Step Lively (1944) - Young Frank Sinatra in a Musical

Today, we review a film from Frank Sinatra's early movie phase.

Step Lively (1944), a film version of the Broadway play Room Service, follows a "Let's put on a show" movie formula. George Murphy gives it panache as struggling producer  Gordon Miller who gets his musical onstage by a series of fast-talking grifts. He fools the manager of a hotel (Walter Slezak) into keeping his stable of performers in the best suites without payment.

Gordon  also cons dramatic playwright Glenn Russell (Sinatra) out of thousands of dollars, then flatters him by asking Glenn to sing.

Of course, Glenn actually can sing well, which leads to a few numbers for Sinatra to croon.

Gloria DeHaven, seasoned pro, is on hand as Christine Marlowe, the star of Gordon's musical. Christine's charms are Gordon's main method of keeping Glenn from squawking to the police about the misappropriated funds.

In reel life as in real life, Sinatra gets the star treatment in this film. His name is first and above the title, despite having fewer acting credits than his co-stars.

As he glides through the door, making his entrance, there's a respectful eight seconds without dialogue. Can't you hear the fans in the audience screaming? This is followed by a few more seconds of inconsequential dialogue (just in case they haven't finished yelling their lungs out), before the meetcute with Ms. DeHaven.

Though a charming celebrity, and a well-known crooner (ensuring ticket sales to Bobby-Soxers in the cinema) in Step Lively, Sinatra is still learning the ropes as an actor; his delivery is a bit wooden. Later in his career, he would make film performance seem easy.

Sinatra is not the only one who gets a star's entrance. A bevy of chorus boys and girls surround Gloria DeHaven as a curtain opens from the hotel balcony during a rehearsal.

Ta da!
Ms. DeHaven and George Murphy were under contract with MGM, who boasted having more stars than there are in the heavens. Their studio loaned them out to RKO for this movie.

Sinatra would soon join them at MGM, the studio which produced some of the best musicals in the world, including the innovative screen hit Sinatra would play in the following year - Anchors Aweigh (1945), with Gene Kelly.

Step Lively is a great film to study early Sinatra and marvel at how far he progressed in the craft of acting.


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