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“Meet Danny Wilson” Review: The Strange and Exuberant Frank Sinatra Musical Drama That’s Hardly Ever Screened – The New Yorker

“Meet Danny Wilson”: The Strange plus Exuberant Honest Sinatra Music Drama That is Hardly Actually Screened

A scene from “Meet Danny Wilson.”

That this savory and spirited film, based on Frank Sinatra’s public persona, flopped, is a sign of his unpopularity at the time that “Meet Danny Wilson” was released. Photograph from Universal Pictures / Alamy

The movie screen only looks flat. A director’s inner space opens it up and draws a viewer into its alternate worlds. Many movies aren’t endowed with any such extra dimension of subjectivity and are perfectly enjoyable, within limits. Sometimes those limits are usually very broad, as when the flat screen is adorned with touches and flashes, gaudy baubles and coruscating illusions, associated with enticing and entrancing flair. These giddy delights often turn up on the great virtual American cinematheque, TCM. One such oddball masterpiece of flat-screen cinema, “Meet Danny Wilson”—a film-noir musical, from 1952—is playing there for the first time ever, this Friday, at 12: 15 A. M. (It will also be streamable on the Watch TCM site plus app, through August 31st. )

It’s a surprisingly rare film (unavailable on U. S. DVD or Blu-ray and not streaming elsewhere), given the prominence of the lead actors. In the title role, Honest Sinatra plays a character who greatly resembles Frank Sinatra: Danny is a talented but struggling night-club singer who, in order to advance his career, is forced to play ball with a gangster. His billed co-leads are Shelley Winters and the particular obscure but capable Alex Nicol, yet they’re joined by a supporting actor whose dramatic power matches that will of the leads—Raymond Burr. Almost upon star wattage alone, “Meet Danny Wilson” should be a familiar classic. It is directed by the remarkable Joseph Pevney , a minor master associated with flamboyant performances and exaggeratedly (even absurdly) expressive stagings, and it’s written by Don McGuire, an actor who was subsequently responsible with regard to “Bad Day at Black Rock” (he adapted the particular story) and for “Tootsie” ( he wrote the story ). But the film’s energy is, foremost, that of Sinatra himself, plus it’s something of a miracle that he unleashed it here in a role of scathing (and self-scathing) ferocity.

“Meet Danny Wilson” begins as a hard-nosed comedy, with Danny, the vocalist, and Mike Ryan (Nicol), his piano player, manager, professional partner, and eternal sidekick, getting playfully into trouble hustling pool. In a pattern that repeats itself throughout the particular film, the hotheaded Danny starts the fight that will he can’t finish, and Mike steps in to protect him (a dangerous habit for a pianist). Out within the street, Danny’s head swivels toward every passing young woman, and Paul keeps him focussed on getting to work. At that night’s gig, at a rowdy joint where drunks heckle Danny, this individual again starts a fight that Mike finishes. Fearing arrest, the particular pair take off together into the night plus, by chance, encounter a ritzy lady, Joy Carroll (Winters), outside a ritzy night spot, who ritzes them in to a bar, where they become drunk and disorderly, get arrested, and, lacking funds to pay a fine, end up in jail.

Joy turns out in order to be the singer and pianist at a high-toned night club, which is owned by a gangster named Nick Driscoll (Burr), who, on a tip through her, auditions Danny, will be duly impressed, and hires him plus Mike, regarding the mere cost of fifty per cent of the pair’s earnings—for forever, an agreement that he or she plans to enforce by force. The particular brash and mercurial Danny becomes a good overnight success; he furthermore falls in love along with Joy, that has long rejected Nick’s advances plus who is usually in love with the particular steady and reliable Paul. Danny becomes a superstar—a sensation among teen-age girls, a veritable engine associated with hit records, and then a Hollywood screen idol. He also becomes a world-class asshole, arrogant and demanding, vain plus condescending, and brazenly planning to terminate his deal with Nick.

The plot alone is taut and tense, built around the overlapping trip wires of various dangerous conflicts, but it’s not what gives the film its enduring vitality. First, McGuire’s script (or what Pevney and the actors did with it upon the set) has the tang of slang that will exudes a loopy, streetwise tone. After a battle, Danny says, “I should have torn their arms off, ” plus Mike retorts, “You couldn’t break celery. ” In night court, an arresting officer states, “I tried to put the particular quietus on him. ” Joy sends Danny away to sing with the encouragement, “Kill the people. ” Danny hands a waiter a tip, saying, “Here’s a deuce, get yourself a B-29, ” and the crusty waiter responds, “I got one. ” What gives these knockoff gems their gleam is the particular actors’ energy—Winters’s unfazeable knowingness, Nicol’s dry bonhomie, Sinatra’s built-in derisive sneer, with his brash and sardonic gestures to go with it. (In the great scene at a late-night deli, Joy reproaches Danny intended for a too-intrusive question, and he slaps his own hand; when he describes himself to her as “a little nervous, ” he does the shoulder twitch of sublime comedic bravado. )

Above all, however, “Meet Danny Wilson” is distinguished by the presence associated with the apotheosis of saloon singers, and its musical numbers provide the particular movie’s grandest, glitziest delights. Danny gets his bona fides within a couple of casual numbers—a blues sung in jail, “She’s Funny That Way” done as the torchy audition to get Nick—which meet with astonished acclaim, whether from fellow-inmates or from Nick’s cleaning crew. On Danny’s opening night, which rockets your pet to fame, he opens with a slow and sinuous rendition of “That Old Dark Magic” that silences the customers plus draws them raptly towards the stage. Pevney catches the moment of a star being born in an extended medium closeup of Danny, who basks in the attention and grows ever more exuberant, ever showier, as his time in the particular spotlight goes on, as if expanding in order to fill the frame. Though Winters isn’t a singer by trade, she performs one, and does her signature number, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find, ” in an insinuating Sprechstimme. (She and Sinatra also do a peppery duet from the song in a party picture, where these people unfortunately end the number with some patter in an offensive stereotype of Black dialect. )

Sinatra swaggers and sasses their way via the movie with blithe insolence, plus Winters fills her every moment along with drive and intensity, but the performances have little dramatic unity, no thanks to the script, which offers hardly any distinctive characterization plus cries out for backstory to raise the roles above clichés. (The very premise—two men, best friends and work partners, one the vain glad-hander as well as the other a disciplined regular guy, who are within love with the same woman—is one of the excellent archetypes associated with Howard Hawks, as in “ Tiger Shark , ” but Hawks enriches the setup with an array of idiosyncrasies and symbols that lend it vertiginous depths. ) Instead, in “Meet Danny Wilson, ” the stars contribute what they can—namely, megawatt dazzle—to make up for the lack of psychological substance.

The basis of the particular film has been the cratering of Sinatra’s career. It was only a temporary setback, but , of course, neither he nor the world could have known that. His recording career had been within decline pertaining to several years (and, later in 1952, he had been dropped simply by his record label, Columbia). He had acted in many films but was hardly a movie star. (In his previous movie, “Double Dynamite, ” this individual had third billing, after Jane Russell and Groucho Marx. ) His bookings for live performances had dwindled and were largely unsuccessful. Furthermore, his general public image was tarnished by scandal: married to their first wife, Nancy, since 1939, he was having an affair with Ava Gardner , and gossip columnists denounced him as immoral. (Sinatra and Nancy divorced in 1951; he or she and Gardner married exactly the same year. ) According in order to Winters—who discusses “Meet Danny Wilson” at length within her 1st autobiography, “ Shelley: Also Known as Shirley , ” from 1980—Sinatra did the film because he needed the money. He put himself in the fingers of the friend, McGuire, who crafted a story that will stays surprisingly close to Sinatra’s own experiences (and has been recognized as such at the time), with its references to Danny’s rise along with gangland help, his adulation as a teen idol, plus (spoiler alert) his sharp fall through grace owing to scandal—nothing that a synthetic happy ending can not remedy. It’s hard to imagine that anything but the desperate need meant for a rapid profession reboot would have motivated Sinatra’s risky self-exposure. It is a sign of his unpopularity that this tasty and enthusiastic movie, based on his own public persona, flopped. (Of course, it was their performance within the 1953 drama “From Here to Eternity, ” the nonmusical role, that relaunched him. )

Winters portrays Sinatra because arrogant since the character Danny became in his Hollywood turn. She explains two scenes that were cut due to the fact of his truculence, including the original ending. (At 1 point, the particular exasperated Winters threw a bedpan in Sinatra and hit him. ) At the same time, “Meet Danny Wilson” will get its juice from the psychodramatic jolt of its story—the sense associated with Sinatra cathartically replaying their own rise and fall and adding on the rapid, phoenixlike resuscitation. The particular film is definitely also invigorated by the ideological framework—centered not upon politics yet on show business. The story is premised on the transition from the particular near-comedy of the early days of Danny and Mike’s scuffling (no money, simply no fame, no respect, but lots associated with fun) to the grim tension of the high-stakes maneuvers by which usually they break through plus Danny gets a star (the relentless pressure of life in the public eye, the conversion of his art and his private life alike into the full-time business of Danny Wilson, Inc. ). The film emphasizes the great sacrifices that will great entertainers incur, the great risks that they will face designed for the sake of our pleasure—and the essential difference of their temperament from that associated with ordinary people, leaving them outdoors the bounds of conventional habits and morality. “Meet Danny Wilson” may become merely flashy, but its bedrock doctrine remains common coin within the Hollywood of today.   ♦