Seldom has so little been done with so much by so many as in Pal Joey. The movie retains the essence of Rodgers' and Hart's excellent score for the musical which played Broadway in 1940-41 and again in 1952-53. However, the original script, written by John O'Hara, has been largely scrapped for an implausible story whose dialogue consists of inane crudities.
The only useful purpose of Pal Joey is to serve as a vehicle for songs like "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," "I Could Write a Book," and "Zip" and for Frank Sinatra. Sinatra can give life even to the remarkedly poor lines he is given and he does, of course, sing very well. He is quite effective as a night-club singer who substitutes his conquests over women for a financially prosperous existence. When Sinatra tells an unwilling chorus girl, "If you knew what you were throwing away, you'd cut your throat," hundreds of middle-age matrons nod silent agreement.
The only other well-cast major role in the movie is that of Rita Hayworth, who plays an exstripper "Vanessa the Undresser" who has married into the position of society queen. Rita is equally skillful maintaining aristocratic social distance or singing "Zip"--"The way to my heart is unzipped again." Pretty as she is, however, Rita has grown too old to attract men's minds.
Part of the trouble with this movie is Kim Novak. This is not to say that Miss Novak is the world's worst actress, but only that she is miscast in any role requiring dialogue. This would not be a serious fault if she were really beautiful. Sinatra drops Rita, his meal-ticket, for Kim's virginal, Alburquerque wholesomeness. The movie does not explain why he would want to commit such an ironically self-defeating act.
Director Fred Kohlman has done little with the vast amounts of money spent on sets and talent. Almost no effort has been made to present the songs imaginatively, and the Technicolor would have been better used to show more of the movie's San Francisco setting. Since this movie is a musical and has big stars, it will surely make a lot of money; however, it is hardly worth the pilgrimage to Boston.