Charlie is a Broadway agent who’s a bit of a womanizer, courting a handful of girls (a modest estimate) all at once. Charlie’s best friend Joe from back home comes to visit Charlie in New York while taking a “break” from his marriage.
Each man seems to have what the other wants; Charlie wants a happy marriage and Joe wants a more exciting life.
While visiting Charlie, Joe finds himself falling for Charlie’s #1 lady, a classical violinist named Sylvia. Meanwhile, Charlie finds himself falling for a young girl named Julie who he met at an audition, even though she seems immune to all of his charm.
Charles Walters directs 1955’s The Tender Trap, a musical romantic comedy starring Frank Sinatra (“Charlie”), Debbie Reynolds (“Julie”), David Wayne (“Joe”) and Celeste Holm (“Sylvia”).
I first saw The Tender Trap years ago. I enjoyed it well enough at the time, but not so much as to immediately add it to my DVD collection, and I kind of forgot about it until it ran on TCM a few months ago. My DVR recorded the film as a suggestion from that TCM run, and I decided to give it another watch since I hadn’t seen it in so long.
The film opens with Frank Sinatra singing the title song while walking slowly toward the camera. This scene is so simple, but still so very effective thanks to Sinatra’s charisma. No one compares to Frank. The song is lovely on its own, but it’s even better with the ever-talented Mr. Sinatra singing it.
Delightful opening aside, the film is a bit of a slow-starter as the differences between Charlie and Joe’s lives are established. We see a number of Charlie’s many lady-friends stop by his apartment, while Joe tells Charlie (and the audience) all about his dull suburban life, which seems to be made up of nothing but debates about room décor and braces.
The film picks up when Debbie Reynolds enters as energetic Julie. Debbie is always fun to watch, and the back-and-forth bickering she shares with Sinatra early on is fantastic. A particularly great scene can be found when Charlie gives his best effort in trying to get Julie to come to dinner with him, saying it’s for business even though he’s attracted to her, while she rebuffs him. She sees right through his scheming and assures him that she doesn’t want to date him, no matter how many times he claims it’ll be a business dinner.
Debbie really shines in this film. I was on a bit of a kick of watching her films and reading about her when I watched The Tender Trap, which could have been a contributing factor in how much she stood out for me, but I tend to love watching her in any film, no matter when I watch it. Her screen presence is just so magnetic! She is definitely the stand-out member of the cast (with Frank coming in at a close second).
Lovely music (both songs performed by the cast and the instrumental score) also work in the films favor, as do the visual aspects. Beautiful costumes and colors are used, and the set design is quintessentially mid-century. (Charlie’s apartment is phenomenal.) The film is full of that bright visual appeal that is seen so often in films of the 1950s and 1960s.
Though The Tender Trap feels long and does drag a bit, overall I enjoyed it a whole lot more this time around than I did during my initial viewing of it a few years ago.