|Higher and Higher (1943)
Run time: 90 min
Genres: Comedy | Musical | Romance
Director: Tim Whelan
Writers: Gladys Hurlbut, Joshua Logan
Stars: Michèle Morgan, Jack Haley, Frank Sinatra
Formerly rich Mr. Drake is broke…with his household staff’s wages seven months in arrears. Conniving valet Mike O’Brien hatches a scheme to pass off scullery maid Millie as Drake’s debutante daughter and net a rich husband for the benefit of all. But all kinds of complications, romantic and otherwise, intervene… Written by Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Release Date: December 1943 (USA)
Higher and Higher was one of Rodgers&Hart's lesser Broadway musicals it only had a run of 84 performances on Broadway in 1940. Yet it yielded one of their bigger hits It Never Entered My Mind.
Nevertheless except for one minor song, So Disgustingly Rich, the entire Broadway score was scrapped when RKO bought the film rights. Instead a whole new score by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson was written, mostly to accommodate one Francis Albert Sinatra who was making his feature film debut.
Sinatra who had done some vocal cameos in previous films, takes a leaf from the page of his singing rival Bing Crosby. When Bing did his feature film debut in The Big Broadcast, he played Bing Crosby. Frank Sinatra took on the role of Frank Sinatra and I can't think of anyone who could have done a better job.
The Chairman of the Board is billed third here behind stars Jack Haley and Michele Morgan. He's the butler and she's the scullery maid to Leon Errol. In fact Errol is a millionaire who hasn't paid his help for seven months. Mainly because he's about to go belly up into chapter 11 or so he informs the staff.
Errol's a delightful old soul to work for and none of the staff want to lose a good thing. They pool their resources and get Michele Morgan to impersonate Errol's daughter who's over in Switzerland with her mother. The idea being to snag a rich bankroll in the hopes rescuing the family fortune. Only Michele starts looking at another.
It's a slight plot and certainly no worse than a whole lot of musicals, but RKO invested this film with a good cast of players. Barbara Hale and Elizabeth Risdon play another débutante and her mother who suspect something's not right, Victor Borge is a fortune seeking no account, Dooley Wilson, Paul Hartman, Grace Hartman, Marcy McGuire, Mel Torme and Mary Wickes, play others of the Errol household staff. Not a bad bunch at all.
Sinatra sang three good ballads all of them had some kind of commercial success, The Music Stopped, A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening, and I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night. The last one was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song, but lost to Alice Faye's You'll Never Know.
1943 was the year of the Musician's Union Strike against the recording industry. To get their material out, Frank Sinatra recorded the songs from Higher and Higher with an acapella chorus for Columbia. Bing Crosby recorded songs from his film Dixie in the same manner for Decca. Both of them were denounced by the president of the union, James C. Petrillo as strikebreakers and both did not cross the picket line again. The strike wasn't settle completely until 1944 although Decca broke ranks earlier from the other record companies and settled earlier than Columbia, RCA Victor and the others.
The strike provided some anxious moments for Sinatra. He had just left the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra when the strike was called. It closed off a needed venue for his artistry when he wasn't sure whether leaving Dorsey would prove to be a right career move.
Fortunately Higher and Higher was received well a legend was launched.
This is not the best of films, but a cute, fluffy romantic musical comedy. The real treat is seeing Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and Victor Borge as young men – 3 true legends.
This was the first RKO picture for Sinatra of a 3 film RKO deal. However, Louis B. Mayer was a fan of Sinatra’s – his rendition of Ol’ Man River moved him to tears. Mayer contacted RKO & bought out Sinatra’s RKO contract in order to bring him to MGM.
This may not be one of the best movies ever made but overall it’s a very enjoyable, light-hearted piece of froth in which everyone involved seems to be having a good time. Highly recommended for it’s feel-good factor alone. OK, so Frank Sinatra’s "acting" leaves a lot to be desired but his singing is a great redeeming feature and the songs fit in perfectly with the romantic atmosphere of the film. Sinatra went on to make many more films where his undoubted acting ability shone through but in this, his first venture into Hollywood, his voice, not his acting, is his main contribution to this movie. I’ve just watched it again on TV and it still lifts my mood as much as it did the first time I saw it many many years ago.
As a stage play it must have been a hilarious farce, as a film with a
truly great cast it is very funny indeed. To have all those appealing
character actors like Mary Wickes and Victor Borge along with
headliners like Sinatra and Jack Haley all set in a well furnished
RKO mansion adding crooner Mel Torme and a few excellent
songs: "I saw you first" and "A lovely way to spend an evening" and
a good situation comedy storyline, HIGHER AND HIGHER is great
fun. There is a wide range to the tunes too, with some hep jive
from Marcie and Mel and crooner swooner from Frank…..and on a
bicycle too. Sinatra would have been 28 when he made this and
his visual appeal is also undeniable. Good 40s musical stage to