El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Frank Sinatra - The Early Years

Warner Home Video is commemorating the 10th anniversary the passing of Frank Sinatra’s death by the release of five new DVD collections. Frank Sinatra – The Early Years focuses on his early acting work in film.

Sinatra’s acting debut came in Higher and Higher (1943), based on the musical play of the same name. It opens with the rich Mr. Drake finding out the bank is going to foreclose on his house in 30 days. His servants come up with a plan only found in the movies: they plan on marrying off a pretty young maid, Millie, to a wealthy husband, which would inexplicably infuse Drake with money and allow everyone to keep their jobs. The cast includes Jack Haley, Dooley Wilson, Mary Wickes, Victor Borge and Mel Torme is in his film debut. It’s a standard romantic comedy of the time. RKO obviously didn’t know how to use Sinatra yet because he feels forced into the story. He plays “Frank Sinatra” and though he sings four songs is a secondary character in the plot.

Step Lively
(1944) is a remake of the Broadway play Room Service, which was previously made into a film for The Marx Brothers in 1938. The story is about Broadway producer Gordon Miller who juggles his debtors with his fast-talking ways and questionable tactics while trying to put on a show from his hotel room. Sinatra plays Glenn Russell, a playwright hoping to get Miller to produce a show he wrote. Miller has already cashed Russell’s check and is looking for a way to get rid of him until he discovers what a great singer Russell is. Although not as funny as Room Service, an admittedly low bar as that’s one of the weaker Marx Bros. movies, it’s a mildly amusing musical with songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.

It Happened in Brooklyn
(1947) is a musical romantic comedy that finds Danny (Sinatra), a WWII soldier with a dream of becoming a singer. Somewhere in England, he meets Jaime (Peter Lawford), a shy fellow who would like to become a songwriter. When he returns home to Brooklyn, he meets Ann (Kathryn Grayson), a beautiful young teacher at his former high school who hopes to be an opera singer. When Jaime comes to Brooklyn, a love triangle soon develops. Amidst the romance, they work on helping a young boy get a music scholarship. Jimmy Durante plays a janitor at the high school that offers advice and comic relief. This one has a good number of songs by Styne and Cahn and Andre Previn plays the piano solos.

The Kissing Bandit
(1948), the only color film of the set, finds Sinatra in the title role in the worst film of the set. Set back in the Old West, Ricardo (Sinatra) comes to California from Boston to take over his father’s business. He thinks he is going to run an inn but is set up to become the notorious Kissing Bandit, a task he is ill suited for. Grayson plays the Governor’s daughter and once the Bandit and his men rob her stagecoach, the seeds of love begin to bloom. The script is rather silly, but unfortunately neither intentionally funny nor so awful it’s funny, although the ridiculous whip dance comes close to the latter. A dance sequence at the end features Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller, and Ricardo Montalban. It was good seeing Billy Gilbert, who has worked with Laurel and Hardy, in a small role.

Double Dynamite
(1951), whose title doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the film, continues The Marx Brothers connection with Groucho as a co-star. He plays Emil, a friend of and comic relief to Sinatra’s Johnny Dalton. The film is a romantic comedy with Johnny and his gal Mildred (Jane Russell), who are dating co-workers at a bank. They want to get married, but he thinks it’s too tough on the $42.50 a week they each makes. Mildred gets frustrated thinking they will never marry and breaks up with Johnny. However, he soon comes into some dough when he unknowingly saves a bookie from getting mugged. To say thanks, the bookie gives Johnny some tips on a few horse races, which turns into $60,000. Unfortunately, this is the same day the bank finds a huge shortage and Johnny’s infusion of cash makes him the prime suspect. The two songs in the film are again by Styne and Cahn.

It’s not a great collection of films as all suffer from terrible scripts. Only die-hard Sinatra completists and fans of old Hollywood movies will be interested in seeing them and only Step Lively and Double Dynamite are the ones worth spending any time on; owning them is a completely different story. It would be better to rent them individually or catch a showing on Turner Classics Movies.

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