Dynamite, Frank Sinatra at the movies

A retrospective at London’s NFT celebrates the film career of Frank Sinatra. While he may have been Mr. Smooth on record, he was one of the fiercest and most intense of screen actors. Below, Gentry look back at the greatest movies of a true performer.

5. From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)

A small but important role in the evolution of Sinatra, the actor. Playing alongside a stellar cast including Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr, Sinatra was determined to gain credibility here (after the manically camp Anchors Aweigh, The Kissing Bandit and On the Town). He more than holds his own as Private Angelo Maggio, the tragic renegade too wild, too fragile for the confines of the military. Sinatra would go on to win an Oscar for this scintillating turn.

4. Suddenly (Lewis Allen, 1954)

Sinatra, is on incredible form her – a seething, cynical wreck of a sniper – a gun for hire, eager to assassinate the President whilst holding an innocent, small time family hostage. Tarantino was enamored enough by the wicked charms of the chamber piece to emulate the infamous “Let’s go to work” slogan for his own caper, Reservoir Dogs. Rude, resentful and reeling from some deep psychological failure, Sinatra’s John Baron is one of the meanest characters to slither onto the screen. Strangely prophetic, given Sinatra’s ties to Kennedy and the Chicago mob, Suddenly remains an extraordinarily potent film.

3. Some Came Running (Vincente Minelli, 1958)

Directed in customarily sumptuous style by Vincente Minnelli, this tale is the sordid tale of a serviceman with writers block returning home after a dozen years who gets entangled in a love affair and all sorts of melodramatic mess. This is Douglas Sirk territory and the emotional intricacies and competing affections simmer beneath a luscious veneer. Also memorable for the swooning Sinatra hit “To Love and Be Loved”, this film is a rarity, Sinatra playing against type and pulling it off with real panache.

2. The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)

Part of John Frankenheimer’s ‘paranoia trilogy’ (which is completed by Seven Days in May and Seconds), The Manchurian Candidate is one of Hollywood’s most unusual productions to date. As Major Bennett Marco, Sinatra becomes embroiled in the investigation of a strange brainwashing plot of the ‘Manchurians’. Under their spell, Marco realizes one of his fellow soldiers has been programmed for assassination detail and he is in a race against time – and credibility – to stop him. As wacky as it sounds, the fragmented dialogue and unsettling imagery tip the film to a horridly queasy tilt. Frankenheimer’s famed ‘television style’ hits a breakneck pace as the dizzying conspiracy spirals. Without doubt one of the great American political movies, Sinatra’s perspiring, broken portrayal of a desolate ex-POW has a sincere emotional depth.

1. The Man with the Golden Arm (Otto Preminger, 1955)

One of the all time great addiction movies, The Man with the Golden Arm is a insidiously jagged depiction of a deadbeat who just can’t swipe the monkey from his back. Ex-con determined to go straight and kick his habit, Frankie Machine (Sinatra) is a jazz drummer constantly lured back into his old life as a card dealer by the creeping, crawling arranger Schwiefka. The discordant march of the jazz score only adds to the boiler hot tension that only finds release, like Frankie, when Schwiefka teases open the door to his doom one creak at a time. Sinatra is nothing short of brilliant as the tortured soul desperate to get out, but happy to give in.

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4 responses to “Dynamite, Frank Sinatra at the movies

  1. A great post. The Tungate household are big fans of Frank on film, particularly The Detective and the two Tony Rome movies – private eye outings much lighter than the above gems, but good vehicles for Sinatra’s martini-supping Rat Pack persona.

  2. I felt bad for leaving out Guys and Dolls. Sinatra and Brando – what a great pairing!

  3. That’s true, fantastic stuff. I read somewhere that Sinatra really wanted the role of Sky Masterson. Talking of duos, High Society is one of my favourite Sinatra musicals, mainly for the duet with Bing: “Well did you evah…” and so on. But you were right to focus on drama . Strangely, though, no mention of The Cannonball Run 2.

  4. “what an elegant, swellegant party this is…”

    You’re right, it’s a classic. Bookended by Louie Armstrong’s “end of song, beginning of story-eee”

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