The Joker is Wild (1957)
The Joker is Wild starts off with an embarrassment of riches with Frank Sinatra giving live performances of 'All the Way', 'I Cried for You' and 'If I Could Be with You' within the first twenty minutes. Then the plotline of this Joe E. Lewis biopic dictate that some Chicago mobsters cut his vocal chords, leaving Sinatra with little choice but to treat us to a few gags, some novelty songs and one of the best performances of his career.
After recovering from his wounds, Lewis winds up in New York playing a mute second banana on the burlesque stage. Fortunately his erstwhile friend and piano accompanist arrange for him to perform at a benefit concert hosted by Sophie Tucker. Unable to hit the notes like he used to, Lewis resorts to joking his way through his set, and before you can say “post time”, a new career as a stand-up comedian beckons. Yet Lewis’s addiction to work and alcohol ensure that not every post is a winner.
Combining elements of Pal Joey and The Man with the Golden Arm, the role of Joe E. Lewis is tailor-made for Sinatra and he doesn’t disappoint. Disarmingly at ease from his very first scenes, the singer capably rises to the more dramatic demands of his character’s many flaws. Not that any consequences are dwelt upon. Drunken displays, marital discord and an unfavourable visit to the doctors are covered yet illicit little more than a “tsk, tsk” from those present. With no epiphany on the horizon, Lewis’s final reflection on his past missteps is a bit anticlimactic.
Joe E. Lewis would continue being a 'declared dipsomaniac' till his death at the age of 69. His final screen appearance was an uncredited part in Sinatra’s Lady in Cement.
as Joe E. Lewis
as Martha Stewart
as Sophie Tucker
According to newspaperwoman Hazel Flynn, who was an old friend of the entertainer, Lewis was a comedian from the very beginning of his career and was never a talented singer.
The character of Tim Coogan is based on mobster Jack "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn.
Though biopic covers the beginning of Martha Stewart’s limited film career, there are no scene recreations. Nor is there any reference to Lewis’s few cinematic appearances.