Young at Heart

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The chemistry is unusual between the two stars...

 

Ralph McKnight

 

The thought of joining Doris Day and Frank Sinatra was not a new concept. They had worked together on radio's "Your Hit Parade" in the late 1940s during Miss Day's success as a band singer with Les Brown. In 1954, while making a comeback, Sinatra was teamed with Miss Day for the re-make of an old James Garfield / Priscilla Lane film, "Four Daughters" which had been very popular when it was released in 1938. This time 'round, there were three daughters (Day, Dorothy Malone and Elisabeth Fraser).

Even though Sinatra had won the Academy Award in "From Here to Eternity" in 1953 and had a hit record with "Young at Heart", it was Doris Day who received top billing over him as they both garnered favourable reviews from film critics world-wide. The picture was released during the Christmas season in 1954 and was very popular during the early months of 1955. Miss Day enjoyed a chart hit, "Ready, Willing and Able" by Floyd Huddeston and Al Rinker from the score and the film became the favourite of millions and is regularly played during the Christmas holidays.

 

 

The story concerns the serene lives of a musical family who lives in a small Connecticut town. Widower, Gregory Tuttle (Robert Keith) has three beautiful daughters with whom he lives with his sister, "Aunt Jessie", played by the legendary Ethel Barrymore. It seems to be a perfect way of life where people get married, have children, go to church and care for their grandparents when they get old.

Into the lives of this family comes a handsome bachelor, Alex Burke (Gig Young), a Broadway songwriter whose father attended college with Tuttle. He's in town to deliver a letter to the Foundation for which Tuttle is Dean of Faculty and then resides at the Tuttle house to work on his music. Burke is brash and opinionated, but fascinating to the three sisters, all of whom develop a crush on him at first meeting. Burke summons a troubled, but brilliant pianist he knows from New York to assist him with musical arrangements for his score when he hits a creative brick wall. Barney Sloan (Sinatra), a down and out saloon player, out to make a few bucks, arrives at the Tuttle home with arrogance and a permanent chip on his shoulder. First, he meets Aunt Jessie, who scrutinises him, making Barney aware that he is not the unfeeling character he portrays and that she is wise to his masquerade.

 

 

The first scene between Frank and Doris is memorable. He is sitting at the piano in her living room, arranging Burke's score when Day enters, fascinated by his artistry. He glances up at her briefly and continues playing. When they finally talk, she discovers a cynical, self-doubting looser. One who feels that the world is out to get him and that "they" won't give a guy like him a break. The chemistry is unusual between the two stars; they are such opposites here. Her looks are "perfect of a type" and he, withdrawn, aloof, unkempt and obviously an "alien" to a girl like Laurie Tuttle.

Alex has arranged for Barney to play in a local nightclub to supplement his income while in town. This gives Sinatra the opportunity to sing some wonderful old standards like "One For My Baby" by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, "Just One of Those Things" (Cole Porter) and "Someone to Watch Over Me" by George and Ira Gershwin. The newer songs were reserved for Miss Day, who performed them flawlessly. Laurie falls in love with Alex, as do her two sisters. Dorothy Malone (Fran) is engaged to be married to Robert (Alan Hale, Jr.) and Amy (Fraser) has fallen for a likeable plumber (Lonny Chapman), but both are smitten with their sister's beau, Alex, who pops the question to Laurie during her father's birthday bash. This announcement, of course, comes as a blow to the sisters and to Barney, who has secretly fallen in love with the gorgeous Laurie.

 

 

What struck me, looking at this film again, was how old the sisters looked and to wonder why they, obviously in their late twenties and early thirties, were still living at home with daddy (Robert Keith) and their aunt who ordered them "up to bed", like teenagers! I suppose in the 1950s people look didn't think about things like that. When Amy reacts with tears and uncontrollable emotion after the wedding announcement, the all-knowing Aunt Jessie tells her that she'll get over Alex and convinces Laurie that Amy is upset because she doesn't want to loose her baby sister. Barney who tells Laurie about Amy's feelings reveals the truth. Devastated, Laurie, on the day of her wedding, elopes with Barney, leaving Alex emotionally destroyed.

Life for Barney and Laurie is difficult. He, broke and playing gigs when he can find them, at the same time insisting that he doesn't want her to work. She, trying desperately to convince herself that she's made the right decision. An invitation to come home for Christmas brings the principles back together with Laurie facing the deserted-at-the-alter, Alex for the first time in a year. Pregnant, Laurie secretly returns a bracelet Alex gave her at the beginning of their relationship. By this time, she is confident that she does, indeed, love Barney and wants to make a life with him. Alex wishes her luck and leaves for New York. The joyous holiday celebration ends in tragedy after Barney realises the harm he's caused and decides to end his life by committing suicide driving in a blinding snowstorm, sans windshield wipers. In the original version, John Garfield dies in the crash. It is reported that Sinatra refused to die, for personal and artistic reasons.

In the hospital scene when Day discovers that it is Barney who has crashed and not Robert (you see, Barney was driving Robert's car), Doris Day gives, what, to this reviewers eyes, is the best acting in the movie. Sinatra, head and body from neck to toes, is completely bandaged, only a battered face showing. Day rushes to his side weeping. "Barney...Barney..." Sinatra: "They wouldn't even let me go out in style...have you got a cigarette?" Day: "You're going to be fine...only lightning can get you..." Sinatra: "Lightning can be manufactured, you know?" At this point she realises that he had tried to kill himself. Day then begins her tearful plea for Sinatra not to die, that she needs him, that they need him. The scene ends with Sinatra being taken to the operating room. Next scene, all is well. He lived! It's Easter and the family is all together again. Doris has had the baby and Frank is sitting at the piano, singing. Many critics did not like this happy ending, but Sinatra welded a lot of power. Remember that he had Martin Melcher barred from the set of this picture after Melcher tried to steal Frank's right to sing "Young at Heart" over the credits in favour of Doris.

 

 

Dorothy Malone was beautiful as Fran.  It was interesting to watch her watching Alex while Aunt Jessie watched her.  Her confusion about the man she supposedly loved and the lust she felt for her sister's fiancée was beautifully captured.  I would love to have read her mind when she brazenly gazed at Alex.  Strictly XXX rated! Sinatra was astounding as Barney Sloan. There was so much going on in his performance, it was hard to keep up. Doris Day, like all great movie goddesses acts with her eyes. She is an "eyes on" actress. She has said, "it's all in the eyes". She's right. And she uses her eyes to the best advantage in everything she plays. She and Sinatra were wonderful in their scenes together. As usual, Gig Young was a delight to watch. Most viewers will wonder how Doris could leave him for Sinatra, so what if her sisters had the shakes for him? He was charming. The singing was wonderful. Doris Day, of course, one of the finest chanteuses in the world had no problem with these lovely songs. She sounded perfectly angelic while singing "'Till My Love Comes to Me" by Paul Francis Webster, "Hold Me in Your Arms" by Ray Heindorf, Charles Henderson and Don Pippin, "There's A Rising Moon for Every Fallen Star" by Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fain, and with Sinatra, "You My Love" by Mack Gordon and James Van Heusen. Piano solos for Sinatra were played by Andre Previn.

This film is a far cry from what is produced today. Everybody in the picture looked perfect. The stars went to bed in full makeup (forget cold cream!) Even the snow was perfect. But, even with those "flaws", this is very enjoyable family entertainment. It helped solidify Miss Day's standing in Hollywood as reliably good family fare, and set the tone for her next picture, MGM's dramatic, "Love Me or Leave Me".  The direction by Gordon Douglas was perfect for the material and the cinematography by Ted McCord was just right.


Ralph McKnight, New York, October 2000

 

 

 

Doris Day enjoyed working again with Frank Sinatra during this film. They had previously worked together in the Your Hit Parade radio show, a weekly “pop hits” musical revue. Doris had not liked working in that type of radio format.

When they were reunited for this film they had an amicable experience. However there is a lack of rapport between Day and Sinatra in the film itself. “They seem to be acting in a different film. The script gives them no real love scenes together. They talk a great deal about how much they mean to each other, but they never touch, never kiss, never embrace.” George Morris, Doris Day

In the original 1938 Warner film, Four Daughters, from which the idea of the script came (changed to three daughters!) Sinatra’s character dies. However, in this remake Sinatra refused to exit in this fashion. Thus the ending was changed.


Derald Hendry

 

 

Sugar & Spice: Day & Sinatra

 

Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, names to be reckoned with in several industries as well as motion pictures, team up here in a sentimental drama-with-music-tears-and-laughter that would seem to be box office gold in all situations. Starting with its title, the name of a song identified with Sinatra’s decisive and deserved “comeback,” the film has as many built-in exploitation features as the law of diminishing returns allows.

Included among these features is, naturally, the carefully calculated freshness and charm of Miss Day, whether she’s belting out a solid number called “Ready, Willing and Able,” or brushing away an ill-concealed tear of hear-break. There too is Sinatra’s fine performance as a touch-talking, talent-loaded pianist, as well as his singing of the title tune and such oldies as “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Just One of Those Things” and “One For the Road,” in the proper smoky bar-type atmosphere. For dividends there’s a marvelously nonchalant performance by Ethel Barrymore, and always ingratiating ones by Gig Young, Dorothy Malone, and Elizabeth Fraser. - Motion Picture Herald

 

Doris Day

 

The character of the self-destructive Barney Sloan was originally written to die at the end of the film when Sloan drives into on-coming traffic during a snow-storm. Sinatra, whose characters in his two previous films perished at the end, thought Sloan should live and find happiness. Sinatra's growing influence in Hollywood was enough to have the ending re-written to accommodate.

Songs from the soundtrack were released as an album by Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, also titled Young at Heart. The album peaked at #11 on Billboard while the single reached #2 and was considered as Sinatra's comeback single after several years away from the top of the pop singles chart. So popular was the song "Young at Heart" that the film was also titled Young at Heart, having had no title until the song's success. The song's popularity led to its being used not only for the title, but also for music over the opening and closing credits.

Frank Sinatra's persona in the film Young at Heart helped somewhat cultivate the image of the romantic loner that was often personified in the singer's albums. Sinatra's outstanding musical solo-pieces alone at a piano with shot glass, tilted hat and dangling cigarette, helped establish an oft-identified image with the singer/actor.

Wikipedia

 

 

"As adapted by Liam O’Brien and written by Julius J. Epstein and Lenore Coffee, the picture contains a super-abundance of sugary goodwill that sometimes beclouds the dramatic vitality. It is, however, full of the kind of honest fun and professional showmanship which pays handsomely in the widest market. If the indomitable Miss Barrymore occasionally seems a little left of things as the girls’ aunt, it’s because the accent is on the trials of youth and not on those of the young at heart. Robert Keith is seen to advantage as the father, and Lonny Chapman and Alan Hale, Jr. as two of the suitors". - Motion Picture Herald

 

 

British Director and huge Doris Day fan, Terence Davies, introduces a screening of Young At Heart with a loving tribute to the 1954 Doris Day/Frank Sinatra musical romance. Recalling the experience of seeing Doris in the film for the first time, Davies also lovingly pinpoints some of the technical and performance decisions featured in the film to emphasise the deceptively masterful craftsmanship of a work too often dismissed as mere sentimentality.

http://www.bfi.org.uk/live/video/317