Frank Sinatra
Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sinatra at the Movies

TCM has been commemorating the 10th anniversary of the death of Frank Sinatra by showing a selection of his movies. I’ve watched most of them so far, and what’s surprising is that Sinatra is an amazingly good actor, and that even in his Rat Pack movies he did not produce self-indulgent slop. I’m going to post comments on some of the better ones. It may take a while so I’ll update this periodically.

Step Lively—A remake of the Marx Brother’s classic Room Service. Sinatra is cast as a shy young playwright. Not as much fun as the original, but amusing.

Kings Go Forth—Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood in WWII France. Sinatra had a long standing commitment to civil rights, and the movie shows this, but Natalie Wood is, I think miscast. She is supposed to be the daughter of a French woman and an American black man. So she is made up to be dark, but not in blackface. Tony Curtis is supposed to be in love with her, but ultimately proves to be a heel. The trouble is that while I can think of beautiful black actresses and singers from the 1950s, such as Lena Horne, or Dorothy Dandridge, they aren’t light enough to pass as white, and Natalie isn’t dark enough to be really convincing as black but passing for white.

It Happened in Brooklyn—Notable because Sinatra sings a love song to the Brooklyn Bridge, and also sings a bit of Don Giovanni.

Till the Clouds Roll By—A bio-pic of Jerome Kern with Robert Walker as Kern. Robert Walker is to my mind weak and whiny. His mere presence in The Clock was enough that I stopped watching after 5 or 10 minutes. He manages not to be too whiny in this. Frank’s part consists primarily of singing Old Man River in the finale. He’s not too bad, but Paul Robeson’s rendition is the classic version.

June 2, 2008

Tender Trap—Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds. Somebody over at IMDB commented that it was “dark” because of the way that Sinatra was pushed, almost against his will into marriage. Debbie’s insistence on mapping her life out may be a bit unrealistic, but I suppose some people do that. It’s a fun, relaxing picture.

Pride and the Passion—Sinatra, Sophia Loren, and Cary Grant, with Frank cast as a Spanish guerilla leader. Fairly standard Hollywood epic distinguished primarily by its star power.

Hole in the Head—Frank Capra’s last picture. He retired after this, and died 35 years later. Notable for the presence of Carolyn Jones (Morticia from The Adams Family) as a free spirited girl in love with Frank. Casts Edward G. Robinson as Sinatra’s brother.

Dirty Dingus Magee—A bawdy, funny Western. Good for some laughs and some amusing scenes.

Pal Joey—I’ve got this one on DVD. Sinatra, Kim Novak, and Rita Hayworth. Rita was 39 when this was made, and was showing her age a bit. Kim Novak was 24 and was gorgeous. Kim always managed to be classy even when she was playing a poor character, as in Man With the Golden Arm, and beats out the current crop of blondes, the Umas and the Gryneths and the whatevers, as a classy, sexy dame.

Young at Heart—I talked my wife into watching this with me last night, so I’ve seen it twice in a couple of weeks. This is a soaper based on the 1938 film Four Daughters. One daughter got cut out in this version, but it has a number of good songs, and a good performance by Frank. It also had Gig Young. This is a real problem for me because I can’t look at him without thinking of the horrible end he came to.

Double Dynamite—A frothy comedy with Groucho Marx and Jane Russell. So there you have three reasons to watch it. Not a particularly good plot, but mildly amusing.

I’ll try to write something about the Rat Pack movies tomorrow.

June 5, 2008

Ocean’s Eleven—This is a caper film with all of the members of the Clan showing up. It’s fairly light and trivial. I understand the remake is more intense, but I don’t watch George Clooney, so I don’t know.

Sargeants 3—A remake of Gunga Din with Sammy Davis Jr. in the Din role. There is a bit of an undertone, which I think is historically accurate for the period, about segregation, particularly in the army.

Robin and the 7 Hoods—The best of the Clan’s movies. Sammy Davis Jr. does a great routine with Bang Bang.

4 for Texas—A Western with Dean Martin, Anita Ekberg, and Ursula Andress. Ekberg is a bit on the fleshy side for my taste, Andress is the greatest example of Swiss architecture since God designed the Alps.

Some Came Running—I understand the novel runs to 1,200 pages or so. I’ve read From Here to Eternity, once, and seen the movie several times. The movie was better. The same is probably true here. Sinatra plays a writer, Dean Martin a gambler, and Shirley Maclaine a floozy.

June 7, 2008

On the Town—Sinatra and Gene Kelly as sailors on leave in New York. Score by Leonard Bernstein, at least in part. There are references to events and people of the early post-war era (Kinsey for one), so the movie’s time period is later than the stage version that was staged during the war. The departure is not as poignant as it would be in the stage version. This is probably the best of the three Sinatra/Kelly pictures.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame—Sinatra and Gene Kelly as baseball players with Esther Williams as Kelly’s love interest. Great dancing, and Esther Williams is attractive.

Man With the Golden Arm—Sinatra plays a drug addict and poker dealer who is trying to recover from his addiction. Kim Novak plays the girl he is in love with. Both characters live in what we would call a blighted area today. Kim manages to look classy even when she’s poor. Somebody who was an addict commented on IMDB that Sinatra’s performance was pretty accurate, though certain details were obviously dramatized.

Manchurian Candidate—This is one of Sinatra’s best films. He was convincing as the Army major investigating Raymond Shaw. Lawrence Harvey is a wooden actor at best, and here his woodenness actually worked to the advantage of the story. Janet Leigh is another of the classic Hitchcock blondes, along with Grace Kelly and Kim Novak, and maybe Tippi Hedren. Angela Lansbury was by this time beginning to look like the character she played on Murder She Wrote, and is magnificent as the vile mother.

Suddenly—Sinatra plays the leader of a group hired to kill the President. Here he gives a performance of a psychotic killer who ultimately comes unhinged. The movie was made in 1954. According to Frank Jr. on TCM, some network showed the movie a week or so after JFK was killed, and Frank went berserk, and wrote them a nasty letter. Good for Frank.