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Sinatra — An Appreciation Of A Career in Film and A Look Back By the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Sinatra -- An Appreciation Of A Career in Film and A Look Back By the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Sinatra -- An Appreciation Of A Career in Film and A Look Back
By the Film Society of Lincoln Center

by Mark Rabinowitz

“The Voice,” “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” “The Chairman of the Board,” “FAS,” “The
Leader.” Many of the names bestowed on Francis Albert Sinatra, the last
of which was a favorite of compadre Sammy Davis, Jr. The nicknames refer
to the man’s singing ability, his looks or his charisma, but none refer
to his acting talent, long one of his most overlooked virtues. Die-hard
fans know that Sinatra was also an acclaimed actor, appearing in some
60-plus films from 1941’s “Las Vegas Nights” as an uncredited singer in
Tommy Dorsey’s Band, to an odd cameo as himself in 1984’s “Cannonball
Run II
“, but many casual listeners have no idea of the scope of his
career. They will have the chance to learn, however, when the Film
Society of Lincoln Center presents the previously-scheduled “A Salute to
Sinatra” At the Walter Reade Theater from August 21-September 8. The
series contains classics such as “From Here to Eternity” and “The
Manchurian Candidate
,” as well as some oft overlooked gems like “Ocean’s
” and “The Joker is Wild.”

The general public knows Sinatra as a recording artist and arbiter of
style, but many people arecompletely ignorant about his
career in the movies. Did you know that he was nominated for two Academy
Awards, winning for Best Actor in 1954 for “From Here to Eternity”)? Did
you know that he was nominated for two Golden Globes, winning both
times, once as Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for “Pal Joey” in 1958,
and once as Best Supporting Actor for “From Here to Eternity?” In
addition, he was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences with the 1971 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, by the Golden
Globes with the 1971 Cecil B. DeMille Award and by the Screen Actors
Guild with the 1973 Life Achievement Award.

Sinatra began his acting career in the early 40’s, playing a singer in
Tommy Dorsey’s band, or playing himself in newsreel footage about
Hollywood’s war effort. He also starred in a short film, “The House I
Live In
,” which won an honorary Oscar for racial tolerance. The Film
Society’s retrospective contains 19 films, including the award-winning
films mentioned above. The complete schedule for the retrospective has
not yet been released, so the order of the films mentioned below is
sorted chronologically.

It begins with Tim Whelan’s 1944 RKO comedy “Higher and Higher,” with
comedian Victor Borge and a young Mel Torme, and continues with a
quartet of musical comedies. Three of them co-star Sinatra’s close
friend and dancing teacher, Gene Kelly, 1945’s “Anchors Aweigh,” and “On
the Town
” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” both from 1949 and both
also starring Jules Munshin and Betty Garrett. “On the Town” features a
series of remarkable credits, including direction by Stanley Donen and
Gene Kelly, a screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden (based on
their own play) and original music by Leonard Bernstein and Roger
Edens, including the fantastic Leonard Bernstein composition, “New York,
New York.” The fourth of these musical-comedies, this one more comedy
than musical, is 1947’s “It Happened in Brooklyn.” While charming in its
own right, this film is also notable for the only pairing of Sinatra
with co-star Jimmy Durante and the first appearance together on film of
Sinatra and Rat Pack pally, Peter Lawford.

The next film in the series, “From Here to Eternity,” was a huge leap
for FAS. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Sinatra went through a
rough time. His career began to decline, he fell in love with Ava
Gardner, beginning an affair in 1949. In 1951, his divorce was finalized
and he married Ava, beginning what was, by all accounts, a turbulent
marriage. In addition, his voice began to show the strain of constant
use, climaxing when he ruptured his vocal chords. He was dropped by MGM
studios, and also parted ways with Columbia Records. When he heard about
Fred Zinnemann’s plans to make “From Here to Eternity,” Sinatra knew he
would be perfect as Maggio, the scrawny Italian-American soldier with a
chip on his shoulder. However, his career was considered dead, and it
took an intense campaign, including appeals by Gardner, for Sinatra to
win the role that famously saved his career, winning him an Oscar, to
boot. The film was released in 1953, the same year he separated from
Ava, and the same year he signed a one year contract with Capitol
Records and began working with Nelson Riddle, who more than any other
person helped shape Sinatra’s second singing career. The concept albums
they created, including “Songs For Young Lovers,” “Swing Easy,” “Songs
For Swinging Lovers” and “In the Wee Small Hours.”

In 1955, Sinatra continued with cinematic excellence, picking up his
second Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actor in Otto
Preminger’s classic story of heroin addiction, 1955’s “The Man With the
Golden Arm
.” Incidentally, Sinatra was beaten out for the Oscar by his
“Eternity” co-star, Ernest Borgnine, who won for “Marty.” Three comedies
and a bio-drama followed, including “The Tender Trap” (1955), “High
” (1956), “The Joker is Wild” (1957) and “Pal Joey” (1957). “High
Society” is especially notable as the first film pairing of Sinatra with
the source of the inspiration for his singing, Bing Crosby. The film is
a musical adaptation of “The Philadelphia Story,” with the scene moved
to Newport, Rhode Island and Katherine Hepburn’s character now played by
Grace Kelly. Throw in Louis Armstrong, Celeste Holm and classic songs by
Cole Porter (including the classic Sinatra-Crosby duet on “Did You
Evah?”) and you have a top-notch musical. “The Joker is Wild” is a fine
bio-pic about the life of singer-turned-comedian Joe E. Lewis,
co-starring Eddie Albert, Mitzi Gaynor and Uncle Fester himself, Jackie
Coogan. “Pal Joey” winds up this set with Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak and
Ol’ Blue Eyes belting out “The Lady is a Tramp.”

The last two truly notable films in the series are “Ocean’s Eleven”
(1960) and “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962). The former is the only
time the full “pack” got together for a film. Frank, Dean and Sammy,
along with Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford were the core of the Rat Pack,
with “associate” members such as Henry Silva, Angie Dickinson and a
cameo by Shirley MacLaine thrown in for good measure. The plot? Eleven
ex-Army buddies get together for a major heist, knocking over multiple
casinos in Las Vegas at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Watch for Dean
performing “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”

John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” earned Angela Lansbury a
well-deserved Best Supporting Actress nomination, and is a top notch
thriller, staring Lawrence Harvey as a soldier returned from the Korean
War missing some important information in his brain. I’d love to tell
you more about the film, but being that it’s a suspense thriller, that
would be giving too much away. Suffice it to say that the film also features
Janet Leigh and Henry Silva in supporting roles.

Not all of Sinatra’s memorable roles are represented here, of course,
with the horribly miscast “Guys and Dolls” among the absent (Marlon
Brando got the primary singing role…go figure), but the Film Society
retrospective will offer a good cross section of his work on screen.
Comedies, musicals, dramas, tragedies and action films are all present,
and hopefully will give the public a newfound appreciation for Frank
arguably the greatest all-around entertainer of the twentieth century.

[indieWIRE will publish a complete list of the films in the series prior to
their screening later this summer.]

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