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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Frank Sinatra - The Golden Years Collection



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#1 of 1 Ken_McAlinden

Ken_McAlinden

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  • 6,065 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 20 2001
  • Real Name:Kenneth McAlinden
  • LocationLivonia, MI USA

Posted June 03 2008 - 07:07 AM

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Frank Sinatra - The Golden Years Collection
The Tender Trap(1955), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Some Came Running (1958), None but the Brave(1965), Marriage on the Rocks (1965)

The Films

The Tender Trap (1955 - MGM - 111 minutes)

Directed By: Charles Walters

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, David Wayne, Celeste Holm

In The Tender Trap Frank Sinatra plays successful theatrical agent and confirmed bachelor Charlie Y. Reader. Charlie is visited in his Manhattan bachelor pad by his old friend Joe McCall (Wayne) who is experiencing a rough patch in his marriage. Joe is amazed by Charlie's ability to juggle multiple lady friends, but is amused to see Charlie drop all of his balls when he encounters talented young singer Julie Gillis (Reynolds). Marriage-minded Julie has her future planned to the last detail, and good-time Charlie is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by her. Meanwhile Joe finds himself increasingly drawn to Charlie's musician friend, Sylvia (Holm).

As a film, The Tender Trap does not really do much to transcend its stage origins. Charlie's incredibly spacious bachelor pad is clearly designed with CinemaScope in mind, but is also reminiscent of a theater stage. This is further emphasized by the fact that at least half the film seems to take place in this location, and the camera angles generally keep things limited to three out of four walls.

While at its heart a comedy with dramatic elements, the comic aspects are not snappy enough to keep things moving. The humor will land even flatter to modern audiences since a lot of the attempts at male-female observational humor will seem hopelessly dated. That never stopped a Hepburn-Tracey film from being entertaining, though, so one cannot blame everything on the era the film was made. Sinatra is a much better actor than he was in the 40s, but he never generates much chemistry with Reynolds. Wayne and Holm actually make a more interesting pairing, but as supporting players asked to both wryly comment on the happenings of the main plot and to carry a somewhat angst-ridden forbidden love subplot, they cannot quite save the film. Reynolds' character walks the fine line between cute eccentric and mentally disturbed individual. She occasionally finds herself on the wrong side of that line, although it appears to be due more to screenplay and directing decisions than her performance.

If the film is not exactly timeless, the opening and closing title sequences are. They feature Sinatra singing the title tune over the opening titles and the cast reprising it over the closing credits.

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955 – Otto Preminger Films - 119 minutes)

Directed By: Otto Preminger

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin

Sinatra stars as heroin addict Frankie Machine who has recently returned to his old neighborhood after a stint in prison that included rehab. Determined to stay off the junk and pursue a legitimate career as a musician, Frankie finds himself sliding back into old habits under pressure from his excessively needy wife, Zosch (Parker), who has been faking an injury confining herself to a wheelchair, his former boss, Scwiefka (Strauss), who wants to entice him back into dealing poker, and the dapper local drug pusher, Louie (McGavin), who is always ready to offer Frankie a fix. On the positive side, Frankie's good hearted but crooked pal, Sparrow (Stang), tries to look out for him with limited success, and neighbor Molly (Novak) offers encouragement and support that just might save him.

Premiering in the USA only 6 weeks after The Tender Trap, The Man with the Golden Arm showed a very different side of Sinatra as an actor and was highly controversial at the time of its release. The film was director Otto Preminger's second consecutive film to be released without Motion Picture Production Code approval. While both this film and its predecessor, The Moon is Blue seem relatively tame by modern standards, Preminger was addressing issues like heroin use more directly than most mainstream filmmakers would for at least another decade.

Seeing a 1950s film which follows many of the conventions of the Hollywood cinema of that era taking on the subject of drug use so frankly is a somewhat disorienting experience. If an audience member has not seen very many 1950s films, this one will seem dated in much the same way as other films from the era would. On the other hand, if the viewer is an aficionado of 1950s Hollywood product, the brassy jazz score and frank depiction of heroin use will seem strangely incongruous with the acting, cinematography, and production design styles of the era.

In any case, it is an important entry in Sinatra's film-acting resume. An extended sequence where his character goes through the agony of heroin withdrawal is largely responsible for his second Oscar nomination. Sinatra was nominated in the "Best Actor" Category, but wound up losing out to Ernest Borgnine in Marty (Sgt. Fatso's revenge!). Coupled with her role in Picnic from earlier in the same year, Kim Novak's performance as the somewhat tarnished angel on Frankie's shoulder demonstrated tremendous growth as an actress and established her as something more than just another stacked blonde bombshell. On the page, the role of Frankie's troubled wife, Zosch, must have seemed like a plumb one for generating awards interest. Unfortunately, Eleanor Parker under Preminger's direction miscalculates by overplaying her neuroses rather severely. Arnold Stang's likeable lowlife sidekick character is similarly cartoony, but strangely likeable.

Some Came Running (1958 - MGM – 137 minutes)

Directed By: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin, Martha Hyer, Arthur Kennedy, Nancy Gates, Leora Dana, Betty Lou Keim

Adapted from the mammoth second novel from James Jones, Some Came Running tells a story of turmoil under the calm veneer of a small Indiana town. When author Dave Hirsch (Sinatra) is discharged from the Army after World War II, he goes on a bender that results in his being placed unconsciously by his buddies on a bus bound for his childhood home of Parkman, Indiana. Tagging along with him is devoted but none too bright good time girl Ginnie (MacLaine), who decides to stay in town and get a job at the local brassiere factory. Dave's estranged brother Frank (Kennedy), a wealthy prominent citizen of the town, is none too happy to see him back in town, but tries to make nice in order to keep up appearances. Dave befriends a laid back gambler, 'Bama (Martin), and attempts to romance a local schoolteacher, Gwen (Hyer), who is a fan of his one published novel. Pride, hidden shames, and the desire to maintain the appearance of propriety result in conflicts and missed opportunities all around.

In 1958, Vincente Minnelli won the Academy Award for best Director for Gigi. My personal opinion is that the right director received the award for the wrong movie. While Minnelli will forever be remembered for the string of elaborately staged musicals he directed for the Arthur Freed unit at MGM from the mid 1940s through the early 1960s, many of his best films made during that era were dramas such as The Bad and the Beautiful, The Clock, and Some Came Running.

As with the 1953 adaptation of James Jones' first novel, From Here to Eternity, that signaled Sinatra's film acting renaissance, the source novel's content had to be significantly toned down in order to satisfy the Motion Picture Production Code. Also as was the case, this adaptation successfully navigates through the novel's themes despite those restraints. The film manages to be an examination of post-war masculinity with themes of small-town hypocrisy without ever hitting the audience over the head with the themes and symbols (okay, the jealous hood from Chicago crosses the line from archetype to stereotype, but that's a relatively small role and the exception rather than the rule). Known as a color stylist, Minnelli in collaboration with Art Directors William Horning and Urie McCleary and Cinematographer William Daniels, adapts a relatively restrained palette for most of the film, focusing instead on creating depth with the use of light and shadow. For the climactic sequence in the final reel, however, Minnelli and his collaborators release an explosion of color that is all the more effective due to the restraint shown previously.

Sinatra gives one of the best performances of his career, immersing himself in his character enough to somehow overcome his lack of facility with dialects so that one never questions why this small-town midwestern boy grew up to speak with a New Jersey accent. Dean Martin is well cast as 'Bama, using his charm and easy camaraderie with Sinatra like a sugar coating over a progressively more evident bitter streak of misogyny. Perennial Oscar "bridesmaid" Arthur Kennedy deservedly received his fifth and final nomination for his role as Sinatra's façade-maintaining older brother, and Shirley MacLaine all but steals the picture in the role of dim but devoted Ginnie, and received her first of what to date is a string of five Best Actress Oscar nominations for her efforts.

None but the Brave(1965 – Sinatra Enterprises/Toho/Warner Bros. - 106 minutes)

Directed By: Frank Sinatra

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Tatsuya Mihashi, Clint Walker, Tommy Sands, Brad Dexter, Takeshi Katô

In None But the Brave a US Naval transport plane is shot down over a remote Pacific Island during World War II. The only residents of the island are a small contingent of Japanese soldiers who have been left behind as battles have moved on to more strategically important locales. With the help of an ethically flexible Corpsman Medic (Sinatra) the seasoned Naval transport pilot, Captain Dennis Bourke (Walker), assumes command when it appears that 2nd Lieutenant Blair (Sands), a hot-headed newly minted officer, is hell bent on sending the Marines who survived the crash into a risky firefight. In the meantime, Lt. Kuroki (Mihashi), the ranking Japanese officer, must similarly reign in a gung-ho subordinate, Sgt. Tamura (Katô), as he hatches a plan to shield their resources and disguise their small numbers from the US Marines. Eventually, the two sides come to an uneasy arrangement to share the island's resources freely, with each side recognizing that the truce will be broken the moment either side re-establishes communication with their command forces or otherwise serves a strategic purpose in their country's war efforts.

As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, Sinatra consistently remained among the biggest figures in American entertainment, and was usually the most significant force behind the films in which he appeared. Increasingly, he would make less ambitious, but still commercially successful films, frequently with his "Rat Pack" buddies. His influence and financial success led to his launching the Reprise record label in the early 60s, and by the time of None But the Brave, he was producing films under the shingle of "Sinatra Enterprises".

It is easy to see what attracted Sinatra to this project. The story has all of the elements of an action packed box-office blockbuster with enough inherent philosophical subtext to make it a potentially prestigious critical success as well. Unfortunately, the Devil is in the details, and quite a few of the details of this film are a mess. Even if the film had not fallen victim to some very poor dialog heavy on exposition and narration, a couple of unnecessary flashbacks that bog down its final acts, and a tendency to preach to the audience in order to hammer home otherwise obvious thematic points, it would have been completely sunk by the awesomely bad jut-jawed one note performance of Tommy Sands. Sands, who was Sinatra's son-in-law at the time of the film's production, makes about a half dozen bad choices as an actor in his first scene and then keeps re-making the same bad choices all throughout the film. In the face of some serious competition, I believe I can safely say that this is the worst performance as a Marine Officer in the history of American cinema.

Marriage on the Rocks (1965 – Sinatra Enterprises/Warner Bros. - 109 minutes)

Directed By: Jack Donohoe

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Deborah Kerr, Dean Martin, Cesar Romero, Hermione Baddeley, Tony Bill, John McGiver, Nancy Sinatra, Michael Petit

Frank Sinatra plays successful advertising executive Dan Edwards. Dan has been married for several years to his wife, Valerie (Kerr), and they live in a swanky home with teenaged daughter Tracy (Nancy Sinatra), young son David (Petit), and Valerie's stereotypically Scottish mother Jeannie. Dan has become so comfortable in his life that he invites his confirmed bachelor pal and employee Ernie Brewer (Martin) over to watch a fight on the evening of their wedding anniversary. For her part, Valerie is tired of being taken for granted, and has been talking to attorneys about the possibility of divorce. A getaway to Mexico designed to reignite the spark between them leads to farcical chaos thanks to the efficient work of quickie marriage and even "quickier" divorce specialist attorney Miguel Santos (Romero). Dan finds himself accidentally single and carefree Ernie finds himself accidentally married to Valerie.

If the above plot sounds like an episode of a sitcom, then I am making it sound too complex. Nobody attempts to do very much with this film, but then again, nobody does anything all that terrible either. With its utterly predictable plot, dated attitude towards the battle of the sexes, and pronounced lack of ambition, the only thing that makes the film a must view for modern Sinatra fans is the opportunity to see him go-go dancing at a swinging 60s club with a girl in a cage. Other than that, Dean Martin may not be trying too hard, but he manages to steal the picture playing a variation on his public persona. His bachelor bad is an awesome piece of production design.

Look for DeForest Kelly in a small role as an auto executive getting a pitch for an ad campaign from Sinatra in the middle of the film. I believe this is the only non-Western role in which I have seen him predating his appearance on Star Trek. For fans of 1960s pop, Trini López performs There was a Sinner Man in an early club scene.

The Video

The 16:9 enhanced presntation of The Man with the Golden Arm, "rescued" from the public domain by a deal between Warner Bros. and the estate of Otto Preminger, looks better than any previous DVD version I have seen in terms of contrast and sharpness, although the element used has some noticeable nicks and quite a few vertical scratches, particularly in the first reel. It also appears slightly overmatted at 16:9.

As far as the two 2.55:1 CinemaScope titles, there are no apparent transfer, compression, or video artifact issues with these 16:9 enhanced transfers. The Tender Trap has that somewhat smeared early Eastman Color look to it with slightly salmon colored flesh tones amplified by the extremely bright high key lighting used throughout the film. Some Came Running replicates the arty cinematography well, is a little on the soft side, but otherwise looks very nice.

Of the two 2.35:1 Panavision titles from 1965, None But the Brave looks just about perfect with natural but not excessive film grain and nice shadow detail. Marriage on the Rocks is similarly very sharp, but carries a bit more noticeable film grain and suffers from occasional edge ringing. Both are properly enhanced for 16:9 televisions.

The Audio

The Tender Trap gets a 5.1 remix that sounds quite good. The mix is appropriately conservative given the source material, but offers nice fidelity with little noise or artifacts. None But the Brave is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (no surround flag). The stereo separation is fairly minor, and the dynamic range is limited. I was actually more impressed by the Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track for Marriage on the Rocks which sounds like it was sourced from a high quality magnetic tape source. The only audio blemish is some audible "pops" during the Trini López musical number, probably an artifact of the source recording of the song. The Man with the Golden Arm is presented with a 1.0 mono track that is a big improvement over the fake stereo 5.1 track that was included on the best of the previous public domain releases, but it is still somewhat limited in fidelity. Some Came Running also receives a DD 1.0 mono track that overall is quite strong, although not quite as smooth sounding as Marriage on the Rocks.

All titles in this collection come with English SDH subtitles. The Man with the Golden Arm also includes French subtitles while The Tender Trap, Some Came Running, and Marriage on the Rocks add both French and Portuguese subtitles.

Unless you understand Japanese, there is a significant issue with the subtitles for None But the Brave. The sections of the film focusing on the Japanese soldiers are spoken entirely in the Japanese language. Unfortunately, there is no automatic or selectable subtitle stream that translates only these sections. The only way for non-Japanese speaking viewers to understand what is being said during these sections is to turn on the English SDH subtitle stream, which also provides titles and captions for audio effects during the English language portions of the film. It appears that the disc producers decided to eschew burned in subtitles to save a couple of generations of film deterioration, but neglected to encode or include the necessary subtitle stream.

The Extras

While the concurrently released Frank Sinatra – The Early Years Collection neglected to include a single bonus feature, I was pleased to find that …The Classic Years Collection included theatrical trailers for all titles plus some informative featurettes.

The Tender Trap includes a featurette called Frank in the Fifties that is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and runs fifteen minutes and 56 seconds. It reviews his immense popularity in the 1940s, the film musicals he made during that period, his conflict with Louis B. Mayer, his personal and professional nadir in the early 1950s, his comeback with From Here to Eternity and Capitol Records, his new persona, and his fondness in both film acting and recording for spontaneity and minimal takes. Interviews are mixed with archival footage and stills, although, as is the case with all of the newly produced featurettes in this collection, no music or film clips outside of what Warner has in their vaults were licensed. Interview participants include UCLA Film Professor Jonathan Kuntz, Rolling Stone Magazine Writer David Wild, Friend and Co-Star Debbie Reynolds, Friend and Columnist James Bacon, Rolling Stone Magazine Film Critic Peter Travers, USC Film Professor Drew Casper, NYU Film Professor Dana Polan, Author and Film Historian Joe McElhaney, Writer and Musician David Finck, and former Sinatra Drummer Ndugu Chancler.

The Theatrical Trailer for The Tender Trap is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound and runs two minutes and 29 seconds. It promises "Four Fabulous Funsters in CinemaScope and Gay Color". It looked like Eastman Color to me. Posted Image

The Man with the Golden Arm includes a featurette entitled Shoot Up, Shoot Out: The Story Behind "The Man with the Golden Arm". It is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and runs nineteen minutes and 27 seconds. Topics covered include the film's cutting edge jazzy score by Elmer Bernstein and title sequence by Saul Bass, the success and controversy experienced by Otto Preminger with The Moon is Blue, Preminger's autocratic reputation, the casting of Sinatra, the relationship between Sinatra and Preminger, Sinatra's Performance, Kim Novak's Performance, the restraint shown by Preminger and Sinatra to accommodate Novak, the cold turkey scene, Preminger standing up to the censors as evidenced by the film's lack of Production Code seal, and the film's box-office success. Interview participants include Travers, Otto Preminger's Daughter Victoria Preminger, "Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King" Author Foster Hirsch, Casper, Kuntz, Elmer Bernstein's son Peter Bernstein, UCLA Film Professor Jan-Christopher Horak, and Bacon. It also includes archival interview clips of Saul Bass and Otto Preminger from the Preminger: Anatomy of a Filmmmaker documentary.

The Theatrical Trailer for The Man with the Golden Arm is presented in 4:3 video and runs two minutes and thirteen seconds. It consists of film clips overlaid with bits of the film's Bernstein score and Saul Bass graphics.

Some Came Running includes the featurette Small Town Big Picture: The Story of "Some Came Running" which is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and runs 20 minutes and 35 seconds. Topics covered include the film's context of 1950s America, Vincente Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, the contrasting personal and professional styles of the director and star, on-Set conflict and mutual capitulation, the film's attitude towards middle America, the Indiana location work, the film's representations of postwar masculine identities, Shirley MacLaine's performance, Dean Martin's performance, Minelli's use of CinemaScope and his shooting style, a technical and thematic dissection of the carnival sequence, the change made to the original ending, and a second hand account of Sinatra's retrospective thoughts on his performance. Interview participants include Polan, Kuntz, Casper, Travers, and McElhoney.

The Theatrical Trailer for Some Cane Running is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound and runs three minutes and 50 seconds. The portentious voiceover promises "A Bold Panorama of Adult Emotions"

The only extra on the None But the Brave DVD is the film's Theatrical Trailer which is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound and runs four minutes and 21 seconds. The only thing remarkable about it is that it opens with some unique promotional footage of Sinatra on set making a few scripted comments.

The only extra on the Marriage on the Rocks DVD is the film's Theatrical Trailer which is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound and manages to give away nearly the entire plot of the movie in only three minutes and 42 seconds. On the one hand, this may seem like a spoiler, on the other hand, the viewer can gather every essential detail of the movie include a clip of Sinatra go-go dancing while avoiding the remaining the additional hour and three-quarters of tedium.


Packaging

The DVDs are presented in standard Amaray-style cases with no inserts. Cover images for each case feature photographs of Sinatra, sometimes with the other stars of the films rather than the more common WB approach of vintage poster art. The five individual hard cases are in turn packaged in a box of thin cardboard with glossy graphics featuring a head shot of Sinatra. Improving on the presentation of Frank Sinatra – The Early Years Collection, all of the films have a generous number of chapter stops as well as disc-based chapter menus.

Summary

Frank Sinatra – The Golden Years Collection presents an overall better set of films than Frank Sinatra – The Early Years Collection, although there are still a couple of duds of interest only to the most hard core of "Sinatraphiles". Even casual fans should at a minimum check out The Man with the Golden Arm and Some Came Running for two of Sinatra's better performances given in two very good films by two iconic Hollywood directors. Audio video presentations are uniformly good, although there are a lot of nicks and scratches on the otherwise excellent presentation of The Man with the Golden Arm and there is a subtitling issue with the Japanese language portions of None but the Brave. Trailers are included for all films, and there are three brief but informative newly produced featurettes on the oldest three titles in the set.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA