Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Possibly The Most Important Dvd Releases Of The Year That Have Frank Sinatra And Mike Connors In Them!

Well, I couldn't let these dvd releases go by without some comment... the first two are from May and the last is from this week and my childhood!

Warner Home Video has become the only real competitor to wrest the "Most Awesome-riffic DVD Release Company Ever!" crown from the mighty Criterion Collection. I have delighted in their John Wayne/John Ford Collection and their Thin Man Collection (not to mention their bells and whistles 5000 "Rio Bravo" ultimate edition), as well as countless musicals, "Bullitt" two-disc edition... sigh, the list goes on and on. And now you can add the Sinatra releases that were timed for the May '08 10th anniversary of his passing.

"The Rat Pack Ultimate Collector's Edition" is a big collection of what great (and not-so-great) entertainment can result from a group of powerful, talented friends when they want to hang out and make money at the same time. This set includes...
  1. The original "Ocean's Eleven". For a long time, this movie was a cultural touchstone for me. You can look, but you're not going to find very many films that compare to this weird combination of the "all star showcase" genre ("Grand Hotel" and "Dinner At Eight" come to mind from the thirties... too many, including the remake of "OE", from other eras) and the caper film. Yes, there is a little too much "comedic improv" from the fellas, adding to a fairly slow pace. But the basic plot (especially the ending) is great, the score and songs (even Sammy's bizarre "Ee-oh Eleven", of which I'm still not sure what it means exactly) have Nelson Riddle rocking out where the editing drags, and the costumes inform an unmistakable style that you can't deny, even when you're checking your watch. And Angie Dickinson! You know what I mean?
  2. What can you say about "Sergeants 3" that hasn't been said by Stan Freberg? Freberg (genius comedy writer/performer/ad man) had been hired by Sinatra to make ads for the movie (a wild west/Rat Pack remake of "Gunga Din") and came up with these ads1 that directly confronted the issues... First Advertisement
    "After the announcer, played by me, had confronted a number of people--a woman hurrying down the street, a man popping out of a manhole--who couldn't accept the fact that Gunga Din had been remade as a western, I would walk over to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. They would be in Civil War uniforms leaning against a fence.
    FREBERG: (TO MARTIN) They can't accept it.
    MARTIN: (TO SINATRA) They can't accept it.
    SINATRA: Yeah, well... (HE SHRUGS)
    MARTIN: (TO SINATRA) Maybe we should have remade Ben Hur as a western...
    SINATRA: Next time.
    FREBERG: (VOICE OVER) Sergeants Three, staring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., opens Friday. Try and see it! Try and accept it!"
    Second Advertisement
    "In one TV spot I used a clip from the movie showing Sinatra killing Indians left and right. I cut to a new shot I made with the great Indian character actor Iron Eyes Cody and another Indian.
    SECOND INDIAN: It is "the thin one."
    IRON EYES CODY: What he thinks he doing?
    SECOND INDIAN: He remake Gunga Din as a western.
    IRON EYES CODY: (SHAKING HEAD SLOWLY) Mmmm ...me no accept that!"

    I've been wanting to see this for a long time, and it was near impossible to find on the television device or as a dvd/video. Because they never released it on video or dvd until now. I'm sure it has issues (the making of it was supposedly much more stressful than the free-for-all of "Ocean's...") but I'm such a completist. I even have had the novelization for years now, but I never read it because I wanted to see the movie "spoiler-free"!
    Sigh. Moving on.
  3. And now we come to "Robin And The Seven Hoods", a film that works despite Sinatra having frozen out Peter Lawford and forgotten about Joey Bishop apparently. Bing Crosby plays the part meant for Lawford and Peter Falk2 shows up as Sinatra's arch foe in this "Robin Hood Meets Guys And Dolls" musical. It has better pacing than "Ocean's..." and finally Sinatra gets a song (a big hit too- Cahn and Van Heusen's "My Kind Of Town [Chicago Is]") in a Rat Pack movie, but it still feels more like these guys are going through their paces. Except for Sammy's "Bang Bang" number (one of the great Sammy Davis, Jr. production numbers imho), this doesn't really have the electricity that the original "Ocean's..." has.

  4. "4 For Texas" is ridonk, as David Spade said about something on some show in 20063. As lightweight as the other films are, this is, quite simply a paycheck between other paychecks for Sinatra and Martin. Who are the only Rat Packers in this one. Might as well have called it "Wild West Marriage On The Rocks" or "Cannonball Run 2: With Horses, In The Old West". Featuring The Three Old Stooges, who don't have Curly, because he died. And Victor Buno as the evil, effeminate fat guy.
  5. In addition there are "Extras" including Cool Rat Pack Playing Cards Available Nowhere Else • 10 Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Photo Cards • 8 Color Lobby Card Reproductions from Sergeants 3 • 18-Page Reproduction of the Original 1960 Ocean’s 11 Press Book • Free Limited-Time Mail-in Poster Offer from all four movies! I assume there are also the original extras from the dvd releases of "Ocean's..." and "Robin4..." featuring commentary from Frank Jr. and more.

"Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years" covers a time just after his comeback with "From Here To Eternity", a time when he would alternate between ring-a-ding-ding musical comedies and really intense dramas. Not unlike the way he would release albums... a "Songs For Swinging Lovers" here, a "Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely" there. Let's take a look at what you get...

  1. "The Man With The Golden Arm" Long available on poor, public domain dvds/vhs', this Otto Preminger classic features a powerhouse cast of Sinatra, Kim Novak, Eleanor Parker, Arnold Stang, and the mighty Darren McGavin in a tale of a recovering junkie trying to go straight by becoming a jazz drummer (!). As strange as this backwards logic sounds (what, was "Opium den owner" taken?), the film works thanks to Preminger's direction, the cast being on fi-yah, and a incredible soundtrack from Elmer frickin' Bernstein. True story: at my marriage, myself and my groomsmen walked down the aisle to the theme from this movie. Because the James Bond theme would have been too obvious.

  2. "Marriage On The Rocks" is just as weak as "4 For Texas" except that unlike "4" it doesn't have Ursula Andress or Anita Ekberg. So why would I watch this again? If the choice is between these two movies, I'll take Sweden- and Switzerland- to paraphrase a Bob Hope move title.

  3. "None But The Brave" was Sinatra's one-and-only directorial effort. This film is a pretty good little WWII film about a group of American and Japanese soldiers who need to cooperate in order to survive being stranded on an island in the Pacific. I like that Sinatra's character is more support than anything else, bringing out his costars Clint Walker and Brad Dexter to shine a little more. The film that Dexter saved Sinatra's life (he nearly drowned!) on.

  4. "Some Came Running" Or the only Sinatra film that has ever made me cry. Shut up. This 2nd Sinatra-based-on-a-James-Jones-novel (after "From Here To Eternity") stars Frank as a discharged soldier/writer who comes back to his hometown to visit his brother and ends up accidentally forcing people to examine their own hypocrasy. This is the first time Dean Martin was ever in a film with Sinatra and the scenes between the two of them really spark (you kinda keep waiting for them to run off together) but it's really Shirley Maclaine you should keep your eyes on. Her character of the floozy who Sinatra has drunkenly picked up (and now wants nothing to do with) tears your heart out, especially when she is pleading for Sinatra's character to take an interest in her. Probably my favorite Vincente Minelli non-musical.

  5. "The Tender Trap" is one of the two Sinatra films based on plays (the other being "Come Blow Your Horn") that only work for me as a vehicle for a great Cahn and Van Heusen title song. Basically about a ladies man who meets his match with a young kook (Debbie Reynolds), this movie has a great opening with Sinatra walking out of the clouds singing the title song. It also has nice direction (Charles Walters, who directed Frank in "High Society") and a good supporting cast (including Celeste Holm, also from "High Society"). It's just in this and "Come Blow..." you can feel the plot machinery turning to make the character fit Sinatra better. A decent film, but not a great one.

There is also two other Sinatra releases from Warners- Frank Sinatra: The Early Years and Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly Collection. Both are good representations of the young Frank, but that time of his career makes my teeth itch (the only ones I like out of all of these are "On The Town" and "It Happened in Brooklyn" and I can get those seperately). But I've included the links because I've realized in my old age that I'm a little snobby5, and people who aren't would probably enjoy these as well.

But, in case you were wondering, I find young Sinatra both in acting and voice a little stiff. He swung much more easily in both acting and music, after Ava Gardner took the wind out of his sales.

Just one man's opinion. Don't be hatin'.

Wow, just look at this guy! When I was 5 or 6, "Mannix" was the first show I can remember knowing the theme to, as well as knowing the basic gist of the show. Which, there wasn't much, I'll admit. Private eye. Good with his mits or a gun. Cool secretary. Great car. Loud jacket.

But sometimes, that's enough. Mannix was created by William Link and Richard Levinson (also created "Columbo") and developed for television by Bruce ("Mission Impossible") Geller. Originally it was a show that hinged on the friction between a modern (they have a computer!) detective agency ("INTERTECT") and it's star employee from the old school of private eye-ism6, Joe Mannix. And this is what this Season One box set covers.

You still get the awesome guy-ness of Mike Connors, but without the cool secretary Gail Fisher, which is a minus. I think, ultimately after the first season they must have realized that the pull was Mannix punching some lowlife's lights out and not a study of the resistance to modernization as seen through the prism of the private eye genre. This is just a guess, as Joseph Campanella is a fine character actor and does good work here with what he's given, as Joe's boss at the agency, Lew Wickersham. I just think the creators decided to go with the main character in a place he would flourish, on his own, running his own business.

"Mannix" was a solid ratings grabber every year it was on and was only taken off the air, because of a network crack down on violence on television. I guess "The Six Million Dollar Man", which premiered the year before "Mannix" went off the air, didn't qualify as violent since it involved a cyborg beating up foreign spies, aliens and Bigfoot.

Here are some great TV Guide covers from the run of this terrific seventies show...

Mannix be trippin' yo.

I like this one as it shows that Mannix was possibly extraterrestrial in nature.

For more info and a couple of great articles on the struggle to get this thing on dvd, please check 2 great articles written by Neely Tucker at The Washington Post here and here.

Read the articles, watch the dvds. It's time well spent.

1. Transcript courtesy of "The most official unofficial Stan Freberg Website" and Freberg's own autobiography "It Only Hurts When I Laugh" . So don't sue.

2. Columbo! Recognize! Holla!

3. And I thought to myself, "Oh, that's what the 14-yr old girls in LA are saying this year. Good to know... good information."

4. Love that name! ;>

5. Oh, y'think?

6. Real word. Look it up.

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