Sunday, September 09, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Tender Trap (1955)

THE TENDER TRAP begins with one of my favorite sequences in all of '50s cinema, as the impeccably dressed Frank Sinatra, backed by a clear blue sky, ambles toward the camera singing "You see a pair of laughing eyes..."

The melding of performer, music, costume and set design in such a deceptively simple way is sheer genius. It's an unforgettable, iconic moment in a fun film, directed by the underrated Charles Walters. I've watched this movie countless times.

Sinatra plays Charlie, a New York theatrical agent surrounded by single women (Lola Albright, Carolyn Jones, and Jarma Lewis), who hope he'll prove to be their Mr. Right. Along comes singer Julie Gillis (Debbie Reynolds), who initially isn't impressed by Charlie, though she has very definite plans to marry and have a family in short order. It's only a matter of time before Charlie falls into Julie's "tender trap."

On the surface the film is a lighthearted romantic comedy, with both charming Charlie and giddy Julie having some growing up to do as they find their way to each other. However, the storyline is strengthened by the more somber threads running in parallel to Charlie and Julie: Charlie's friend Joe (David Wayne) "has it all" with a pretty wife and three kids, yet is having something of a midlife marital crisis, and one of Charlie's many girlfriends, Sylvia (Celeste Holm), is wondering if her focus on her musical career means she'll never have a husband and family.

I've always thought Sylvia is one of Holm's finest performances, playing, as I wrote in Holm's obituary tribute, "a witty woman with an underlying sadness." She's lovely, she's glamorous, she's got it together...but she's also very lonely. Holm deftly conveys the full spectrum of her character's emotions, causing the viewer to admire and sympathize with her, but she stops short of drawing maudlin pity. She's too admirably "chin up" for that...and besides, there's that handsome man (Tom Helmore) she keeps meeting in the elevator.

This is one of many entertaining films directed by Charles Walters, and considering that Julius Epstein's screenplay (based on a Broadway play) is amusing but not particularly deep, Walters draws a great deal out of the material. Walters also ensures that the characters, who in other hands could be obnoxious, remain likeable despite their flaws, not to mention the '50s museum piece attitudes towards relationships, marriage, and women's careers.

In one of the best-directed sequences, Charlie shows Julie how to give her singing of the title song more depth, as she listens with growing admiration; then she utilizes his suggestions in her next rehearsal. It's one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

The Cahn-Van Heusen title song was nominated for the Oscar, losing to "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing." As memorable as the winning song was in the context of its film, I would have voted for "The Tender Trap." The competition also included "Something's Gotta Give" from DADDY LONG LEGS (1955).

The movie runs 111 minutes. It was filmed in CinemaScope by Paul Vogel. The chic costumes are by the great Helen Rose.

The widescreen DVD is for the most part a sharp print which nicely shows off the striking '50s set design. I did notice that some of the close-ups were a bit washed out.

In addition to the single-title release, the movie was also included in the five-film DVD set Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years.  It was released on VHS a dozen years ago.

May 2019 Update: THE TENDER TRAP will be reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.

April 2021 Update: This film will be released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive in May 2021.

Update: My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger Melissa Clark said...

Great review, Laura! I watch "The Tender Trap" almost every time it's on TCM, and in between times I put in the DVD. It's one of my comfort movies and I never get tired of it. Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds are fine, but for me it's Celeste Holm and David Wayne who make the film worth all the repeated viewings. They're both so good. Holm is especially wonderful, and for all the reasons you expressed so well. :)


11:03 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much, MC! Your comment reminded me to add in a line I'd meant to include, that (like you!) I've seen this film countless times. In fact it's one of the movies I remember watching on TV from very early childhood. It really is great "comfort" viewing.

Best wishes,

12:22 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I've only seen THE TENDER TRAP once and that was a long, long time ago on a Late Show broadcast. It was so long ago that I cannot even remember if I saw it before or after I was in a production of the play. In our production, Sinatra's role was played by Tab Hunter. No, Tab didn't sing the movie's title tune.

Thanks for the reminder of this film, Laura, I probably need to see it again.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What fun that you were in a production of this show with Tab Hunter, Rick! That's a great anecdote. Hope you will enjoy revisiting the film.

Best wishes,

4:03 PM  

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