11 February 2007 | bkoganbing
Playing Himself Just Like Bing Did
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.