Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Higher and Higher (1943)

HIGHER AND HIGHER is an early Frank Sinatra film I watched many times as a child; if I remember correctly, it used to be shown regularly on KHJ Channel 9 here in Southern California. I've always remembered this rather goofy film with a warm glow, and I finally caught up with it again tonight for the first time in decades. What a treat to discover that the glow is still there.

The plot is some of the usual movie comedy nonsense about the crazy rich and the hired help. Cyrus Drake (Leon Errol) is going broke; he's about to lose his mansion, and his staff hasn't been paid for months.

The servants hatch a plan to have French scullery maid Millie (Michele Morgan) pose as Drake's long-absent daughter, who's been living abroad. The plan is for Millie to marry money and save the mansion and everyone's finances. The only problem is Millie is in love with Mike (Jack Haley), the valet. And she's also got this neighbor named Frank Sinatra crooning to joke!

The plot may be a trifle, but it's put over by a unique, energetic cast, and it's also got some wonderfully memorable music. Young Sinatra, playing himself, sings some great McHugh-Adams songs, "The Music Stopped," "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," and the Oscar-nominated "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night." These beautiful songs, as sung by Sinatra, are part of the film's magic.

Sinatra's not the only interesting musician in the film, however. There's this 17- or 18-year-old kid named Mel Torme making his film debut, and believe it or not pianist Victor Borge made his American film debut in the same movie. He plays a supposedly wealthy man who's also looking for a rich spouse. What fun to see this trio sharing a screen so early in their careers!

It was fun for me to realize tonight that in the years since first seeing the movie, I saw both Sinatra and Borge in concert, and Mel Torme was in the audience when I watched classic films on more than one occasion.

For good measure, the movie also boasts wonderful Dooley Wilson, the year after he played Sam in CASABLANCA (1942).

Lovely Barbara Hale plays a debutante who swoons for Sinatra. Hale, of course, would later be famous, among other things, as Della Street on TV's PERRY MASON. And as a bit of added trivia, her son with actor Bill Williams, William Katt, was the star of THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO.

If you look closely at one of Millie's bridesmaids near the end of the movie, future Oscar-winning actress Dorothy Malone can easily be spotted. It's that kind of movie!

The cast also includes Mary Wickes, Marcy McGuire, and Elisabeth Risdon. The movie was directed by Tim Whelan; it runs 90 minutes.

HIGHER AND HIGHER has a couple of interesting connections with films I've seen in the past few days. William Bowers, who wrote some of the film's additional dialogue, wrote the screenplay for last night's movie, THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958). And the songs "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" and "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" were borrowed three years later for RKO's "B" movie CRIMINAL COURT (1946), sung by Martha O'Driscoll.

HIGHER AND HIGHER is available on DVD in the five-film DVD set Frank Sinatra - The Early Years. The DVD can be rented from Netflix.

It also had a release on VHS in the RKO Collection.

HIGHER AND HIGHER is one of those relatively little-known films which is nonetheless a great deal of fun. Recommended for fans of musicals and screwball comedies.

May 2019 Update: HIGHER AND HIGHER will be reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.


Blogger DKoren said...

Wow, a movie I've never heard of in any way shape or form. I love when that happens! This one sounds quite cute, and I love that Frank Sinatra is playing himself. For some reason, that cracks me up. Great review!

7:23 AM  

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