Frank Sinatra: The Early Years – ‘Higher and Higher’

I recently picked up Warner Bros. Home Video’s 2008 DVD set ‘Frank Sinatra: The Early Years.’ I’ve never seen any of these films and have just started going through them in chronological order. The earliest film in the set is ‘Higher and Higher.’

Frank Sinatra made his starring debut in the 1943 RKO movie Higher and Higher, directed by Tim Whelan. The film is a curiosity only due to Sinatra’s involvement. Although it stars the stunning French beauty Michele Morgan (still alive at 95) and also features an early appearance by Mel Torme, Higher and Higher could never be mistaken for a great musical.

The plot finds Morgan as Millie Pico, a scullery maid for Cyrus Drake (Leon Errol), a once-rich piano tycoon. Since Drake’s estranged daughter and wife are coming back to New York, singer-turned-butler Mike O’Brien (Jack Haley, out of his Tin Man costume) hatches a plan to convince New York society that Millie is Drake’s daughter to marry her off to a rich man. (Apparently, Mrs. Drake has no intent on seeing Mr. Drake, otherwise this plot would never work.)

higher and higher 2

Millie is a bit disappointed, since she actually loves Mike for some reason. This also disappoints Frank Sinatra (they couldn’t even give his character a name?), who sort of liked Millie, too.

Anyway, there’s the usual comedy hijinks, with Millie forgetting who she’s supposed to be at an important ball. It’s a really funny setpiece though, as she tries desperately to get away from the (not really) rich guy Mike wants her to marry.

There are a few good songs squeezed into the film’s 90-minute running time. “I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night” earned one of the film’s two Oscar nominations (the other was for Best Music Score).

This movie has a Joshua Logan link. The film is based on a 1940 musical by Logan and Gladys Hurlbut that featured music by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Haley starred in the musical’s one and only production. “Disgustingly Rich” is the only song from the musical that made it into them ovie. All the other songs were by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson.

No one gets very “high” in Higher and Higher and the film certainly isn’t great. But I surprisingly enjoyed it and Sinatra fans won’t be disappointed. True, he’s only third-billed, but he actually has a sizeable role here. You’ll also fall in love with Morgan, who is quite good.

The DVD includes no bonus features, not even a trailer.

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