Cast & Crew
When bankrupt millionaire Cyrus Drake receives notice that the bank intends to foreclose on his mortgage in thirty days and his wife and daughter decide to leave him, his valet, Michael O'Brien, a former entertainer, proposes that Millie, the scullery maid, pose as Drake's daughter Pamela to snag a millionaire. The members of Drake's staff, who have not been paid for seven months, concur and decide to pool their resources and form a corporation to catch Millie a rich husband. When Mike asks her if she has a boyfriend, Millie, to hide her infatuation with Mike, tells him about the boy across the street who sings to her. According to the plan, Millie is recast from scullery maid to debutante by Sandy Brooks, Drake's social secretary, who teaches her about proper etiquette and comportment. Instructed by Mike in the art of courtship, Millie questions her instructor about finding the right partner, and he answers that she'll know him when she hears "a click." Soon after, the boy next door, Frank Sinatra, comes to meet Millie, who is introduced to him as Pamela Drake. After apologizing for thinking that she was a member of the household staff, Frank sings her a song, causing Mike to worry that he may steal Millie's heart and their prospective fortune. When the local newspaper prints a story that Pamela and her mother are returning home from Switzerland, the corporation appoints Sandy to play the role of Mrs. Drake. Drawn by the newspaper article, Mrs. Georgia Keating, accompanied by her daughter Catherine, comes to visit her old friends the Drakes and check out Pamela, Catherine's competition for the title of "number one debutante." When Mrs. Keating learns that Pamela intends to sponsor the forthcoming Butler's Ball, she insures that Catherine is made a sponsor, also. At the ball, the corporation targets Catherine's escort, Sir Victor Fitzroy Victor, as their quarry, planning to bag their prey at Millie's coming out party. After escorting Millie to the dance floor, Mike tells her that she is to pursue Victor. Millie, who is still in love with Mike, tries to avoid the nobleman by unhooking her skirt and slipping it off on the dance floor. Rather than being horrified, however, Sir Victor is charmed and begins to court Millie. The next morning, Millie is scrubbing the stoop when Frank bicycles up to the house and presents her with a bouquet of flowers. Fearful that Frank will jeopardize their investment, Mike dismisses him and sends the flowers to Victor with a note from Pamela. At his hotel room, Victor is fending off the demands of the manager for payment of his bill when the flowers arrive. The phony nobleman assures the manager that he will have abundant funds after he marries the wealthy Pamela Drake. On the night of her coming out party, Millie asks Frank's advice about marriage and invites him to the festivities. When Mike sends her into the garden with Victor, Millie pairs Frank and Catherine together for their own walk in the garden. There, Victor proposes, but Millie refuses to accept, telling Mike that she is in love with someone else. When Mike discounts her feelings, Millie, dejected, returns to the party and announces her engagement to Victor. On the day of the wedding, the ceremony is delayed while Millie disappears into the attic to search for something borrowed and something blue. When Mike comes to look for her, the two dance a minuet together, and he decides to call off the wedding and dissolve the corporation. Mike is opposed by the other members of the corporation, who push him into a dumbwaiter and send it to the cellar. As Victor and Millie begin to exchange their vows, Mike pries open a ventilator shaft in the basement and announces that Pamela Drake is really Millie, the scullery maid, who is in love with someone other than her groom. Mike then falls against a secret panel and discovers a priceless wine cellar. Back upstairs, as the guests file out and reclaim their presents, the Keatings, accompanied by their maid Sarah, arrive late for the ceremony. When Sarah recognizes Victor as her old friend, Joe Brown, a crook, Drake and the other members of the corporation run downstairs. Mike shows them the wine cellar, which they then decide to turn into a cabaret. Mike, who has fallen in love with Millie, resigns from the corporation and leaves town because he believes that she is in love with Frank. While performing on the road, Mike receives an invitation announcing the marriage of Catherine Keating to Frank Sinatra at Drake's Amsterdam Tavern. Rushing back to the tavern, Mike confronts Frank about rejecting Millie and learns that Millie is not in love with Frank, but with him. Mike finds Millie in the kitchen, and after he announces that he has heard his "click," the two embrace and begin to dance.
Albert S. D'agostino
Robert De Grasse
Jean L. Speak
James G. Stewart
Higher and Higher
Sinatra, a former singer with Tommy Dorsey's band, had gone solo in 1943 with an appearance with Benny Goodman at New York's Paramount Theater. Teenage girls, then known as "bobby-soxers," swooned and screamed and lined up to see him. As would happen with Elvis Presley a decade later, film studios took notice. RKO promptly signed Sinatra to a seven-year contract with Higher and Higher as his first film for the company.
Higher and Higher was based on a 1940 Broadway musical with tunes by the prestigious team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. In typical Hollywood fashion, the filmmakers kept the contrived plot about a bankrupt businessman's attempts to get rich again by passing off his maid as a debutante, and dumped most of the show's songs. They kept only a lesser one, Disgustingly Rich, which Sinatra did not sing. And they left out one of Rodgers and Hart's loveliest torch songs, It Never Entered My Mind (a few years later, Sinatra made up for that oversight, recording that song and seven other Rodgers and Hart numbers). In Higher and Higher, though, Sinatra sang five of the film's eight songs. One of them, I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night, by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, was nominated for an Oscar®, as was the film's scoring. Another, A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening, also became a hit. McHugh would become one of Sinatra's favorite songwriters.
Although he was given star billing, Sinatra's role in Higher and Higher was strictly supporting. He was not even the romantic lead - that honor went to Jack Haley, who was usually cast as a sidekick. The film's focus was the maid, played by newly-arrived French actress Michèle Morgan, a refugee from Nazi-occupied France. Barbara Hale, a decade before she became Perry Mason's secretary Della Street on television, played Sinatra's love interest. Veteran comic character actor Leon Errol was featured as the broke businessman, and pianist/comedian Victor Borge makes a rare film appearance. Look for another crooner, Mel Torme, in a supporting role, and future Oscar® winner Dorothy Malone in a bit as a bridesmaid.
Higher and Higher premiered on New Year's Day, 1944. The New York Times critic said it should have been called "Lower and Lower." But the shrewd Variety critic noted that it was "light in vein but rich in comedy and song values, plus having a very fine pace, the picture is destined to rank high at the box office." Sinatra's second film under his RKO contract was the minor musical Step Lively (1944), and he also made an RKO short, the Oscar®-winning The House I Live In (1945) before MGM bought his contract and made him as big a movie star as he was a singing idol.
Director/Producer: Tim Whelan
Screenplay: Jay Dratler, Ralph Spence, William Bowers, Howard Harris; based on the play by Gladys Hurlbut, Joshua Logan
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Editor: Gene Milford
Costume Design: Edward Stevenson
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Music: songs by Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, C. Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Michele Morgan (Millie), Jack Haley (Mike), Frank Sinatra (Frank), Leon Errol (Drake), Marcy McGuire (Mickey), Victor Borge (Fitzroy Wilson), Mary Wickes (Sandy), Barbara Hale (Katherine Keating), Mel Torme (Marty).
by Margarita Landazuri
Higher and Higher
Would you say I was inebriated last night?- Cyrus Drake
Oh no, sir. Although you did have Whiffen cook you six pancakes and you spent an hour trying to play them on the Victrola.- Byngham
Mmm...how'd they sound?- Cyrus Drake
Much better after you put the syrup on.- Byngham
Only one of the songs from the original Broadway stage version was used in the film.
The film's opening credits bill the Hartmans together as Paul and Grace Hartman. According to a pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, RKO purchased the rights to the Gladys Hurlbut-Joshua Logan play for $15,000. The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest review notes that Hurlbut and Logan's book was reworked to feature immensely popular singing star Frank Sinatra and that all but one song from the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart score was eliminated. To replace the original score, songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh wrote four songs especially tailored to Sinatra's vocal style, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. The songs "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" and "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" were big Sinatra hits and "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" was nominated for an Academy Award. The score of this picture was also nominated for an Academy Award.
This film was Sinatra's first starring vehicle and inaugurated his seven-year contract with RKO, under which he was obligated to appear in two pictures per year for the studio. Sinatra made only one additional contract film at RKO, Step Lively (see below), before going under contract to M-G-M. Although Higher and Higher was designed as a Sinatra vehicle, previous contractual obligations forced the studio to give Michele Morgan and Jack Haley billing over Sinatra, according to a New York Times news item. Haley also appeared in the Broadway play. The picture marked singer Mel Tormé's screen debut. Other pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter note that Constance Moore was originally slated to play the role of "Catherine" and add Joan Davis to the cast. Davis does not appear in the released version of the film. Modern sources credit Roy Webb with score and Maurice de Packh with orchestrations. After the picture was released, songwriters Jack Trizio and Chuck Bennett sued the studio and McHugh and Adamson, alleging that the song "The Music Stopped" was plagiarized from their composition "You're Mine to Love." The outcome of that suit is not known.