadway. Cohn began his casting search again, considering Marlon Brando and Mae West for the key roles. But it was Frank Sinatra who snagged the lead through his production company, Essex, which partnered with director George Sidney and producer Fred Kohlmar to bring it to the screen.
Frank Sinatra was gracious enough to allow Rita Hayworth to take top billing over him on the marquee in honor of her long-standing relationship with the studio. Despite the fact that she didn't do her own singing (she was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer), her co-star Kim Novak didn't sing either (Kim was dubbed by Trudi Erwin). Of course, the songs were always the best part about Pal Joey and the film version kept ten songs by Rodgers and Hart from the original musical score and added four new ones, also by Rodgers and Hart. The new additions were "My Funny Valentine," "There's a Small Hotel," "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," and "The Lady is a Tramp" which is given the definite treatment by Sinatra with a killer Nelson Riddle arrangement.
It's no secret that Pal Joey was cleaned up considerably for the screen after the Production Code office demanded numerous changes (the removal of some explicit sexual situations) but it survived the sanitation process and even made off with four Oscar® nominations: Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Art Direction. It also marks the end of Rita Hayworth's long relationship with Columbia Pictures.
In the biography, If This Was Happiness (Sphere Books Limited), writer Barbara Leaming observed that "it was common knowledge that Harry Cohn had anointed Kim (Novak) to replace Rita at Columbia. "When you came here you were a nothing, a nobody," Cohn was supposed to have blasted Rita when she walked out on Joseph and His Brethren. "All you had were those big things and Harry Cohn. Now you just have those two big things." Shortly thereafter, the creation of Kim Novak as Columbia's next 'big star' was widely thought to be Harry Cohn's revenge on Rita, so that putting the two actresses together made the press and public expect fireworks. Still, according to George Sidney, on the set 'there was no friction between Rita and Kim.' Although Rita did lament that she was actually younger than Frank Sinatra, she was really just anxious to fulfill her final obligations to the studio as quickly and as smoothly as possible."
Director: George Sidney
Producer: Fred Kohlmar
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley (based on the musical play by John O'Hara, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart)
Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Editing: Viola Lawrence, Jerome Thoms
Music: Morris Stoloff
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Vera Simpson), Frank Sinatra (Joey Evans), Kim Novak (Linda English), Barbara Nichols (Gladys).
by Jeff Stafford