The Joker Is Wild (1957)

126 mins | Biography | October 1957

Director:

Charles Vidor

Writer:

Oscar Saul

Producer:

Samuel J. Briskin

Cinematographer:

Daniel L. Fapp

Production Designers:

Hal Pereira, Roland Anderson

Production Company:

A.M.B.L. Productions
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HISTORY

The working title of this film was The Joker . The opening credits include the following citation: "Specialty Songs and Parodies by Harry Harris." According to Time , the real Joe E. Lewis' greatest claim to fame was that he was one of the very few comedians on the Chicago nightclub circuit who could make noted mobster Al Capone laugh. However, Lewis ran afoul of "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, who had the nightclub performer's throat slashed and his skull fractured, as depicted in the film.
       In a Sep 1957 article in Beverly Hills Citizen , newspaperwoman Hazel Flynn, an old friend of Lewis from his Chicago days, refutd some of the details of Lewis' life, as depicted in The Joker Is Wild . She stated that Lewis was never a talented singer, having been a comedian from the very beginning of his career. Further, she argued that Lewis was not almost killed over his right to work where he pleased, as portrayed in the film, as most cafés in prohibition-era Chicago were owned by gangsters. In actuality, the owner of Rienzi Café had spent a great deal of money promoting Lewis and had even gone so far as to remodel the club for the comedian. In addition, the club owner felt personally betrayed by Lewis, as he had befriended the up-and-coming nightclub performer, buying him new clothes and taking him on vacations. Lewis, however, left Rienzi for another mob-run nightclub simply to make more money and gain greater exposure. Flynn stated that she was at Rienzi the night the remodeled club reopened without Lewis and overheard gangsters openly talking about ... More Less

The working title of this film was The Joker . The opening credits include the following citation: "Specialty Songs and Parodies by Harry Harris." According to Time , the real Joe E. Lewis' greatest claim to fame was that he was one of the very few comedians on the Chicago nightclub circuit who could make noted mobster Al Capone laugh. However, Lewis ran afoul of "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, who had the nightclub performer's throat slashed and his skull fractured, as depicted in the film.
       In a Sep 1957 article in Beverly Hills Citizen , newspaperwoman Hazel Flynn, an old friend of Lewis from his Chicago days, refutd some of the details of Lewis' life, as depicted in The Joker Is Wild . She stated that Lewis was never a talented singer, having been a comedian from the very beginning of his career. Further, she argued that Lewis was not almost killed over his right to work where he pleased, as portrayed in the film, as most cafés in prohibition-era Chicago were owned by gangsters. In actuality, the owner of Rienzi Café had spent a great deal of money promoting Lewis and had even gone so far as to remodel the club for the comedian. In addition, the club owner felt personally betrayed by Lewis, as he had befriended the up-and-coming nightclub performer, buying him new clothes and taking him on vacations. Lewis, however, left Rienzi for another mob-run nightclub simply to make more money and gain greater exposure. Flynn stated that she was at Rienzi the night the remodeled club reopened without Lewis and overheard gangsters openly talking about killing the comedian. However, when Lewis opened without incident at the new club, she and other Chicago reporters of the time assumed the mobsters had a change of heart. Weeks later, however, Lewis suffered his near-fatal attack, as depicted in the film.
       In Oct 1955, LAT reported that Lewis turned down $150,000 from M-G-M for the film rights to his life story, instead opting to have it produced as an independent feature by his old friend, Frank Sinatra. Var reported in Nov 1955 that Paramount had agreed to finance the independent production, which was to be headed up by Lewis, Sinatra, director Charles Vidor and Art Cohn, author of the Lewis biography The Joker is Wild , under the corporate name A.M.B.L. Productions. The studio agreed to pay the four partners $400,000, along with seventy-five percent of the film's net profits, and assigned Samuel J. Briskin to oversee the film's production. According to NYT , Sinatra's share of the partnership was $125,000, along with twenty-five percent of the film's profits. The DV review points out that supporting actor Hank Henry was the "perpetual motion comic at Las Vegas' Silver Slipper."
       According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the songs "Greatest Little Sign in the World," by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, and "The Bird Song," by Ben Oakland and Eddie Maxwell, were submitted to the PCA for use in The Joker Is Wild , but were rejected outright for their sexually suggestive lyrics. Van Heusen and Cahn received an Academy Award for their musical composition "All the Way," which became one of Sinatra's signature songs.
       HR news items include Percy Helton in the cast, but he was not in the print viewed. The Joker Is Wild marked the last film of long-time character actor Harold Huber (1904--1959). Modern sources add the following names to the crew credits: Orch Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes.
       Modern sources also report that a controversial event occurred following the film's premiere in Las Vegas, when Sinatra and his date, actress Lauren Bacall, walked out of Lewis' show at the El Rancho Vegas after the comedian, contrary to a prior agreement with his old friend, asked Sinatra to join him on stage and sing a song. It was claimed that a drunken Lewis had forgotten that Sinatra made it a policy never to perform anywhere in Las Vegas other than the Sands. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Beverly Hills Citizen
27 Sep 1957.
---
Box Office
31 Aug 1957.
---
Daily Variety
28 Aug 57
p. 3.
Film Daily
30 Aug 57
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 56
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Oct 56
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 56
p. 3, 6, 16.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 56
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Dec 56
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 1957
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 57
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
14 Oct 1955.
---
Motion Picture Daily
28 Aug 1957.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
7 Sep 57
p. 522.
New York Times
10 Feb 1957.
---
New York Times
27 Sep 57
p. 16.
Time
30 Sep 1957.
---
Variety
23 Nov 1955.
---
Variety
28 Aug 57
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Paul T. Salata
Sidney Melton
James Cross
Llorna Jordan
Jack Kenney
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Charles Vidor Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus scored and cond
Orch arr of songs
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Dances staged by
Mus and dance coordinator
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup
Hair style supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Prod mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Joker Is Wild
The Story of Joe E. Lewis by Art Cohn (New York, 1955).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"Chicago (That Toddling Town)" by Fred Fisher.
SONGS
"All the Way," music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"At Sundown," music and lyrics by Walter Donaldson
"I Cried for You," music and lyrics by Arthur Freed, Gus Arnheim and Abe Lyman
+
SONGS
"All the Way," music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"At Sundown," music and lyrics by Walter Donaldson
"I Cried for You," music and lyrics by Arthur Freed, Gus Arnheim and Abe Lyman
"If I Could Be with You," music by James P. Johnson, lyrics by Henry Creamer
"It's June in January," music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin
"(You Came Along from) Out of Nowhere," music by John W. Green, new lyrics by Harry Harris
"Swinging on a Star" music by James Van Heusen, new lyrics by Harry Harris
"Naturally" based on "Martha" from the opera Martha, oder Der Markt von Richmond , music by Friedrich von Flotow, new lyrics by Harry Harris.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Joker
Release Date:
October 1957
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Las Vegas, NV: 23 August 1957
New York opening: 26 September 1957
Production Date:
mid October--mid December 1956
Copyright Claimant:
A.M.B.L. Productions
Copyright Date:
5 October 1957
Copyright Number:
LP9219
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
VistaVision Motion Picture High-Fidelity
Duration(in mins):
126
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18482
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In prohibition-era Chicago of the late 1920s, up-and-coming nightclub singer Joe E. Lewis is the top attraction at Club 777, a speakeasy owned by gangster Georgie Parker. Ignoring the warnings of his friend and accompanist, Austin Mack, as well as a death treat from Georgie's henchman, Tim Coogan, Joe leaves Club 777 and accepts a job from Harry Bliss, the owner of an upper class nightspot, The Valencia. After opening at the new club, Joe signs a recording contract with Blue Label Records, but his rising career comes to a crashing halt weeks later when his throat is cut by Coogan. Though he survives the gangster's attack, Joe's vocal cords are permanently damaged, ending his singing career. Soon after his release from the hospital, Joe disappears and Coogan is murdered, but Austin and Swifty Morgan are both relieved to learn from the police that their friend was not the killer. Years later, in 1937, Swifty runs into Joe at a New York racetrack. Discovering that Joe has been reduced to working as a silent clown in a burlesque house, Austin and Swifty arrange for their old friend to appear in a Variety Club benefit being headlined by Austin's new boss, Sophie Tucker. When he tries to sing, however, Joe is unable to hit his high notes, so he does an impromptu stand-up routine instead. His performance is a big hit, especially with socialite Letty Page. Despite his insecurity about the differences in their social backgrounds, Joe and Letty are soon seeing each other regularly, and Joe starts a new career as a nightclub comedian, with Austin once again his accompanist. On the ... +


In prohibition-era Chicago of the late 1920s, up-and-coming nightclub singer Joe E. Lewis is the top attraction at Club 777, a speakeasy owned by gangster Georgie Parker. Ignoring the warnings of his friend and accompanist, Austin Mack, as well as a death treat from Georgie's henchman, Tim Coogan, Joe leaves Club 777 and accepts a job from Harry Bliss, the owner of an upper class nightspot, The Valencia. After opening at the new club, Joe signs a recording contract with Blue Label Records, but his rising career comes to a crashing halt weeks later when his throat is cut by Coogan. Though he survives the gangster's attack, Joe's vocal cords are permanently damaged, ending his singing career. Soon after his release from the hospital, Joe disappears and Coogan is murdered, but Austin and Swifty Morgan are both relieved to learn from the police that their friend was not the killer. Years later, in 1937, Swifty runs into Joe at a New York racetrack. Discovering that Joe has been reduced to working as a silent clown in a burlesque house, Austin and Swifty arrange for their old friend to appear in a Variety Club benefit being headlined by Austin's new boss, Sophie Tucker. When he tries to sing, however, Joe is unable to hit his high notes, so he does an impromptu stand-up routine instead. His performance is a big hit, especially with socialite Letty Page. Despite his insecurity about the differences in their social backgrounds, Joe and Letty are soon seeing each other regularly, and Joe starts a new career as a nightclub comedian, with Austin once again his accompanist. On the closing night of his highly successful Miami run, Joe announces two new engagements: his upcoming New York opening at the Copacabana, and his marital engagement to Letty. After returning to New York, however, Joe is told by his physician that his chronic alcoholism is killing him, and then learns his Copa opening has been cancelled following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Joe breaks his engagement to Letty and leaves on an overseas U.S.O. tour with Austin. Returning stateside months later, Joe has a change of heart and decides to settle down with Letty, only to learn from Cassie, Austin's wife, that his ex-fiancée has already married someone else. On the rebound, Joe marries Martha Stewart, one of the dancers in his nightclub act. Rather than leaving on a honeymoon, the two immediately go back to work, with Joe returning to the nightclub circuit, while Martha pursues an acting career in Hollywood. The newlyweds see little of each other, as she works all day, and he performs, drinks and gambles all night. Realizing that her marriage is in shambles, Martha follows Joe to Las Vegas, and, in a drunken stupor, she asks him for a divorce. That night, Joe attacks a heckler who insults Martha, and in the ensuing scuffle, he mistakenly punches Austin. With both his wife and his best friend lost to him, Joe returns to Chicago after a three-week hospital stay, where he visits the boarded-up Club 777. As visions from his past haunt him in various storefront windows, Joe is finally forced to look at himself and realizes that there is a life beyond the bottle. Having spent much of his life making others laugh, Joe now pledges to find humor and enjoyment in life for himself. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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