Double bill of 1940s musicals starring Frank Sinatra. In 'Step Lively' (1944), Broadway producer Gordon Miller (George Murphy) is broke and cannot afford to pay his enormous hotel bill. He needs to put on a revue in order to make enough money to clear his debts, and so plans to use a script by young playwright Glenn Russell (Sinatra). When Russell arrives at the hotel, he soon becomes infatuated with Miller's girlfriend, Christine (Gloria De Haven). Sinatra made his acting debut in the 1943 film 'Higher and Higher'. When a well-known socialite (Leon Errol) goes bankrupt, his valet (Jack Haley) hits upon a scheme to restore his fortunes and save his mansion. They persuade the scullery maid (Michele Morgan) to pose as his daughter, and then court and marry a wealthy young man (Sinatra).
Step Lively is based on the hit Broadway farce Room Service, which had already served as a Marx Brothers vehicle by the time it got this 1944 re-do. The breathless plot is about a theater producer trying to close a deal while staying ahead of some hand-wringing hotel managers, who would understandably like to be paid for putting up his entourage while rehearsals are in session. A variety of songs and dances are crammed into this laboured structure, some of delivered in the sweet youthful tones of Frank Sinatra (as a playwright who also happens to sing like an angel). The impresario is played by George Murphy, a light-footed dancer at his most obnoxious here (he was a future U.S. Senator from California), and the impatient hotel managers are Adolphe Menjou and a deadpan Walter Slezak. The songs are by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, and Sinatra gets to croon "As Long as There's Music," but by the time the show-stoppers from the stage musical take over, the movie has gone way, way over the top. The early look at skinny Frankie is worth it, but you have to have a high tolerance for noise to endure the rest. --Robert Horton
Higher and Higher
Madcap movies don't come much madder than Higher and Higher, a 1943 musical best known as the feature debut of Frank Sinatra. In fact, he plays a character called "Frank Sinatra," an aspiring singer drawn into the zany doings at the mansion next door. Seems the patriarch of the place is flat busted, and needs to invent a blueblood daughter to marry off to the nearest eligible millionaire. Manservant (and former Wizard of Oz Tin Man) Jack Haley is in charge of the shenanigans, and scullery maid Michele Morgan is drafted as the daughter (but can't Haley see she's really in love with him?). This is the kind of wacky movie universe in which the blue-collar maid has a French accent and the English nobleman has a Danish accent (it's piano comedian Victor Borge). The songs include "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" and one Rodgers and Hart number, "Disgustingly Rich." The cast is a hoot: here's Mel Tormé in his first movie, here's horse-faced wisecracker Mary Wickes, here's Casablanca crooner Dooley Wilson. And of course Sinatra at his skinniest, sounding very dulcet of voice. The well-traveled Tim Whelan directed, and he must've done something to make Sinatra feel comfortable--the kid looks like a natural. --Robert Horton