Party Girl (1958 film)
Party Girl is a 1958 American Metrocolor film noir, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse and Lee J. Cobb. Filmed in CinemaScope, it was the last film Charisse did for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the next-to-last film Taylor did for the studio; they were MGM's last two contract stars.
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nicholas Ray|
|Produced by||Joe Pasternak|
|Screenplay by||George Wells|
|Story by||Leo Katcher|
Lee J. Cobb
|Music by||Jeff Alexander|
Andre Previn (uncredited)
|Cinematography||Robert J. Bronner|
|Edited by||John McSweeney Jr.|
Slick lawyer Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor) has made a career of defending Chicago mobsters in court. At a party for mob boss Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb), he meets chorus girl Vicki Gaye (Cyd Charisse), who accepted $100 to attend the party and another $400 from another gangster, Louis Canetto (John Ireland), from his gambling winnings.
Farrell gives her a ride home, each expressing disapproval at the way the other makes money. Vicki finds her roommate Joy (Myrna Hansen) dead by suicide, pregnant by a married criminal. After a long night of questioning by police, Farrell asks that Vicki be given a raise and featured number on stage at the Golden Rooster club, which Rico owns.
The lawyer and Vicki begin a romance. She's struck by the way Farrell, who is lame, uses his disability to manipulate jurors while getting Canetto off on a murder charge. A surgeon is found who might be able to properly mend Farrell's hip, so he goes to Stockholm for the operation.
A cold-blooded killer, Cookie La Motte (Corey Allen), is coming up for trial, but Farrell's frame of mind has changed and he would rather not defend such a man. Rico threatens violence against Vicki if the lawyer doesn't do his job. Cookie jumps bail, tired of the long wait in court, and plans to eliminate prosecuting attorney Stewart (Kent Smith) while at-large. Cookie and his men are gunned down by other racketeers, however, at an Indiana diner.
Stewart decides to pressure the mob by going after anyone connected to it. He begins by placing Farrell under arrest. Canetto goes to Vicki offering to protect her, but takes her prisoner instead. The district attorney releases Farrell, hoping to smoke out the mobsters who employ him. Canetto, caught in a crossfire, is killed.
Farrell then confronts Rico, but the gangster picks up a bottle of acid that he intends to disfigure Vicki with if the lawyer refuses to do what he says. A fight erupts, with the bottle smashing into Rico's face. Eyes and face burning, he plunges from a window to his death.
- Gloria Wood providing the singing voice of Cyd Charisse
- Erich von Stroeim Jr., the son of the noted director, has a bit part as a police lieutenant, as was also the assistant director on the film.
- Party Girl was Cyd Charisse's last film for MGM after 14 years at the studio. It was also Robert Taylor's next-to-last film in his 25 yeaars at the studio, although it was the last to be shot in Hollywood: his final film, The House of the Seven Hawks was shot in England. Charisse and Taylor were the last two contract stars at MGM.
Robert Taylor's character, Tom Farrell is loosely based on Dixie Davis, who was a lawyer for mob boss Dutch Schultz and later became an informant, although film noir historian Eddie Muller claims that Louie Cuttner, a lawyer for Al Capone, was the model. Coincidentally, director Nicholas Ray would end up hiring Cuttner some years later, having no idea of the connection. Ray was impressed with the way Taylor worked, comparing him favorably with Method actors, citing Taylor's conferring with an osteologist to gather information on how Tom Farrell's limp could be realistically portrayed.
According to Eddie Muller, Lee J. Cobb's character, Rico Angelo, is a "not too veiled caricature of Al Capone". The scene where Angelo beats up Frankie Gasto – played uncredited by former wrestler Aaron "Lord Spears" Saxon – was based on an incident supposedly involving Capone; it was also used by David Mamet in his screenplay for the 1987 film The Untouchables.
Making Party Girl was not a good experience for Ray. Having had problems with his last two, independently-produced films, and physically debilitated by the experiences, he signed to direct a studio film for MGM in order to get the security of one of the major Hollywood studios, and to work again with an earlier collaborator, Charles Schnee; the two had worked together on 1948's They Live by Night, and Schnee was scheduled to be the producer of Party Girl. MGM was interested in Ray because he had grown up and gone to college in Chicago during Prohibition and could recreate the atmosphere of the time and place, which Ray was eager to do. Schnee, however, was replaced by Joe Pasternak, a specialist in musicals, and Ray discovered that he had little input into the writing of the script, which was already finished when he signed on, by comedy specialist George Wells.
Ray was barred by MGM's protocols from being involved in the direction of the musical numbers, even to the extent of discussing her character in relation to the numbers. Ray also wanted to use period music to help recreate the era, but MGM, concerned that it would limit the film's public appeal, rejected that idea. Ray had also planned on three days of location shooting in Chicago, but when the film went past its schedule – partly because of the musicians' strike, partly due to a prolonged illness to Charisse – these days were cancelled. In the end, Ray had limited input into the film, besides personal directorial style. Ray said about the film:
When I couldn't contribute as much as I wanted to the script, I tried to do the next best thing in color and performance, to [capture] the kind of bizarre reality [of the time], which permitted people who lived that life to believe that theirs was the only reality.
The musical numbers were choreographed by Robert Sidney, who was forced to rehearse in Mexico with stand-ins because of a musicians' strike which ultimately caused the studios to disband their in-house orchestras. When Charisse filmed her numbers, she danced to a pre-recorded drum track in one case, and to performers who were miming in the other. After the strike was settled, Andre Previn composed the music, uncredited. Director Rey was not allowed to direct the musical numbers, because MGM's policy was that musical numbers were directed by the choreographer. He was not even allowed to talk to Charisse about her acting when it concerned the numbers.
According to MGM records, the film earned $1,130,000 in the US and Canada and $1,250,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $454,000.
At the time of its release, critical response to Party Girl in the United States was generally dismissive, but European critics saw it as confirming their view that director Nicholas Ray was a master of "mise-en-scene".
A. H. Weiler, film critic for The New York Times, gave the film a mixed review: "Party Girl, it should be noted at once, is handsomely accoutered in color and CinemaScope and professionally handled by Nicholas Ray, director, and Joe Pasternak, producer, who approach their subject as if the explosive Chicago of the early Thirties was something they had just discovered. The fact is that Party Girl, like the Charleston, is old hat, an old hat that would be amusing if it weren't so frighteningly reminiscent of a past best forgotten ... There is little that is novel or exciting about this Party Girl, despite her trappings or the occasional gunplay that surrounds her.
TV Guide's review praised the performances: "Party Girl offers only a standard story, but director Ray makes more of it through clever setups and inventive techniques, drawing forth excellent performances from Taylor (who is playing a role loosely based on Dixie Davis, lawyer for mob boss Dutch Schultz of New York, who later turned informant and married a beautiful showgirl). Cobb turns in a "Wild-Man-of-Borneo" performance wherein he not only eats the scenery but spits it out and chews on it again and again. Charisse, who performs two sensuous nightclub dances, does a commendable job with her cliché role."
Film critic Bruce Eder liked the film and wrote, "Party Girl is regarded by many Nicholas Ray fans as the most beautiful looking of all of his films. Shot in CinemaScope and color, and starring Cyd Charisse (with Robert Taylor), it gave cinematographer Robert J. Bronner one of the best showcases he ever had for his work, and was a treat to the eye of the viewer, a veritable explosion of color and motion for many of its best sequences."
Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Ray does wonders with George Wells' slight script through his masterful use of the camera to evoke the characters' alienation and vulnerability, and by also including exotic dance numbers and diverting costumes he creates some stunning visuals that have an eye-catching surreal look ... It's a honey of a film, never mind the superficial flaws."
- Arnold, Jeremy (ndg) "Party Girl (1958)" TCM.com
- Party Girl at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Domestic take see - "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
- Muller, Eddie (July 8, 2018) Outro to Turner Classic Movie's presentation of Party Girl
- "Party Girl film review". TV Guide. Retrieved November 26, 2009.
- Muller, Eddie (July 8, 2018) Introduction to Turner Classic Movie's presentation of Party Girl
- Weiler, A.H. (October 29, 1958). "Screen: Old-Hat Gunplay; Party Girl Stars Cyd Charisse and Taylor". The New York Times. Retrieved November 26, 2009.
- Party Girl at AllMovie.
- Schwartz, Dennis (January 4, 2004). "It's a honey of a film, never mind the superficial flaws". Ozus' World Movie Reviews. Retrieved November 26, 2009.
- Party Girl at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: November 26, 2009.