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DVD Review: Frank Sinatra – The Golden Years Collection

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This year is the 10th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's death. Perhaps a bit morbidly this has been seen as a chance to re-release a lot of his material. There have two greatest hits packages released, multiple DVD sets, and even postage stamps. The Golden Years set includes five Warner Bros. movies Frank made between 1955 and 1965.

Marriage on the Rocks

In Marriage on the Rocks Sinatra plays against type as Dan Edwards, a fuddy-duddy husband to Deborah Kerr's Val Edwards. In his stead, Dean Martin plays the swinging bachelor Ernie. Val is sick of Dan always putting his work ahead of her and of him being a bore. She wishes she had married Ernie instead.

Dan and Val decide to go to Mexico for a second honeymoon to re-ignite the passion. Through a series of mishaps the couple ends up divorced and Val accidentally marries Ernie. Val decides to stay married to Ernie for a while to make Dan jealous. Dan turns out to be all too happy to be a bachelor again. While Dan turns back into a swingin' bachelor, familial and corporate pressures turn Ernie into a boring guy.

Dean Martin plays a drunk in the movie, but from his acting it appears he was actually drunk throughout filming.

The movie has the plot of a screwball comedy, but moves much too slowly and does not have sharp enough dialogue to really qualify as one.

The Tender Trap

In the Tender Trap, Sinatra plays Charlie, a smooth ladies man who works as a talent agent in New York. He has multiple dates with gorgeous girls every day but does not let any of them tie him down. Then he meets Julie Gillis, (Debbie Reynolds) a new actress for him to represent. He is instantly drawn to her because she wants nothing to do with him. She has her whole life planned out; from the day she will get married to where her kids will attend school. She does not think that he fits into her plans. She of course does fall for him, but then she finds out about the other girls.

The movie is a fine, light and breezy comedy. David Wayne and Celeste Holm give good supporting turns as Charlie's recently returned best friend and his original main squeeze.

The absolute highlights of the movie are Frank's rendition of "The Tender Trap" and then Debbie's. While not big musical productions, they are good songs that convey the character's emotions and advance the story well. It makes you wonder if the movie could have been improved by making it an out-and-out musical.

Some Came Running

Some Came Running is a long bloated drama. Sinatra plays Dave Hirsh, a WWII vet, drifter, and former author. He returns to his hometown of Parktown after 16 years and causes quite a stir. He is an embarrassment to his brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy), a prominent figure in Parktown.

In town, he falls for a schoolteacher, Miss French (Martha Hyer). She wants to help him reconnect to his art, but is disgusted by his roguish ways. He tries to fit into her and his brother's world but is unable too.

Instead, he becomes fast friends with a gambler named Bama (Dean Martin). He also acquires a sort of girlfriend named Ginny (Shirley MacLaine). Ginny is a well-meaning girl but ditzy and with the reputation of a tramp. Trouble seems to follow him around when he is with them. Eventually, this leads to the tragic ending.

The movie is slow and the plot meanders. There are so many subplots and characters most of the minor character's stories feel barely told.

The heart of the movie is Shirley MacLaine's Ginny. She loves Dave even she does not understand him. She knows she is not as smart, pretty, or as rich as the schoolteacher. Dave gets annoyed at her for not being very bright and for following him around. MacLaine makes you feels Ginny's heartbreak from her unrequited love.

The movie claims to be a look at class differences and moral hypocrisy but is too boring to be much of anything.

The Man With the Golden Arm

In The Man With the Golden Arm, Sinatra plays Frankie Machine, a man who just returned from heroin rehab. In rehab, he learned he had a talent for drumming; he wants to leave his old life behind and become a professional drummer. His wife Zosch (Eleanor Parker) is crippled; he does not love her but will not leave her while she is helpless. He hopes he can make enough money as a drummer to get her better. Then, he plans to move on with his girlfriend Molly (Kim Novak).

However, his wife, his neighborhood, and his old acquaintances all try to draw him back into his old lifestyle. He goes back to his old job as an illegal card dealer and to his old drug habit. He struggles to get out, but no one wants to help, they all want to keep the status quo. Only Molly wants to help him kick the habit. Nevertheless, she eventually leaves the neighborhood herself to make her life better. In the end, the status quo is changed, but it is a bittersweet conclusion not a happy one.

Sinatra's portrayal of drug addiction is very realistic and emotional. He puts himself into the character and gives a very believable performance. Not all of the other actors' styles mesh well; some characters seem a little outdated alongside of Sinatra's genuine portrayal of Frankie Machine. Kim Novak's Molly is superb though. Molly represents Frankie's salvation, his way out of the lifestyle. Novak manages to walk the line between Frankie's angel-on-earth and a real human with her own problems. Her scenes with Sinatra are touching and are the emotion of the movie.

Despite the good performances and the gripping portrayal of addiction, the movie seems a bit outdated now.  Some of the plot contrivances and characters do not feel real like the drug addiction does.

None But the Brave

Sinatra produced, directed and co-starred in this movie, but it does not feel like a vanity project.

During WWII, a Japanese platoon is marooned on a remote island without any communication. They have no idea what is going with the war and no one knows they are there. They are building a wood boat to attempt to leave the island. A group of Marines' plane is shot down on the same island. Their means of communication is also broken; they are also stuck on the island. The Americans and Japanese quickly discover each other.

Sinatra plays Chief Pharmacist Mate Maloney, but he is not the main character. The main characters of the story are Lt. Kuroki, (Tatsuya Mihashi) the Japanese commander, and Captain Dennis Bourke (Clint Walker), the American commander. The Japanese and American subordinates are both young and eager for blood, but the commanders are wise enough not to rush into battle.

The Americans and Japanese do eventually attack each other and both sides incur casualties. But then the Americans are running out of water and the Japanese have a soldier in need of medical attention. Lt. Kuroki offers a trade, the use of the Japanese spring for the services of Malone. This initial pact then leads to a truce. Through contact with each other, the opposing forces realize that their enemies are as human as they are. Kuroki and Bourke especially begin to understand each other. They respect each other's honor in battle, duty to their country, and humanity.

Sinatra as a director does not do anything to flashy. None of the shots, cuts, or performances are particularly out there. He does do a very good job of telling an effective anti-war story. Throughout the movie, the logic of war is questioned.  The movie has an almost Eastern philosophy to human respect and war. It is interesting that the only religious figure in the movie is a Buddhist Priest.

I really enjoyed this movie though I do think many modern viewers would find it too slow-paced. They may also see it is as a war movie that has too much philosophy and not enough action.

EXTRAS

Each movie includes a theatrical trailer and The Man With the Golden Arm and Some Came Running have making of featurettes.  There is also a featurette about Frank's movie career in the 50's. All of the featurettes are short, only about 10-20 minutes long. Basically all are puff pieces; they mainly just talk about how great the movies are, there is only a little good information. Sadly, there is no film commentary at all on any of the movies.

CONCLUSION

This set has two good movies, one decent one, and two bad ones. None of them is essential to a Sinatra's fan collection; The Man With the Golden Arm may be essential viewing. If you were interested in the set, I would recommend renting a few of the movies beforehand. I cannot recommend it as a definite buy even for serious Sinatra and classic film fans.

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