AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Higher and Higher
Director: Tim Whelan (Dir)
Release Date:   1943
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 1 Jan 1944
Production Date:   late Jul--late Sep 1943
Duration (in mins):   88 or 90
Duration (in feet):   8,109
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Cast:   Michèle Morgan (Millie, also known as Pamela Drake)  
    Jack Haley (Michael O'Brien)  
    Frank Sinatra (Frank Sinatra)  
    Leon Errol (Cyrus Drake)  
    Marcy McGuire (Mickey)  
    Victor Borge (Sir Victor Fitzroy Victor, also known as Joe Brown)  
    Mary Wickes (Sandy Brooks)  
    Elisabeth Risdon (Mrs. Georgia Keating)  
    Barbara Hale (Catherine Keating)  
    Mel Tormé (Marty)  
    Paul Hartman (Byngham)  
    Grace Hartman (Hilda)  
    Dooley Wilson (Oscar)  
    Ivy Scott (Mrs. Whiffin)  
    Rex Evans (Mr. Green)  
    Stanley Logan (Hotel manager)  
    Ola Lorraine (Maid)  
    King Kennedy (Mr. Duval)  
    Robert Andersen (Announcer)  
    Rita Gould (Woman assistant)  
    Harry Holman (Banker)  
    Warren Jackson (Contractor)  
    Anne Goldthwaite (Debutante)  
    Elaine Riley (Bridesmaid)  
    Shirley O'Hara (Bridesmaid)  
    Dorothy Maloney (Bridesmaid)  
    Daun Kennedy (Bridesmaid)  
    Drake Thorton (Bellboy)  
    Edward Fielding (Minister)  
    Buddy Gorman (Page boy)  

Summary: When bankrupt millionaire Cyrus Drake receives notice that the bank intends to foreclose on his mortgage in thirty days and his wife and daughter decide to leave him, his valet, Michael O'Brien, a former entertainer, proposes that Millie, the scullery maid, pose as Drake's daughter Pamela to snag a millionaire. The members of Drake's staff, who have not been paid for seven months, concur and decide to pool their resources and form a corporation to catch Millie a rich husband. When Mike asks her if she has a boyfriend, Millie, to hide her infatuation with Mike, tells him about the boy across the street who sings to her. According to the plan, Millie is recast from scullery maid to debutante by Sandy Brooks, Drake's social secretary, who teaches her about proper etiquette and comportment. Instructed by Mike in the art of courtship, Millie questions her instructor about finding the right partner, and he answers that she'll know him when she hears "a click." Soon after, the boy next door, Frank Sinatra, comes to meet Millie, who is introduced to him as Pamela Drake. After apologizing for thinking that she was a member of the household staff, Frank sings her a song, causing Mike to worry that he may steal Millie's heart and their prospective fortune. When the local newspaper prints a story that Pamela and her mother are returning home from Switzerland, the corporation appoints Sandy to play the role of Mrs. Drake. Drawn by the newspaper article, Mrs. Georgia Keating, accompanied by her daughter Catherine, comes to visit her old friends the Drakes and check out Pamela, Catherine's competition for the title of "number one debutante." When Mrs. Keating learns that Pamela intends to sponsor the forthcoming Butler's Ball, she insures that Catherine is made a sponsor, also. At the ball, the corporation targets Catherine's escort, Sir Victor Fitzroy Victor, as their quarry, planning to bag their prey at Millie's coming out party. After escorting Millie to the dance floor, Mike tells her that she is to pursue Victor. Millie, who is still in love with Mike, tries to avoid the nobleman by unhooking her skirt and slipping it off on the dance floor. Rather than being horrified, however, Sir Victor is charmed and begins to court Millie. The next morning, Millie is scrubbing the stoop when Frank bicycles up to the house and presents her with a bouquet of flowers. Fearful that Frank will jeopardize their investment, Mike dismisses him and sends the flowers to Victor with a note from Pamela. At his hotel room, Victor is fending off the demands of the manager for payment of his bill when the flowers arrive. The phony nobleman assures the manager that he will have abundant funds after he marries the wealthy Pamela Drake. On the night of her coming out party, Millie asks Frank's advice about marriage and invites him to the festivities. When Mike sends her into the garden with Victor, Millie pairs Frank and Catherine together for their own walk in the garden. There, Victor proposes, but Millie refuses to accept, telling Mike that she is in love with someone else. When Mike discounts her feelings, Millie, dejected, returns to the party and announces her engagement to Victor. On the day of the wedding, the ceremony is delayed while Millie disappears into the attic to search for something borrowed and something blue. When Mike comes to look for her, the two dance a minuet together, and he decides to call off the wedding and dissolve the corporation. Mike is opposed by the other members of the corporation, who push him into a dumbwaiter and send it to the cellar. As Victor and Millie begin to exchange their vows, Mike pries open a ventilator shaft in the basement and announces that Pamela Drake is really Millie, the scullery maid, who is in love with someone other than her groom. Mike then falls against a secret panel and discovers a priceless wine cellar. Back upstairs, as the guests file out and reclaim their presents, the Keatings, accompanied by their maid Sarah, arrive late for the ceremony. When Sarah recognizes Victor as her old friend, Joe Brown, a crook, Drake and the other members of the corporation run downstairs. Mike shows them the wine cellar, which they then decide to turn into a cabaret. Mike, who has fallen in love with Millie, resigns from the corporation and leaves town because he believes that she is in love with Frank. While performing on the road, Mike receives an invitation announcing the marriage of Catherine Keating to Frank Sinatra at Drake's Amsterdam Tavern. Rushing back to the tavern, Mike confronts Frank about rejecting Millie and learns that Millie is not in love with Frank, but with him. Mike finds Millie in the kitchen, and after he announces that he has heard his "click," the two embrace and begin to dance. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Tim Whelan (Dir)
  Clem Beauchamp (Asst dir)
Producer: Tim Whelan (Prod)
  George Arthur (Assoc prod)
Writer: Jay Dratler (Scr)
  Ralph Spence (Scr)
  William Bowers (Addl dial)
  Howard Harris (Addl dial)
Photography: Robert De Grasse (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino (Art dir)
  Jack Okey (Art dir)
Film Editor: Gene Milford (Ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  Claude Carpenter (Set dec)
Costumes: Edward Stevenson (Gowns)
Music: C. Bakaleinikoff (Mus dir)
  Ken Darby (Vocal dir)
  Axel Stordahl (Orch arr)
  Gene Rose (Orch arr)
Sound: Jean L. Speak (Rec)
  James G. Stewart (Re-rec)
Dance: Ernst Matray (Mus numbers staged by)
Country: United States

Songs: "Disgustingly Rich," music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; "A Most Important Affair," "The Music Stopped," "Today I'm a Debutante," "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night," "I Saw You First" and "You're on Your Own," music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Harold Adamson.
Composer: Harold Adamson
  Lorenz Hart
  Jimmy McHugh
  Richard Rodgers
Source Text: Based on the musical Higher and Higher , book by Gladys Hurlbut and Joshua Logan, music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, as produced by Dwight Deere Wiman (New York, 4 Apr 1940).
Authors: Gladys Hurlbut
  Dwight Deere Wiman
  Lorenz Hart
  Richard Rodgers
  Joshua Logan

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 22/12/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12451

PCA NO: 9545
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

 
Genre: Musical comedy
 
Subjects (Major): Bankruptcy
  Debutantes
  Fortune hunters
  Impersonation and imposture
  Maids
  Marriage--Forced by circumstances
 
Subjects (Minor): Balls (Parties)
  Cellars
  Dancing
  Mansions
  Millionaires
  Proposals (Marital)
  Rivalry
  Romance
  Singers
  Unrequited love
  Valets
  Weddings

Note: The film's opening credits bill the Hartmans together as Paul and Grace Hartman. According to a pre-production news item in HR , RKO purchased the rights to the Gladys Hurlbut-Joshua Logan play for $15,000. The MPHPD review notes that Hurlbut and Logan's book was reworked to feature immensely popular singing star Frank Sinatra and that all but one song from the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart score was eliminated. To replace the original score, songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh wrote four songs especially tailored to Sinatra's vocal style, according to a HR news item. The songs "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" and "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" were big Sinatra hits and "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" was nominated for an Academy Award. The score of this picture was also nominated for an Academy Award.
       This film was Sinatra's first starring vehicle and inaugurated his seven-year contract with RKO, under which he was obligated to appear in two pictures per year for the studio. Sinatra made only one additional contract film at RKO, Step Lively (see below), before going under contract to M-G-M. Although Higher and Higher was designed as a Sinatra vehicle, previous contractual obligations forced the studio to give Michele Morgan and Jack Haley billing over Sinatra, according to a NYT news item. Haley also appeared in the Broadway play. The picture marked singer Mel Tormé's screen debut. Other pre-production news items in HR note that Constance Moore was originally slated to play the role of "Catherine" and add Joan Davis to the cast. Davis does not appear in the released version of the film. Modern sources credit Roy Webb with score and Maurice de Packh with orchestrations. After the picture was released, songwriters Jack Trizio and Chuck Bennett sued the studio and McHugh and Adamson, alleging that the song "The Music Stopped" was plagiarized from their composition "You're Mine to Love." The outcome of that suit is not known. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   11 Dec 1943.   
Daily Variety   9 Dec 43   p. 3.
Film Daily   9 Dec 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   12 May 41   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jul 43   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Jul 43   p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Aug 43   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Aug 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Sep 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Dec 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Jan 44   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Aug 44   p. 11.
Motion Picture Herald   11 Dec 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   6 Nov 43   p. 1616.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   11 Dec 43   p. 1665.
New York Times   29 Aug 1943.   
New York Times   22 Jan 44   p. 8.
New York Times   13 Feb 1944.   
Variety   15 Dec 43   p. 8.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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