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Young at Heart (Blu-ray Review)

14 Apr, 2014 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Gig Young, Ethel Barrymore, Dorothy Malone.

Originally, the same Fannie Hurst story was the source of John Garfield’s star-maker Four Daughters — a movie popular enough in 1938 to spur a trio of follow-ups that Warner Archive has released with the original in a four-film package. So when a landmark like it got remade with Frank Sinatra’s in his first post-comeback romantic lead, some kind of attention has to be paid even today, though the market for Young at Heart is probably limited to those whose hearts have never fully left the 1950s. Still, there’s a real Sinatra performance here, and when he makes his first entrance after a cavernous 35 minutes, enough sugar to sustain the Big Rock Candy Mountain gets diluted some in favor of a male protagonist who suffers from depression.

Heart was a Christmas release in the biggest markets, though even my own city (a state capital) didn’t get it until a month beyond that in late January 1955. Sinatra’s smash hit of the title tune (No. 2 via Billboard) in the early spring of ’54, so the movie was actually trading on a song that had come and gone, though it likely still lingered heavily in the subconscious. Another big jukebox boost was the casting of Doris Day in Daughters’ Priscilla Lane role. In the entire history of movies, only six or seven major recording figures have ever become screen superstars — and here’s a movie that has two of them. In fact, I think it must be the only one, other than the Rat Pack vehicles.

Getting away with a haircut that might euphemistically be called “tomboy-ish,” Day plays one of three sisters in a musical household (Dorothy Malone and Elisabeth Fraser are the others) who gets romantically entangled with a composer/boarder (Gig Young) when it’s obvious that the other two dig his loins. But Day also has an unexpressed thing for Frank, a piano-playing arranger and pessimist who shows up at her family’s cosmetically perfect ’50s home to aid Young on a hopefully Broadway-bound musical. Probably the most comfortable relationship he has with anyone is with a maiden aunt played by Ethel Barrymore — the kind who watches boxing matches on TV and responds to sass with a worldly-wise eye twinkle. By the way, Malone’s character is supposedly engaged to a Connecticut land developer played by a pre-“Gilligan’s Island” Alan Hale Jr. (with possibly a little peroxide in his hair). That’s a lot of woman for the Skipper, if you ask me.

Day sings some songs that didn’t catch on, while Sinatra makes more than do with “One for My Baby” and “Someone To Watch Over Me” in good renditions that are nice to have preserved visually — though when boozy customers keep talking when his character working the local piano bar, you want to go, “Don’t you cretins realize that you’re stepping on the notes of The (coming) Chairman?” Oh, well, this was a great period for the greatest singer and greatest singer-actor of the 20th century. In the coming year, and despite a heavy recording schedule, Sinatra would star in four features plus the famous teleplay of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town along with Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint.

Olive’s Blu-ray is quite successful in capturing the ’50s garishness of Warner Color, which was so bad that the studio pulled the plug on it after only a few years (though not before it desecrated all three James Dean movies). Here, it kind of fits, relatively speaking, in a ’50s romance-magazine kind of way — though I couldn’t tell for sure if all the purple-tinged costuming was part of the original design or a product of inferior film stock. Frank in purple slacks — well, you don’t see that very much. But at least this release features the original Warner logo in the opening, (even though Warner hasn’t had rights to the picture in an eternity. Unless I’m really misremembering, I think at least one of the many Heart home releases over the years opened with Sinatra warbling under the Republic Pictures logo, which is a lot more than Rod Cameron or Forrest Tucker ever got in their litany of Westerns for the same studio.

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