Renowned ladies man Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra) arrives in San Francisco looking for nightclub entertainment work and lands a job at The Barbary Coast Club.
Almost at once he meets Linda English (Kim Novak), a chorus girl who is as genuine as she is lovely, and Vera Simpson (Rita Hayworth), a burlesque queen who retired after marrying into money and who is now widowed but still very rich.
Joey starts romancing them both, one for his heart and one for his bank balance (he wants to open his open nightclub), but will he get away with it?
After the tremendous success of Cover Girl (1944) starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly, Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures bought the rights to the Broadway musical, Pal Joey (in which Kelly had also starred), intending to unite the pair on screen again. However, Louis B. Mayer owned Gene Kelly’s contract, and his price for the loan-out was just too high.
It was seventeen years before Cohn did manage to film Pal Joey. By that time, Hayworth was ready to play woman-of-the-world Vera, rather than Linda the ingénue – and Sinatra‘s Joey had become much less of a heel.
Hayworth sang Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (though her singing voice was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer) and The Lady Is A Tramp became one of Sinatra‘s signature tunes.
The other standout number, My Funny Valentine, was dubbed by Trudy Erwin for Kim Novak, who was being groomed by Harry Cohn to succeed co-star Rita Hayworth as Columbia’s leading siren.
How Sinatra must have relished this project, as he beat Marlon Brando to the role that Gene Kelly had created on Broadway. At 41, he was too old to play the womanising singer stringing along a widow and a chorus girl to get his own nightclub.
Sinatra won a Golden Globe, but how different this cult favourite might have been with Cohn’s preferred casting of Brando and Mae West.