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Release Date(s)1957 (February 14, 2012)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Twilight Time)
"Pal Joey" was a somewhat provocative experiment by the musical team of Richard Rodgers and Florenz Hart that made it first to Broadway in 1940. Based on a series of John O'Hara stories in "The New Yorker" magazine, it told a somewhat uncompromising tale of Chicago hoofer Joey Evans who borrows money and beds girls with little concern for his actions.
Among his conquests are naive stenographer Linda English and bored society woman Vera Simpson who later proves to be a ready source of funding for a place of Joey's own - Chez Joey. Gene Kelly played the part onstage. It was not until 1957, however, that Pal Joey came to the screen.
The eventual catalyst for the filmed version was a successful 1952 Broadway revival, with Columbia Pictures capturing the rights and finally releasing the film in 1957. And in predictable Hollywood fashion, changes were made in the basic property, though one is not hard-pressed to admit that all are changes for the better. The story was set in San Francisco instead of Chicago and its protaganist was changed from a Chicago hoofer to a singer and lounge act presenter. That allowed Columbia to employ Frank Sinatra in the lead role. The two key female roles found the Linda English character now a dumb chorine played by Kim Novak with great appeal and the society woman Vera Simpson still wealthy but now given a burlesque background and handed to former Columbia meal-ticket Rita Hayworth. A good chunk of the original stage score was dropped and some more-famous Rodgers and Hart numbers were substituted. The resulting film score featured the likes of the following for Frank to perform: "I Didn't Know What Time It Was". "There's a Small Hotel", "I Could Write a Book", "The Lady Is a Tramp", and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" - with arrangements by Nelson Riddle.
The completed film is a lengthy effort at 111 minutes, but it's a very satisfying entertainment under the able guidance of film music director George Sidney that really utilizes Sinatra to the full. His Joey (Golden Globe win for Sinatra) is virtually type-cast for him, it seems to me - a cocky, happy-in-his-skin character who is fully capable of delivering the goods he promises. It goes without saying that Sinatra's delivery of all the songs is sublime. Both Hayworth and Novak are in top form too. Novak, particularly, steals the female acting honours and really benefits from gowns by Jean Louis that make her look/move fabulous/ly. Both Novak and Hayworth sound in good voice when singing, due however to dubbing by Trudy Stevens and Jo Ann Greer respectively. Some San Francisco-based film footage adds a nice touch of authenticity to the film.
Pal Joey is it seems to me another superb example of the old studio system firing on all cylinders - the whole package of music design, art direction, costuming, choreography, and film editing (many Oscar-nominated for Pal Joey) all functioning seamlessly. With an incredible star package headed by Sinatra on the screen, it's entertainment that's hard to beat!
Pal Joey has been available on DVD from Sony for many years, first over a decade ago and more recently as part of The Kim Novak Collection. Now Twilight Time has had the good fortune to be able to release Pal Joey on Blu-ray as a result of its arrangement with Sony. The 1.85:1 Blu-ray image provides a noticeable improvement over the existing DVDs and overall looks excellent, allowing the sumptuous primary colours to shine brightly and with impressive fidelity. Image sharpness is very good and fine level detail is consistently notable throughout. Some modest grain has been appropriately retained. Sound is delivered by a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track as well as a 2.0 mix. The former provides a good result that does open up the experience in a satisfying manner, and also introduces some welcome ambient sound effects. Dialogue is always clear and free of any hiss or distortion. Sinatra's singing is very well-conveyed. English SDH subtitling is provided.
Supplements as they usually do on Twilight Time releases include a welcome isolated 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio score track. Also included are a featurette on Kim Novak at her home (interviewed by Stephen Rebello and previously available on the Kim Novak DVD Collection) and a theatrical trailer that features Sinatra. There is also an 8-page insert in the case that includes stills and notes by film historian Julie Kirgo.
- Barrie Maxwell