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 »
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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
When The Joker Is Wild first came out I saw it at the Nostrand Theatre in Brooklyn, New York. It was the best possible first exposure to Frank Sinatra. He is first rate in this biographical film about the life of Joe E. Lewis. Later on in his film career, Sinatra walked through a lot of roles, but not in this. This is a perfect blend of his persona being tailor made for the part. The supporting cast of Eddie Albert, Jeanne Crain, Mitzi Gaynor, Jackie Coogan, Beverly Garland are also well cast and give Frank excellent support. I have a bootleg copy of this movie, but hopefully Paramount will put this out one day.
The song All the Way is interestingly used in the film. When Joe E. Lewis is a cabaret singer, Sinatra sings it and of course first rate. Later on after the mobsters try to cut his throat and damage his vocal cords, it's used in the background as a reminder of what he had lost.
I don't know if the real Joe E. Lewis ever did any records from back in the twenties. I have heard him do some of his stand-up routines in that gravelly voice the gangsters left him with. Sinatra might have ruptured his own valuable vocal cords if he ever tried to really imitate Lewis. Still it's a marvelous performance.
All the Way won the Oscar in 1957 for Best Original Song, it was the first time a Sinatra song was so honored. Frank was never in better voice and it remains to this day my favorite Sinatra record.
Don't ever miss The Joker Is Wild when it's broadcast.
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