Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mystery History - The Crime Films of Frank Sinatra

It's the birthday of Frank Sinatra, born 100 years ago today in Hoboken, New Jersey. Besides being one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, he starred in more than a few movies, and did quite well as an actor. He was nominated for four Academy Awards and won three of them, in 1946, 1954 and 1971, as well as numerous others. He also won three Sour Apple Awards, for the dubious distinction of "Least Cooperative Actor".

Many of his films revolved around crime or have a noir film style, and these are my personal favorites. One of the earliest of these was Suddenly, a 1950 movie starring Sinatra, Sterling Hayden and Nancy Gates. Sinatra plays the part of John Baron, an assassin who plans to kill the President of the United States at a train stop in the small town of Suddenly. He and his team take over the home of a family that lives near the station and hold them hostage while they wait for the train to arrive. A sense of claustrophobia created convincing fear as the family struggles to deal with the home invaders. Sterling Hayden played local Sheriff Todd Shaw, assigned to protect the President during his visit. Sinatra got good reviews for his performance as the psychopathic killer who takes joy in his work.

A few years later Sinatra was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in The Man With The Golden Arm. Many people consider this his best film performance, although he lost the Academy Award that year to Ernest Borgnine. Directed by Otto Preminger, The Man With The Golden Arm was the first film to treat the subject of drug addiction seriously. Sinatra played Frankie Machine, a drummer who has recently been released from prison after overcoming his addiction to heroin. His attempt to stay clean and land a job with a band fall apart and he succumbs to drugs and illegal poker games. The film failed to get a seal of approval from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), but did well at the box office and received strong approval from critics.

In 1960 he played Danny Ocean alongside the rest of the rat pack in the ultimate Las Vegas casino heist film, Ocean's 11. The idea behind the robbery came from a gas station attendant. When Peter Lawford, who had bought the film rights, approached Sinatra about starring in the film, he reportedly said, "Forget the movie, let's pull the job". The New York Times liked the film's dialogue and skilled performances, but lamented that former war heroes could treat robbery and crime with no moral baggage or seeming consequence. The Times' critic must have missed the end of the movie, when Danny's crew suffers from a finale that brings them all to tears.

One of Frank Sinatra's most controversial roles occurred in The Manchurian Candidate, released in 1962. The cold war thriller had a star packed cast with Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva and James Gregory. Sinatra plays Major Bennett Marco, a Korean war veteran who uncovers a plot to assassinate a Presidential candidate in an upcoming election by one of the men he served time with in a POW camp. The plot is the result of wartime brainwashing by the communists. After the Kennedy assassination, the movie fell out of favor and, except for a brief viewing on NBC in 1974, was not seen again until 1987.

Sinatra appeared in another taboo breaking film in 1968 with his starring role in The Detective. Roger Ebert praised Sinatra's performance and the film's "clear, unsentimental look at a police investigation." The movie was one of the first films to tackle openly the subject of homosexuality and treat it seriously.

Almost as interesting as Sinatra's appearance in so many fine crime movies are the movies he didn't make. He was chosen for the starring role in Dirty Harry, a character later made famous by Clint Eastwood. Sinatra had suffered a broken hand while filming The Manchurian Candidate, and as a result he was unable to lift the character's trademark .44 Magnum. The role was also turned down by John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster.

Frank Sinatra was also selected to play the star in the movie that was later filmed as Die Hard. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, it was a sequel to The Detective, which had starred Frank Sinatra. Thus, the producer was obliged to offer the role to Sinatra. By the time filming was ready to begin, he was 73 years old, and turned it down. It later went to Bruce Willis.

Click here for a complete list of movies with Frank Sinatra with rankings and reviews.

Suddenly has lost copyright protection and is in the public domain. You can watched the entire film on the internet. The You tube link is listed below.


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