Party Girl (1958)

“When you sell your pride, it’s tough to put a price on it.”

In 1930s Chicago, Vicki Gaye (Cyd Charisse) is a showgirl at the Golden Rooster nightclub when gangster Louis Canetto (John Ireland) offers her $100 to attend a party thrown by head mobster Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb). Angelo has just heard the disappointing news that his screen heartthrob, Jean Harlow got married, and the party is to help him ‘cope’ with the news. At the party, Vicki meets mob lawyer Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor). An unhealed leg fracture has left him with a permanent limp, and a huge chip on his shoulder. Farrell is an excellent lawyer and is much prized by the oafish Angelo. After questioning each other’s ethics, Vicki and Farrell begin an on-and-off again relationship.

While Party Girl is a fairly typical mob scenario film, it’s extremely well done, and has some excellent touches. Both Vicki and Farrell are part of Angelo’s criminal empire, and yet they initially both criticize each other for being involved with a crook. Both Vicki and Farrell are very talented people–one scene shows Farrell in action in the courtroom, and Vicki has two solo dance numbers at the Golden Rooster. Similarly, both Vicki and Farrell, while employed by Angelo, don’t hide their distaste for some aspects of the business, and they try to maintain a type of integrity in the face of massive corruption. Farrell maintains his independence by insulting Angelo and getting away with it. Vicki repulses the attentions of one of Angelo’s chief hoods.

Directed by Nicholas Ray, Party Girl is certain to please fans of gangster film–although the gangster mayhem is really at a minimum here. The story focuses instead on the prickly relationship between Vicki and Farrell as they question each other’s morality and struggle against ultimate corruption in Angelo’s world.

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