Written by General Jabbo
It is difficult for any movie or television show to do justice to Frank Sinatra’s remarkable career, which spanned parts of seven decades, yet, the miniseries Sinatra largely succeeds at doing just that.
Sinatra stars Philip Casnoff in the title role and begins during his childhood in Hoboken, New Jersey. His parents, played by Olympia Dukakis and Joe Santos, ran a saloon during prohibition and Sinatra himself was no stranger to trouble, stealing cigarettes at an early age. He also had some sheet music with the cigarettes and while his friends kidded him about it, even at age 10 Sinatra knew he was going to be a star.
He met his first wife, Nancy Barbato (played by Gina Gershon) and went to work for her father while he pursued his singing career. He was not cut out for 9-5 work though and was shown falling asleep on the job. After he quit his job, Barbato’s father forbade Sinatra from seeing his daughter, as he’d be unable to provide for her. Still, the couple managed to sneak out to see each other and was eventually married, with Barbato bearing all three of his children — Nancy, Frank Jr., and Tina.
After quitting the Hoboken Four, Sinatra joined Harry James’ group and toured with his orchestra, his wife Nancy traveling with him on the tour. That gig was short-lived however as Tommy Dorsey’s band suddenly had an opening which Sinatra filled. James was gracious in letting Sinatra go, as he knew Dorsey was much bigger than he was. It was during his time with Dorsey’s orchestra that Sinatra began to emulate Dorsey’s trombone with his voice. Dorsey’s demands and tour schedule put a strain on Sinatra’s marriage and, in spite of Dorsey trying to get 43 percent of Sinatra’s earnings for life (which Sinatra fought against and won), Sinatra left the group to pursue a solo career.
Trends change though and Sinatra at the end of the 1940s was nowhere near as popular as he was at the beginning of the decade. His very public affair with actress Ava Gardner (played by Marcia Gay Harden) hurt not only his popularity, but also his marriage. Just days after his divorce from Nancy, Sinatra married Gardner. Their relationship was stormy at best, with her popularity on the rise while his was at an all-time low. She had to loan him money so he could fly out for a screen test. While Sinatra wanted her to settle down with him, she was focused on her career and had an abortion, much to Sinatra’s dismay. Drinking heavily at this point, at a show at the Copacabana, Sinatra lost his voice due to vocal cord hemorrhaging and wasn’t supposed to sing or even speak for several weeks.
Gardner and Sinatra split up in 1953 after two years of marriage and were divorced in 1957. It is at this point that Sinatra begins to gloss over the rest of his career. His brilliant Capitol period is represented by a short montage, which is unfortunate as many of the darker themes on those concept albums were a direct result of his relationship with Gardner. We also don’t get to see the formation of the Rat Pack aside from a brief meeting with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. some years back, though we do get to see them perform.
Sinatra’s alleged mob ties are explored with Rod Steiger playing Sam Giancana, who helps Sinatra’s friend John F. Kennedy get over 100,000 votes on his way to the White House. Giancana is none-too-pleased however when Bobby Kennedy starts prosecuting mobsters and tells Sinatra to watch his back.
Sinatra’s brief marriage to Mia Farrow is briefly touched on and provides some of the miniseries’ more humorous moments as Farrow irritated Sinatra with her peace signs and loud rock and roll. The couple was to shoot a movie together, but Farrow could not get out of her schedule for Rosemary’s Baby. Sinatra, feeling a sense of déjà vu from when he didn’t have time for Nancy due to his own movie career, got a divorce.
The miniseries ends with Sinatra returning from his two-year retirement to sing “My Way” at Madison Square Garden in 1974. While Sinatra’s Rat Pack and Capitol years could have been covered in greater detail, Sinatra remains an excellent look at this legendary performer; pulling no punches and offering an excellent look at a legendary career.