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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

FRANK SINATRA: 5-FILM COLLECTION -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle (ANCHORS AWEIGH/ ON THE TOWN/ GUYS AND DOLLS/ OCEAN'S 11/ ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS)




Frank Sinatra the singer. Frank Sinatra the actor. One gained undisputed acclaim as a master of his craft, while the other's talents seem to have always been in the eye of the beholder. But when given a good role--be it either comedic or dramatic--"Ol' Blue Eyes" came through, and often his acting skills were nothing less than superb.

In the 5-disc Blu-ray set FRANK SINATRA: 5-FILM COLLECTION from Warner Home Entertainment (which also contains a 32-page hardbound photo book), we see some of the best of his lighter screen moments. Whether showing off those rich vocal stylings, keeping up with Gene Kelly on the dance floor, or displaying a well-honed comedy timing, Frank Sinatra left behind a legacy of entertainment which continues to endure as we celebrate his 100th birthday.


Contained herein are five of his most popular films: ANCHORS AWEIGH, ON THE TOWN, GUYS AND DOLLS, OCEAN'S ELEVEN, and ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS. Let's take a closer look at them...



ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945)



In 1945, the King of the Crooners joined forces with the King of the Hoofers (not counting Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, that is) to give us ANCHORS AWEIGH. This frothy Technicolor romp from director George Sidney (VIVA LAS VEGAS, BYE BYE BIRDIE, several MGM "Our Gang" shorts) tells the story of Clarence and Joe (Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly), two recently decorated sailors on a glorious 4-day leave in Hollywood.

Playing against type, Frank's character is a shy nerd who can't score with the ladies so he decides to tag along after notorious wolf Joe to see how he does it. This seriously cramps Joe's style and he's constantly thwarted in his attempts to get together with dream date "Lola", especially when the two swabbies get saddled with a young orphan named Donald (a cherubic Dean Stockwell) who wants to run away from his Aunt Susie and join the Navy.

Aunt Susie turns out to be the lovely Kathryn Grayson (KISS ME KATE), an aspiring singer with whom Clarence is immediately infatuated. The script then takes us down a twisted path when wolfish Joe ends up falling for prim Susie while Clarence falls for a waitress from Brooklyn but is afraid to hurt Susie's feelings by dumping her, which is just what Joe wants except he doesn't want to hurt Clarence and Susie because he thinks they're in love, unaware that Susie is actually in love with him.

With all this tedious "love" stuff going on, ANCHORS AWEIGH benefits from the sparkling personalities of its stars and really takes off when they stop to sing and dance. With Gene Kelly at the helm during the musical numbers, this film yields several of the beloved sequences we often see in retrospectives like THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, including Gene's celebrated fantasy duet with Jerry the Mouse (MGM originally wanted Mickey but Disney said "no way") and another dream sequence in which he plays a Latin bandit serenading lovely senorita Kathryn in a dance filled with amazing acrobatic stunts.


Frank, of course, gets to croon a few numbers as well as show off his own dancing skills as he hustles to keep up with Kelly. Kathryn Grayson sings in her shrill operatic style (she sounds like Snow White) and the great José Iturbi, as "himself", displays his dazzling virtuosity on the piano keyboard in several instances. A charming interlude with Gene and a little beggar girl (Sharon McManus) seems a bit shoehorned in, but in a musical such as this it hardly matters.

A rich supporting cast includes Grady Sutton (IT'S A GIFT, THE BANK DICK) as a would-be suitor for Aunt Susie, familiar screen comics Billy Gilbert and Edgar Kennedy, Leon Ames, Rags Ragland, and Pamela Britton as the waitress from Brooklyn.

Not quite the constant delight from start to finish that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN would be (all musicals that came before seem to be leading up to it), ANCHORS AWEIGH is still the sort of colorful confection musical lovers crave. And it served as proof that Frank Sinatra wasn't just some skinny singing idol, but a bonafide multi-talented movie star.


Blu-ray Special Features:

· Hanna & Barbera on the Making of ‘The Worry Song’ from MGM "When the Lion Roars"
· 1945 MGM Short "Football Thrills of 1944" – New to Home Entertainment
· 1945 MGM Short "Jerky Turkey" – New to Home Entertainment

· Theatrical Trailer



ON THE TOWN (1949)



Sinatra and Kelly took their sailor act into their next collaboration with 1949's ON THE TOWN, an exhilarating screen adaptation of the Broadway hit. This time it's three gobs on leave--Jules Munchin adds his cartoonish comical talents to the mix--while Vera Ellen, Betty Garrett, and the incredible Ann Miller play their delightful love interests.

Frank is once again the reserved, bookish type who wants to see all the tourist sites in New York, while Gene and Jules are ready for action. Gene falls for Vera-Ellen when he sees her on a subway poster as "Miss Turnstiles", and his friends are forced to join him in his desperate search for her. Along the way they pick up aggressively amorous cab driver Betty Garrett, who has eyes for Frankie, while anthropologist Ann Miller spots Jules in a museum and is instantly attracted to his caveman cranium.

This time the story is not only fun, but it serves as a springboard for a breathless succession of breezy, eye-pleasing, and downright irresistible song-and-dance numbers, some of which are performed against a backdrop of real New York locations. Frankie doesn't get any solo numbers this time, but the ensemble stuff is riotous fun as are his two duets with Betty Garrett, "Come Up to My Place" and "You're Awful."

Gene Kelly, who co-directed with Stanley Donen as he would later on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, saves a large chunk of the latter half for one of his extended dance fantasies containing a steamy, sultry interlude with Vera-Ellen, set to Leonard Bernstein's evocative score, that is surprisingly erotic.


But my favorite numbers are the museum piece "Prehistoric Man"--which manages to achieve Tex Avery-level silliness while showcasing what an utterly astounding performer Ann Miller was--and the joyous "On the Town." The latter sequence, which takes place on the roof of the Empire State Building before spilling out onto the street, builds to such a rapturous conclusion that it literally brought me to tears.

The supporting cast also features Alice Pearce (later to become famous as Mrs. Kravitz on "Bewitched") in an endearing performance as Betty Garrett's homely roommate, who at one point becomes a blind date for Gene in place of "Miss Turnstiles." Alice joins the others for the breezy number "You Can Count On Me" and is a delight as she blunders into a romantic apartment interlude between Frank and Betty, sneezing with a head cold. Keep a lookout also for Bea Benaderet and Dick Wessel.

I first saw ON THE TOWN back in the mid-70s when it was shown on the fondly-remembered "CBS Late Movie", and it immediately struck me as one of the most enjoyable musicals I had ever seen. Watching it again many years later, I'm happy to say that it has lost none of its happy-go-lucky appeal and has, in fact, become a strong contender with SINGIN' IN THE RAIN as my favorite musical of all time.



Blu-ray Special Features:


· 1949 MGM Short "Mr. Whitney Had a Notion" – New to Home Entertainment

· 1949 MGM Cartoon "Doggone Tired" – New to Home Entertainment

· Theatrical Trailer



GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)



That singing sensation, Marlon Brando, possessed the star power in 1955 to bump Frank Sinatra out of the lead role in GUYS AND DOLLS, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz' film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical based on the stories of Damon Runyon.

As slick gambler Sky Masterson, Brando's soft but earnest singing style benefits from a strong acting foundation while Frank, in the lesser role of illegal crap game promoter Nathan Detroit, skillfully invests his own Frank Loesser-penned songs with more heart and depth than that character has ever shown before.

Mankiewicz explores the colorfully stagey Times Square settings with a cinematic zest that is eye-filling and constantly appealing, while the cast bring all the denizens of the streets to vivid life. Small-time hustlers such as Stubby Kaye's "Nicely-Nicely", Sheldon Leonard's "Harry the Horse", and B.S. Pully's "Big Jule" all get their moments to shine (Kaye's "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" is a joy as is the opening number, "Fugue For Tinhorns") as con men work the bustling crowds and sewers host shady criminal activities.

The story gives equal emphasis to its two love stories, one of which involves Nathan Detroit and the lead burlesque dancer at the Hot Box club, Miss Adelaide (a terrific Vivian Blaine). They've been engaged for fourteen years and heartsick Adelaide is pressing Nathan to quit his floating crap game business and settle down with her or else. He wants to host one final big game first, but can't find a location for it with local cop Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) breathing down his neck.

Meanwhile, Sky Masterson is starting to fall for rigidly straitlaced "Save-A-Soul" missionary Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) after betting Nathan that he can persuade her to accompany him to Havana. This he does by promising to deliver at least twelve sinners to her next prayer meeting, but while they're away (during which he gets her sloppy drunk), a crap game is held in her mission. Sarah accuses Sky of setting the whole thing up on purpose, creating a rift between them.


With a meatier, more offbeat, and somewhat seamier story than many musicals, GUYS AND DOLLS is solid adult-oriented fun that keeps its pace up despite being somewhat overlong. There's a fascination to watching Brando broadening his acting horizons this way, giving it his all while not quite coming across as a bonafide singing star. His big song, the show-stopper "Luck Be a Lady Tonight", suffers from our knowledge of how much better Sinatra would've sung it (and indeed often did).

Be that as it may, Frank makes the most of his character and his charming scenes with Vivian Blaine, who gives the film's best performance as Adelaide. Lovely Jean Simmons also gives her all as Sarah Brown, with her own distinctive singing style.  (None of the leads were dubbed.) And as a splendid example of how to transform a popular stage musical into top-notch screen entertainment, GUYS AND DOLLS stands the test of time with flying colors.



Blu-ray Special Features:


· "A Broadway Fable: From Stage to Screen, Guys & Dolls: The Goldwyn Touch"

· "A Broadway Fable: From Stage to Screen, Guys & Dolls: From Stage to Screen"

· "More Guys & Dolls Stories"
o "Adelaide"
o "Brando Dance Lesson"
o "Goldwyn’s Career"
o "On the Set"
o "Rehearsing Adelaide"

· "Musical Performances"
o "Fugue for Tinhorns"
o "I’ll Know"
o "Guys & Dolls"
o "Adelaide"
o "Luck Be a Lady"
o "Sue Me"

· Theatrical Trailer



OCEAN'S 11 (1960)



The skinny, earnest kid of ANCHORS AWEIGH and ON THE TOWN had already grown into a more worldly and somewhat cynical character by the time of GUYS AND DOLLS, but by 1960's OCEAN'S 11 we find a Frank Sinatra who has matured into the icy cool, cosmopolitan, and slightly shady Las Vegas megastar persona that would define the rest of his life.

The quintessential "Rat Pack" movie, OCEAN'S 11 reunites Frank's former WWII paratrooper sergeant Danny Ocean with his old Airborne buddies played by Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop, in one of those scathingly brilliant heist schemes to relieve five major Vegas casinos of several million dollars at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

I didn't care much for this slow-moving, bland-looking heist tale with production values that sometimes resemble those of a Quinn Martin cop series from the 60s. At least, not the first time I watched it.

A second viewing, however--without the burden of my previous expectations blinding me to its modest charms, and with the advantage of Frank Sinatra, Jr.'s knowing commentary--revealed it to be a fun "hang-out" movie in which you get to spend some quality leisure time just palling around with Frankie, Dean, Sammy, and their cool friends. And before it's over, that simple robbery plot which seems so pedestrian at first delivers a couple of nifty, nasty twists that are pretty neat.

We watch as Danny (Sinatra) and Jimmy Foster (Lawford) get the old gang together one at a time for the caper, which takes up pretty much the whole first half of the movie. (One thing's for sure, this flick isn't in any hurry to get anywhere.) There are a few detours, as we see Danny dealing with his neglected but faithful wife Beatrice (Angie Dickinson) and a hostile spurned lover played by Patrice Wymore.


Jimmy, meanwhile, must endure the presence of his wealthy mother's new husband Duke (Caesar "Butch" Romero, who would soon play The Joker to Adam West's Batman) in order to hit her up for his usual "allowance." Sammy, as usual, brings his own boundless energy and cool-cat appeal to his role of a garbage truck driver whose job is to collect the stolen cash from each casino.

Not even counting some welcome cameos and bit parts by the likes of Red Skelton, Shirley McLaine, and George Raft, the cast is impressive. Filling out the "eleven" are Richard Conte (Don Barzini in THE GODFATHER), Jerry Lester (of Jerry Lewis' THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE LADIES' MAN), cult superstar Henry Silva (of Lewis' CINDERFELLA), Norman "Mr. Roper" Fell, Akim Tamiroff, and other worthy character actors.

The main stars, of course, are just fun to watch, especially Dean Martin in total "don't give a f***" mode and Frank effortlessly holding it all together without even singing a note. (Dean croons "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" two or three times, while Sammy performs the theme song "Ee-Oh-Eleven.")


Directed by Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, OF MICE AND MEN), OCEAN'S 11 has a relaxed, informal air and never takes itself too seriously, but it isn't a slapdash affair. While some of the acting and direction may seem flat at times, this is one movie that just doesn't feel like breaking a sweat if it doesn't have to. And that awesome ending shot is just the kind of thing Quentin Tarantino makes a mental note to copy later.

It kinda struck me as A HARD DAY'S NIGHT for the pre-Beatles generation--a day in the lives of our favorite hipster bad boys in their natural habitat, just being their narrow-tie-wearing, scotch-swilling, chauvinistic selves.

It does get serious at times, though--as when Richard Conte's character Bergdorf, recently released from prison and estranged from wife Jean Willes, visits his little boy in military school for what may be the last time. Or when his doctor gives him the bad news about his heart, leading to this pricelessly arch bit of dialogue: "Listen Doc, give it to me straight...is it the big casino?"



Blu-ray Special Features:

· Commentary by Frank Sinatra Jr. and Angie Dickinson

· Las Vegas Then and Now Vignettes

· Theatrical trailers



ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS (1964)



Since 1960's OCEAN'S 11 had been such a lark for the Rat Pack, some of them got together again four years later with director Gordon Douglas for the lighthearted crime spoof ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS. But as we learn from Frank Sinatra, Jr.'s commentary--which, once again, serves as an absolutely invaluable first-hand account--this breezy musical about rival gangs in Prohibition-era Chicago was overshadowed not only by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was Frank Sinatra's personal friend, but also by the five-day kidnapping of Frank, Jr. himself in Lake Tahoe, California.

While much of the movie is breezy fun, it's apparent in several scenes that Papa Frank's heart just isn't in it. Still, he musters what he can as "good guy" crime kingpin Robbo, the lone holdout when rival boss Guy Gisborne (Peter Falk) rubs out the current big cheese Big Jim (Edward G. Robinson in a brief cameo) and demands all the other bosses line up behind him. Robbo's refusal results in the opposing bosses hitting each other's speakeasies in a frenzy of mutual destruction.

Enter Big Jim's daughter Marian, played by a gorgeous Barbara Rush, who offers Robbo a hefty sum to eliminate the man who killed her father. Robbo instead donates the cash to an orphanage, thus gaining a citywide reputation as the new "Robin Hood." This new image suits him so he starts giving a cut of all his proceeds to charity, while Marian, whose intentions go beyond mere revenge, seeks the aid of any man who'll respond to her seductive advances to make a power grab. Meanwhile, Guy Gisborne continues in his efforts to bring down Robbo both violently and by trying to get him sent up the river on trumped-up counterfeiting charges.


As an old-style gangster comedy, ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS is about on the same level as BUGSY MALONE or the "A Piece of the Action" episode of "Star Trek", only with better production values. Some of the transitions into the song-and-dance numbers are awkward, to say the least, with Falk's number coming off as particularly ear-bending despite his giving it the old college try (fortunately, the rest of his comic performance is a delight).

Dino, who plays Robbo's partner Little John, fares better with his jaunty pool-hustling tune "Any Man Who Loves His Mother", and Sammy's energetic shoot-em-up number "Bang! Bang!" is a real blast. Frank, in his best moment in the film, seems to forget his troubles for a bit when he gets to croon his classic ode to Chicago, "My Kind of Town."

Another plus for the production is the presence of the venerable Bing Crosby as Allen A. Dale, an overaged "orphan" who joins Robbo's crew in order to help coordinate his charitable activities. Bing does a wonderful soft-shoe number with the boys back at the orphanage entitled "Don't Be a Do Badder!" (the lyrics are cringeworthy but Bing manages to sell them), then joins in another fun song-and-dance sequence with Frank and Dean, "You've Either Got or You Haven't Got Style", which is unique for having all three of these major singing stars together at one time.


A gaggle of wonderfully rough-looking character actors fill the supporting roles as well as some familiar names such as Victor Buono, Hans Conried, Robert Foulk, Richard Bakalyan, Billy Curtis, and Sig Ruman. A chorus line of flappers performing the number "Charlotte Couldn't Charleston" is led by none other than legendary singer-dancer-choreographer Toni Basil of "Mickey" fame, who would co-star in VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS a year later and go on to appear in the counterculture classic EASY RIDER in '69.

While the story tends to drag a bit here and there, and the songs aren't always top-notch, ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS is still an enjoyable enough gangster spoof and one of the last of the old wave of Hollywood musicals. It's a shame that the conditions under which it was made so dampened the spirits of those involved, especially its star, Frank Sinatra, resulting in a movie whose lightheartedness comes off as noticeably strained.



Blu-ray Special Features:

· Commentary by Frank Sinatra Jr.

· Vintage featurette "What They Did to Robin Hood"

· 1939 WB Cartoon "Robin Hood Makes Good" – New to Home Entertainment

· 1949 WB Cartoon "Rabbit Hood"

· 1958 WB Cartoon "Robin Hood Daffy"

· Theatrical trailer

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(Pictures shown are not stills from the actual discs.)

Buy it at the offical WB Shop

Street date: May 5, 2015



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