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Monday, 8 July 2013

Classic Film Review: Higher and Higher (1943)

This madcap film stars Jack Haley as Mike O'Brien, valet to the broke Mr Drake (Leon Errol). To appease Drake's creditors, Mike suggests a plan whereby they dress up the scullery maid Millie (Michele Morgan) as Drake's daughter Pamela and marry her off to a wealthy man who would then save Drake's finances. The man they settle on is Sir Victor (Victor Borge), although he may not be all he seems. Rounding out this rather nice cast are the ever-wonderful Mary Wickes as Sandy, Barbara Hale as Katherine Keating and Mel Torme as Marty. However, the third-billed star shines the brightest - Frank Sinatra playing Frank Sinatra.

Some of the songs in Higher and Higher are forgettable. However, two Sinatra numbers went on to become standards - 'I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night' and 'A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening'. There's something pure about Sinatra's voice in the early 40s, making his performance on these songs nothing short of captivating. He also does an excellent job on 'The Music Stopped', a song new to me and possibly unjustly forgotten. There's an excellent comic duet he has with Marcy McGuire called 'I Saw You First' to look forward to as well. The stand-out 'other' song is probably 'You're On Your Own' but, again, the few lines of the reprise by Sinatra are more memorable than the actual performance by the cast.

That's not to say that the acting performances are drab, just that they're overwhelmed by Sinatra's singing talent. Jack Haley gives a good central performance, although I couldn't really connect with Michele Morgan. Anything with Mary Wickes in it already has the thumbs-up from me and she was as funny in this as I've seen her in other films. Another favourite performance of mine came from Elisabeth Risdon as the stately Mrs Keating - a rather understated performance that offset some of the madness going on elsewhere.

The storyline is, essentially, barmy but that doesn't mean it's a bad film. There are plenty of humorous moments and Sinatra gently lifts the whole piece up to another level. Even with my ambivalence towards the heroine, I enjoyed this one.

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