Day and Sinatra are matchless in... Young at Heart (1954)
Doris Day had a lot of terrific film partners in her career: Gordon MacRae, James Garner, Howard Keel, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, David Niven, Clark Gable (look out for my review of that film in a few weeks!), and of course, the greatest of them all, Rock Hudson. Now, that list isn't totally comprehensible -- I left a few names out -- but you get the gist: Doris got to act with some incredible talent, and she always worked on their high level. That's why her teaming with Frank Sinatra is so unique. You have two of the 20th century's greatest artists working together and in my opinion, they match each other every step of the way. They have different styles and admittedly different personas, but you can't tell me that both of them weren't trying their damnedest to make the film work.
Is Young at Heart perfect? Goodness, no. Is it an admirable melodrama saved by the presence of its superb cast? Definitely. I recognize that not a lot of people will agree with me. I can't tell you how many negative reviews I've seen of this film. Maybe it's because of Day and Sinatra -- you except some big, cataclysmic explosion to happen before your eyes, and instead you get little, intermittent firecrackers. It's understandable. I had my standards lowered by so much of the grumpiness I was reading that when I saw the actual product, I was able to enjoy it. Hopefully this review will you give you a better sense of what you're getting into.
their daily music practice while Ernie is in the kitchen working, also known as making goo-goo eyes at Amy. When she checks over his work, it's clear that Amy likes him, despite his awkwardness around her. Laurie, meanwhile, is seeing Pop off to his job as a music professor when she sees a commotion going on next door. The neighbor's dog is having puppies,
"Ready, Willing, and Able" is classic Doris Day -- simple, adorable, and playful, Day is delightful to watch.
Later, as Laurie splashes around in the water with Alex, Bob asks Fran when their wedding will be. At the start of the film, she mentioned June, but the more she silently stares at Alex, the farther away she pushes the date. Amy also has an eye for Alex, but he clearly wants Laurie, giving her a small gold bracelet that she happily accepts. Over s'mores that night, it's almost comical how lovesick Amy and Fran are, with only Aunt Jessie taking notice. Laurie is too busy snuggling with Alex and singing "Hold Me in Your Arms," appropriately enough.
here. When this movie was made, Sinatra was in peak form. The previous year he had staged his infamous comeback in From Here to Eternity, winning him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and a revived career that would last until his death in 1998. Young at Heart helped cultivate his new image as the lonely crooner, the guy who would sit at a piano with his hat tilted and a lit cigarette waiting for him in an ash tray while he sang about heartbreak. His albums Where Are You? and In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning are proof that the persona was majorly successful.
It seems that Laurie is the cause for his improvement -- she's been going to his boarding house and fixing up his room, and she chides him for his unkempt appearance. When she suggests he work on his song while she goes to do errands in town, Barney once again shoots it down, claiming that a hit song would do him no good because fate would just find another way to torture him. It's pretty melodramatic, and Laurie knows it, gently poking fun at it without being malicious. She becomes surprised, though, when Barney suddenly gives her a tender kiss on the cheek. "Don't think that's spur-of-the-moment stuff. I've been planning that for a week," he says. She pauses and then replies, "That's pretty mild for a week's thought, isn't it?" Barney covers by saying it was strictly a friendly kiss, but they both know better.
At the bar, Barney has his suitcase beside him as he plays the piano absentmindedly. He goes into "Just One of Those Things," and as always, it's sublime. This is one of my favorite
here. Barney turns around to see Laurie watching him. We're not sure how much time has passed, but apparently Barney hasn't been around lately, even missing Fran's wedding. Laurie's own wedding is in an hour, making it interesting that she came to see Barney before tying the knot. He confesses that he loves her, but Laurie
here. I particularly love Sinatra's acting in this scene. You can tell that Barney is regretting what he said to Laurie, and with his doom-and-gloom mentality, it's possible that he thinks his marriage is over so he really feels a connection with the song. Laurie comes in and sits nearby, pulling down her glove to show that she no longer has the bracelet. While still singing, Sinatra gives a slight smile, but the smile fades and he turns somber again as he ends the song with the lyric "the long, long road," demonstrating his belief that he and Laurie are still far from happiness.
one of the tunes from his successful Broadway show. Afterwards, as he is leaving, Laurie returns her bracelet to him. They'll still be friends, Laurie divulging that she just found out she's pregnant; she's telling Barney at midnight as his Christmas present.
We cut to over a year later at the Tuttle house. Laurie is grinning ear to ear as she comes down the stairs and sees Aunt Jessie holding her and Barney's baby. We hear the song Barney had been having trouble finishing throughout the film being played on the piano and suddenly Barney's voice accompanies it -- he survived the surgery! Fran and Bob are cuddling nearby, as are Amy and Ernie while Pop watches over it all. Soon, Laurie joins her husband at the piano and we get our one and only Sinatra/Day duet. You can see the final scene here.
Many people seem to find fault with this ending, thinking that it would be more realistic or carry more emotional resonance if Barney died. I completely disagree, but I'm also the kind of viewer who loves happy endings. Young at Heart was a remake of 1938's Four Daughters, with John Garfield playing the doomed Barney. In that film, he does die and according to the cynics, that makes it better. I just don't see the logic -- we all know movies are fiction, so why must they adhere to reality? Plus, people survive car crashes all the time. In addition to that, I think Laurie and Barney deserve a nice ending. They're decent people who really do belong together, and the fact that he lives proves to Barney what Laurie has been saying along: he can change his own fate, he doesn't have to sit around and mope about it. He fights to make it through the surgery because he needs to for his family. The old Barney probably wouldn't have done the same, instead leaving it up to "the destinies." Sinatra actually refused to make the film if his character died. His motivation is a little murky; some say it was vanity, others say it was because he had died in his last two films, From Here to Eternity and Suddenly. Day thought the original ending should have been kept, writing in her autobiography that "there was an inevitability about that character's death that would have given more dimension to Sinatra's performance" and it would've "enhanced the film."
While not the best musical drama you'll ever see, Young at Heart is a wonderful, genuinely likeable flick that boasts top-notch acting from everyone in the cast and also some of Sinatra's greatest musical moments. You can catch the film in five parts on YouTube, starting here. Even if you don't think you'll like it, watch it. Why? Because it's freaking Doris Day and Frank Sinatra.
This is my entry to the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted by Crystal. You can read the other tributes here.