Frank Sinatra plays Joe E. Lewis, a famous comedian of the 1930s-50s. When the movie opens, Lewis is a young, talented singer who performs in speakeasies. When he bolts one job for another,... See full summary »
Frank Sinatra plays Joe E. Lewis, a famous comedian of the 1930s-50s. When the movie opens, Lewis is a young, talented singer who performs in speakeasies. When he bolts one job for another, the mob boss who owns the first speakeasy has his thugs try to kill Lewis. Lewis survives, but his vocal cords are cut and he cannot sing. Several years later, his buddy tracks him down and tries to help him with little success. That attempt, though, leads to Lewis meeting Letty Page (Jeanne Crain). They fall in love and she inspires him to follow up on an offer to become a comedian (a result of his buddy's failed attempt to rejuvenate his singing career). Lewis has problems, though. The assault that nearly cost him his life also helped turn him into an alcoholic and an inveterate gambler. These two character defects become the basis for his act and help to make him a smash success. Unfortunately, they also work to wreak havoc in his personal life. Written by
In real life, Danny Cohen owned the club in which Joe E. Lewis first worked. When Lewis defected for more money, Cohen gave mobster Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn (real name: Vincenzo Antonio Gebhardi), a lieutenant in Al Capone's mob, a 25% share in the club in return for his persuading Lewis to stay. McGurn's method of persuasion was the beating which Lewis received. See more »
Towards the end, when Joe is receiving a pep talk from his "reflection" in the store glass window, his real reflection briefly appears beside it, thus revealing two reflections; one speaking, the other silent. See more »
Comedian Joe E. Lewis is best remembered as a precursor of comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and Foster Brooks as well as a pal of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. The common thread was creating one-liners that had something to do with drunks. He is sometimes confused with Joe E. Brown because of his name, though the two had little in common except being in the show business at about the same time. This film starring Frank Sinatra is therefore a kind of personal homage to a friend, one that would hold little interest as a story unless the viewer knew of the connection in advance. In starts sort of nowhere and goes sort of nowhere, relying for its interest on an unusually literate script and some really good direction and camera work. The best scene is one toward the beginning where Sinatra and a radiant Jeanne Crain meet behind a cyclorama in a theater and flirt with each other as the shadowy figures on the other side of the screen are partying. Twenty-first century viewers will find the dialogue, the sets, and the constant smoking and drinking very curious -- sometimes offensive to modern sensibilities. But that is a characteristic common to many films made between the beginning of "talkies" in about 1930 and the introduction of blockbuster mega-films in the late 1950's and early 1960's. The social diameters and definitions of acceptable behavior for women, black people, drunks, so-called burlesque shows, and "cafe society" and the like were either narrower or broader during that time than they are today. This is definitely not a film made from a play or novel requiring attention to literary unities. Still, it hangs together pretty well for anyone patient enough to concentrate on its more dramatic moments. Look for it on Turner Classic Movies.
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