Barbara Hale's first screen credit also happened to be Frank Sinatra's first starring role
It was Mel Tormé's movie debut, too. Oh, and a familiar Mayberry face is here, as well!
Image: The Everett Collection
We are not sure we've ever heard a single person — from an amateur film buff to an academic to a paid critic — talk about the 1944 film Higher and Higher. In fact, when you Google "best movies of 1944," dozens of cinema posters pop up. There are those undeniable noir masterpieces like Double Indemnity and Laura, then you have your charming sing-alongs such as Meet Me in St. Louis and Bing Crosby's Going My Way. Svengoolie superfans might point to The Mummy's Ghost or House of Frankenstein.
Higher and Higher is not even on the list. Sure, admittedly this musical might not make it to any list of American Film Institute must-sees, but the flick certainly holds historical significance. Especially to fans of classic television and crooners.
In the early 1940s, two decades before Beatlemania, "Sinatramania" knocked the bobby-socks off American teenagers. This was still the pre-album era of the recording industry. Sinatra inked a deal with Columbia in the summer of '43. Designated 4-F, the singer did not have to serve in World War II. Instead, he released smash singles like "You'll Never Know" and "People Will Say We're in Love," flew to Europe for some USO tours, and set about kickstarting his film career.
His first significant film appearance, naturally, came in a Columbia Pictures feature, Reveille with Beverly, a showcase for loads of big-band performers strung around a loose plot about a hip young woman who aspires to shake up the programming at a radio station. Sinatra was merely one of many acts in the movie, joining Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Mae Morse, the Mills Brothers and more.
Months later, he got his solo spotlight in Higher and Higher. Again, he was playing "himself," or a version of himself, "Frank," who happens to be the friendly singing neighbor of the main character, Millie Pico (Michèle Morgan).
The movie promoting itself as a Sinatra spectacular for bobby soxers. "The Sinatra Show," the poster declared in bold red letters atop musical notes. Higher and Higher would be the first starring vehicle for the idol. Of course, we all know that Ol' Blue Eyes went on to icon status.
But Higher and Higher was not only a first for Sinatra. The story also featured a high-society beauty named Katherine. She sings with Frank and ends up engaged to the singer (well, in the movie). You can see the pair in the picture up top. She was played by none other than Barbara Hale, best known as Perry Mason's trusty sidekick Della Street.
Hale earned her first screen credit in Higher and Higher. (She previously had made a brief uncredited appearance in Gildersleeve's Bad Day.) Della Street and the Chairman of the Board sharing a coming-out party? Now that is history!
The coinkidinks do not stop there, oh no. Mel Tormé, "The Velvet Fog," also made his screen debut in Higher and Higher. That's him on the lower left of the inset. Television junkies will remember him on Night Court four decades later.
On the upper right, you might recognize Paul Hartman in one of his most prominent movie roles. Yep, that's young "Emmett Clark" of The Andy Griffith Show! Long before he was a handyman in Mayberry, Hartman dazzled as a Broadway dancer.
The Rat Pack meets Perry Mason meets Mayberry? Now that is noteworthy, no? Get on fixing your search results, Google.