The Joker is Wild (1957) Charles Vidor

Joker_is_wild

My parents did not go to the movies too often, though when they did they generally took me along. Sure my Mom did take me to the Disney movies of the day like Tammy and the Bachelor, Dumbo and whatever other family fare was out there during the summer, but as a family, meaning my Dad came along, it was not too often. I can remember family viewings of The Bridge on the River Kwai, The King and I and a little gem called The Joker is Wild. I was only about nine years old at the time, yet the film had a memorable impact on me. What made it so unforgettable was Frank Sinatra. We didn’t have a record player at the time but our home was always filled with music on weekend mornings with the sounds of Jerry Vale, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and a lot of Frank Sinatra. There was a radio show on WNEW-AM called The Make Believe Ballroom with D.J. William B. Williams. Williams played a lot of what he called The Great American Songbook and tops on his list was Sinatra. I bring this all up because, as far as I can remember, The Joker is Wild was the first movie I ever saw with Frank and there is a certain scene where Sinatra, as Joe E. Lewis, is badly beaten up by some mobsters. This all happens off screen but you see the aftermath which resulted in a scarred face, a cut tongue and an amazed little kid in the theater. Continue reading

On the Town (1949) Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen

New York! New York! It’s a wonderful town!

The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down

The people ride in a hole in the ground

New York! New York! It’s a wonderful town!

And with these words “On the Town” gets off to a rousing start gliding us through a montage of three sailors on a one day pass seeing the sights of the city, New York City. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. It’s a world wind tour, a sparkling pioneering opening and possibly an early inspiration on music videos. Based on the 1944 hit Broadway musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The book, also by Comden and Green, was based on an idea for a ballet called “Fancy Free,” by Jerome Robbins who choreographed the stage production. In 1949, MGM brought the musical to the screen and of course had to change things including dropping most of the original songs and adding new ones (Bernstein’s music was considered too highbrow for movie audiences), this despite the fact that MGM was an investor in the stage production! Only four songs survived and, of those, the opening number had to be “toned down” (the line New York, New York, It’s a hella of town was change to read it’s a wonderful town) to appease the censors and blue noses. Additionally, the storyline was changed, enlarging and focusing more on Gabey (Gene Kelly) and Ivy (Vera Ellen) than Ozzie (Jules Munshin) and Claire (Ann Miller). Continue reading