The Joker Is Wild

  • 1957
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Biography

Sinatra plays Joe E. Lewis in this taut and compelling biography which chronicles the nightclub era and one of its highest paid entertainers. It's Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. Sinatra is so successful that he packs the nightclub where he works and draws the attention of gangsters who own a competing club. They invite him to quit his job and go to...read more

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Sinatra plays Joe E. Lewis in this taut and compelling biography which chronicles the nightclub era and one of its highest paid entertainers. It's Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. Sinatra is so successful that he packs the nightclub where he works and draws the attention of gangsters

who own a competing club. They invite him to quit his job and go to work for them, but Sinatra not so politely declines. Mobsters later visit him and cut his throat, almost from ear to ear. With his vocal cords nearly severed, Sinatra's singing days are over. He sinks into deep depression, then

begins to use his caustic wit to establish a new career as a comedian. The great Sophie Tucker helps Sinatra reestablish himself on the burlesque circuit. Meanwhile, two women, socialite Crain and sassy chorus girl Gaynor, fall in love with Sinatra. He marries Gaynor, even though he goes on loving

Crain. With accompanist Albert at his side, Sinatra wows them with his humor until he's in demand everywhere. However, he's unhappy and starts to belt down a lot of booze to go with the off-color jokes, making his nightclub toast to audiences famous: "It's post time!" Alcohol is Sinatra's undoing.

He is more of a celebrated drunk than an entertainer near the finish, insulting and intolerable, so that the long-suffering Gaynor walks out on him, and even his patient friend Albert deserts him. Recognizing his self-destructiveness, Sinatra reforms and, at the finale, appears to be making a

comeback with friends and loved ones.

It's a bleak story, often grim, but handled with great style by Vidor, and Sinatra's self-indulgent performance is somehow appealing. Much of the film is based on true incidents in the life of Lewis, who was attacked and slashed by goons working for Machine-Gun Jack McGurn (a Capone lieutenant),

when he wouldn't go to work in a Capone saloon. Sinatra sings one smashing song, "All the Way" (James Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn) which won the Academy Award for Best Song. Other songs include: "Out of Nowhere" (John Green, new lyrics by Harry Harris), "At Sundown" (Walter Donaldson), "If I Could Be

with You" (Jimmy Johnson, Henry Creamer), "I Cried for You" (Arthur Freed, Gus Arnheim, Abe Lyman), "Mimi" (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart), "June in January" (Leo Robin, Ralph Rainger), "Chicago" (Fred Fisher), "Swinging on a Star" (Van Heusen, new lyrics by Harris), "I Love My Baby" (Bud Green,

Harry Warren), "Naturally" (from Flotow's "Martha," new lyrics by Harris).

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Sinatra plays Joe E. Lewis in this taut and compelling biography which chronicles the nightclub era and one of its highest paid entertainers. It's Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. Sinatra is so successful that he packs the nightclub where he works and… (more)

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