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Monday, March 13, 2017

Frank Makes Old Seem New Again

FS Put Ring-A-Ding-Zing Into Autumnal Private Dick Pics

Sinatra Turns Sleuth for Tony Rome and Lady In Cement

There was, by the 60's, a daylight Frank and a darker Sinatra of the night, this according to those who worked with him on this pair of detecting thrillers where FS put on his Bogart hat and tried for series status as road-worn gumshoe. Fascination with him rests still with the music, of course, but there's also Frank as font of personal quirks that saw kindness on one hand, unchecked hostility the next. Bios are easy to get lost in. There's a two-volume epic by James Kaplan that I'd nominate best-ever at summing up Sinatra life. Kaplan spoke to players who told glowingly of FS as most patient and generous of colleagues, but then comes apparent reign of terror as conducted by Sinatra and hangers-on at dark environs of Miami and Vegas during wee hours when fellow thesps rested up for a next shooting day. Here's query: When did Frank sleep? Was deprive of that reason in part for his wild temperament swings?

Lights Out for Hat Wear in the Late 60's, But Frank Hung In
Tony Rome and Lady In Cement are recently out as a Blu-Ray double from Twilight Time. Both are bountiful as thrillers and 60's antique roadshowing. Sinatra was in creative charge of the pair, as was case with most movies he'd done since the 50's. They may not be outstanding as a lot, but each are X-Rays to the skull of this singular man who made them happen. I'd say Frank sang mostly for the love, and did films largely for the loot. He was a good actor who didn't think acting needed a lot of focus. Well-known is fact he got restless beyond one take, forbidding repeat of effort except for urgent cause (equipment snafus, planes overhead, off-set dog barks). On the other hand, he'd wring a tune like a chicken's neck to get it perfect, his patience at recording the stuff of legend. Here, then, was where Sinatra made all his movies special, and that was in their scoring. Disc and concert associates were aboard to swing out background that made Sinatra features a listening pleasure, whether he sang or didn't.

Still a Kissing Bandit, with Batman Bad Girl On Receiving End
Tony Rome was scored by Billy May, Lady In Cement by Hugo Montenegro. These forgive any mistake the films make. I'm guessing Sinatra spent more effort conferring with May and Montenegro than with Gordon Douglas, who directed both Tony Rome and Lady In Cement. Douglas is dismissed as a weak helmsman who let Frank push him around. I'd say truth was, FS used GD because latter knew how to get jobs done without fuss, which Sinatra famously did not like in movies. When historian Ronald L. Davis asked Douglas years later about working with Sinatra, word was that Frank showed up always on time and knew his dialogue, that as much as star or director likely sought from Tony Rome and Lady In Cement. Could be too that such attitude is what makes them unpretentious fun unto present day, air of relaxation and little at stake a help to enjoying both. Records indicate, however, that the pair lost money, possibly for negative costs pushed to $3.4 million in both instance. It wasn't that the shows were unpopular, just that they needed more to cover cash laid out. Pity they didn't continue, but unlike Dean Martin's Matt Helm group, which were cheaper and looked it, the Rome thrillers gave better than they got from 60's patronage.

Raquel Taking On Another Dinosaur Two Years After One Million Years B.C.

Sinatra's screen image was approaching an uncool place as he passed fifty. This was age unseemly to lead a rat pack, or seemed so, and Frank looked more establishment as he thickened and the hairpieces stood out more. Cohort Dean, on the other hand, still had a lion's mane and hatful of jaunty dissipation. Junky as the Matt Helms were, he'd lend them contempt they deserved (I actually walked out on The Wrecking Crew in 1968, unheard of flip-off when time in theatres was most precious). Telling was Sinatra as beleaguered family man to Martin's swinger office partner in Marriage On The Rocks, one that showed starkly how winds would henceforth blow. Was the Rome pair Frank's bid to channel late pal Humphrey Bogart? It was a good idea whatever his reasons, but Sinatra may have overlooked fact that Bogie played detective on but few occasions over a long career, and never went series route. Still, the Romes are not unworthy tribute. He plays it straight, doesn't kid source material (novels by Marvin H. Albert), and falls down gamely in fight scenes he'd not shunt to stunt crews.

Not a Few Of Us Were There in '68 For Fun Of Hoss Whooping Frank

Heavy weight on the Romes was to reach younger crowds, Sinatra now the stuff of Mom or Dad's enthusiasm. One and maybe an only way of tapping fountains of youth was to use glam that had been in hipper movies of late, like Jill St. John, Sue Lyon, or Raquel Welch. To my fourteen-year-old mind, Lady In Cement was best served by Welch and novelty casting of "Hoss" Dan Blocker, Sinatra OK but more old-shoe comfy and less likely to stir their kind of excitement. Now we know these for hooks they were to widen an aging star's reach. Lady In Cement grossed slightly better than Tony Rome, and I'd guess Welch was at bottom of that. Estimation at the time, for me at least, gave Dean Martin an edge for westerns he kept doing as Sinatra stayed more-less with modern dress (though exceptions None But The Brave and Von Ryan's Express pleased well). By all account, Martin admired westerns and did at least one per annum through mid-to-late 60's otherwise festered with the Helms. He played straighter on a horse and didn't look down to the genre. As result, his westerns are not dated and neither are his performances in them (sample good ones: Rough Night In Jericho and Bandolero!). The cop/private dick trio Sinatra made (The Detective, more serious, came between the Romes) were probably Frank's action answer to success Dean had with outdoor work, and to that purpose, they serve well. These are in several ways most enjoyable vehicles the Chairman had during era-of-change that was the 60's.


Blogger Michael said...

I enjoy these, but to me The Detective is a key film of the 60s, brutal, incredibly politically incorrect and a short stepping stone to the policing attitudes and grittiness of The French Connection. Why did Sinatra's version get left behind with other dated films of the 60s but French Connection was New American Cinema? More style than substance, I guess, French Connection having a French New Wave-influenced look while The Detective is filmed like 60s TV. Still, I'd say the differences are slighter than they appear. At some point Sinatra accepted that he was not going to be a star of the 70s, as more or less contemporaries* like Brando and Newman managed to be.

* Both a decade younger, admittedly, but rough contemporaries as 50s stars.

1:25 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Received the following comment via e-mail from Joe McGrenra


I loved the Sinatra Article on Tony Rome and Lady In Cement. I am a big Sinatra fan, and was lucky enough to see him in concert three times.

Your article put me in mind of what I consider to be one of his best but most underrated films. I am referring to his last starring role in The First Deadly Sin (1980), where he played Detective Edward Delaney.

The First Deadly Sin was based on the best seller by Lawrence Sanders, was filmed on location in New York City, had a great supporting cast (Faye Dunaway, David Dukes, Brenda Vaccaro, James Whitmore, Martin Gabel in his final role and Bruce Willis in his film debut). Gordon Jenkins did the musical score and had first worked with Sinatra on his 1957 "Where Are You?" album.

I seem to recall when the film appeared on TV (for some reason I’m remembering NBC), that they altered the ending of the film, perhaps finding the actual ending too controversial.

For some reason, once the film was released, it seems to have almost disappeared both at the time and since. Robert Ebert was one of the few to take notice of it starting his review off by saying “…Who would have thought, in all honesty, that Frank Sinatra had this performance still left in him?...”

Joe from Virginia Beach
(i.e. Joe McGrenra)

8:47 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Is it just me or in your current Greenbriar Header from LADY IN CEMENT does Dan Blocker look like Roscoe Arbuckle on a shooting spree?


4:47 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Ouch, let's hope not. Frank would have been NO match for Fatty.

5:12 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Matt Helm: Cracked to Derek Flint's Mad.

Actually, Matt Helm has positive associations for me. Pneumatic babes and cheesy innuendos (just as I was old enough to appreciate them), and cartoony action instead of talking. Also we happened to see two of them on separate vacations to Squaw Valley (the parents only had a vague idea what was at the small local cinema) so there's a lingering holiday buzz. Now, they're in the weird category of comedies where you laugh at the fact they think they're funny ("Skol." "Of course it is. It's got ice in it.")

Michael's point about looking like 1960s TV is a good one. To the casual viewer, there really wasn't much difference between a movie gumshoe and his countless TV counterparts, aside from rarely filled promises of "hot stuff". Arty new visuals DID make a difference, just as it made a difference to take westerns off of Knott's Berry Farm backlot streets and into Italy. Stripping away the too-familiar artifices made you pay attention, even if it was simply a switch to a new artifice.

5:21 PM  
Blogger tomservo56954 said...

"Miami Beach...20 miles of sand looking for a city"


11:08 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Great piece. And Stinky's not referring to that thing on Frank's head.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

As a result of reading this post I looked at THE FIRST DEADLY SIN. Wow. Thank you.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Dave G said...

Great piece. Love these two movies - as a big fan of both Frank and private eye/crime movies, there's much to enjoy for me. Got the Blu ray last summer and enjoyed the heck out of revisiting the pair. Tony Rome is the superior piece IMO, but Lady coasts by on Sinatra's charisma and Raquel's charms. I must also mention how much I enjoy Richard Conte's turn in both films as the long-suffering Lt. Santini, always playing catch-up with his friend and finding an excuse not to put him in jail.

John, you raise the question of when Sinatra found time to sleep, given his nocturnal party life. Specific to these two films, I reached for Dan O'Brien's "Sinatra Film Guide" (mine a much-treasured and dog-eared copy) for some context: O'Brien notes that Sinatra performed nightly at the Fountainbleau (Jill St John's hotel in the first film) throughout production of both films, sleeping through the mornings before working "his preferred noon-to-seven schedule" on the films. Douglas was ready for this and accommodated his star by having each day's sets pre-lit and Sinatra's moves mapped out in advance by his stand-in so that they could hit the ground running once Frank arrived for the afternoon.

All together now, "Mothers lock your daughters in / It's too late to talk to them / 'cause Tony Rome is out and about ..."

5:14 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Great info about Frank's working habits. Thanks so much for passing it along, Dave. I'm going to look into getting a copy of that book you mentioned.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

It's been years since I've seen these movies, but I loved them as a teenager. One moment -- and at this remove I can't remember if it's in Tony Rome or Lady in Cement, but I think it's the former -- I've always cherished: Sinatra is being "interviewed" by a gang boss and his thug, all ever-so-civilized-and-polite, and the boss decides it's time to put Tony to sleep for a while. The thug takes out a bottle of chloroform and starts glug-glugging it onto a handkerchief; after three or four glugs Sinatra lays a hand on his arm and says, "When."

2:55 PM  

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