title

TELEVISION SPECIALS II
I - II

NOTE: This page will finish out the available Reprise era specials, from Frank's concert at Royal Festival Hall to his big comeback special Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back to The Main Event as well as a few DVDs which have only appeared in Europe and Japan.  I'll also document a few odds and ends which have made their way onto the market in the past few years, from biographies to clip shows, and some direct-to-dvd releases that have occasionally popped up.


Frank Sinatra: In Concert At Royal Festival Hall (1971)
Wea/Waner Brothers;
DVD Released June 8, 1999,
50 min.
 

 
Songs Include:
You Make Me Feel So Young,
Pennies from Heaven,
I've Got You Under My Skin,
Something,
The Lady is a Tramp,
I Get Along Without You Very Well,
Didn't We,
One for My Baby,
I Will Drink the Wine,
I Have Dreamed,
My Kind of Town,
My Way

REVIEW:  A typical Sinatra concert for this time period, with Frank not in the best voice, not giving a complete knock-out performance, but still he fills each song with drama and covers his various mishaps with practiced ease and humor.  This particular concert was a black-tie charity event benefitting The National Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and hosted by Princess Grace of Monacco (filling in for HRH Princess Margaret).  Frank seems a little off his game at this event, fluffing the timing on "I've Got You Under My Skin" and having trouble remembering the lyrics - some of which he manages to cover well, others more apparently blown, but the songs are mostly top-notch, with several classics from his songbook leading the way, featuring Nelson Riddle's arrangement on "I Get Along Without You Very Well" and Gordon Jenkin's lovely setting of "One For My Baby".  He also squeezes in Lenny Hayton's arrangement of George Harrison's "Something", which works very well for Frank; it's a song that he really sells here.  The one true clunker of the evening is "I Will Drink The Wine", which hearkens back to Frank's sad experiments in tapping into the hippie/love era music, which Frank was never suited for.  He finishes the set with what was becoming a tradition for him: closing each concert with the bombast of "My Kind Of Town" and the powerhouse "My Way".  To my ears, I much preferred when Frank stepped out of the spotlight after the song "Angel Eyes", but many fans love this era and the song, so who am I to argue?  A good concert by the mature Sinatra.


Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back (1973)
Wea/Warner Brothers;
DVD Released June 8, 1999,
50 min.

 

Songs include:
You Will Be My Music,
I Get a Kick Out of You,
Street of Dreams,
I've Got You Under My Skin,
I've Got the World on a String,

Medley: Last Night
When We Were Young/
Violets for Your Furs/
Here's That Rainy Day,

Medley (Frank & Gene):
We Can't Do That Anymore/
Take Me Out to the Ball Game/
For Me and My Gal/
Private Skinny,

Nice and Easy (Frank & Gene),

Let Me Try Again,
Send in the Clowns,
You Will Be My Music (reprise)


REVIEW:  Retirement didn't sit well with Frank; he craved the adulation, the attention, the performing.  And on this well-executed special, Frank shows the world that he's still got the goods.  Thankfully eschewing most of the music that makes up the lamentable companion LP, Frank sticks closely to what works, with Gordon Jenkins and Don Costa leading a 40-piece orchestra, Frank starts out with a series of songs that are closely associated with him, from "I Get A Kick Out Of You", "Street Of Dreams", "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "I've Got The World On A String" it's obvious that Frank understands that his Capitol recordings are the ones that strike a chord with his audience, and he sings with conviction and aplomb.  His voice is not what it used to be - it's obvious that in his seventh decade he no longer has the supple vocal instrument that he's had in the past; but Frank makes up for it with his complete mastery of how to sing these songs. The way he'll color a note, or bend it to change the inflection has only strengthened over the years; he can still sell a song. The one guest star for the special is well-chosen: Gene Kelly, who starred with Frank in several films during the mid-to-late forties appears here to sing a somewhat disingenious song "We Can't Do That Anymore", and then Kelly does a little tap-dance while Frank sings "Nice And Easy" - it's a wonderful moment, and spotlights what this show does best: it brings Frank back by playing to his strengths as an interpreter and entertainer, it touches on the melancholy of his growing old, but doesn't mope around; Frank finishes the special by highlighting new work: a heart-rending "Send In The Clowns" and a similarly-themed "Let Me Try Again". A surprisingly effective return for Frank.


Frank Sinatra: The Main Event (1974)

Wea/Warner Brothers;
DVD Released March 9, 1999,
50 min.

 
Songs include:
Overture: It Was a Very Good Year/All the Way/My Kind of Town
The Lady Is a Tramp
I Get a Kick Out of You
Let Me Try Again (Laisse Moi le Temps)
Autumn in New York
I've Got You Under My Skin
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
Angel Eyes
You Are the Sunshine of My Life
The House I Live In
My Kind of Town
My Way

REVIEW:  Not surprisingly (for me at least) The Main Event comes off much worse on screen than it does in the recorded version. The unashamed bombast of the event is right in your face, and Frank looks puffy and old here, despite the fact that he was only fifty-nine. Seeing him in this condition, surrounded by bodyguards and hangers-on, singing in front of an audience who cares more about the presence of Sinatra than the songs he sings, gives the entire show an eerily surreal carnival air. None of this is helped by sports announcer Howard Cosell, who is so over the top in his fawning introduction that he seems to be a parody of himself. Frank's performance is hard to watch as well, as he visibly stuggles with notes and the noise of the audience (he even has to quiet them down before he can begin "Angel Eyes". Backed by the fiery Woody Herman orchestra, Frank slices and dices his way through "The Lady Is A Tramp" and "I Get A Kick Out Of You", before slowing down with the moody "Let Me Try Again", and "Autumn In New York". Perhaps the most embarassing moment for fans is Frank's cover version of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", but he's obviously having a great time singing it, despite its incongruousness here. He also tackles the contemporary "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" which comes off better, before winding the show down with the out-of-place "The House I Live In" and the slash and burn closing numbers, "My Kind Of Town" and the unrepentant "My Way". The video is pretty poor for an archival release, and the original special is also a mess, with lots of audience reaction shots, and a ludicrous opening with Frank and his team coming onto the stage like a prizefighter walking into the ring. A bloated, overheated event, which would have played better in a true concert hall than in a stadium setting.


Frank Sinatra: Sinatra And Friends (1977)
Warner Music Vision;
DVD Released September 30, 2002;
50 min.

Frank Sinatra - Sinatra And Friends...  REGION 2 ONLY
Songs include:
Where or when Sinatra and Friends
Ive got you under my skin
I get a kick out of you duet with Natalie Cole
Ive got love on my mind Natalie Cole
If I were a rich man Robert Merrill
Oldest established floating crap game duet with Dean Martin and Robert Merrill
Shes got you Loretta Lynn
All or nothing at all duet with Loretta Lynn
One Tony Bennett
My kind of town duet with Tony Bennett
I honestly love you Leslie Uggams
The lady is a tramp duet with Leslie Uggams
My sweet lady John Denver
September song duet with John Denver
Night and day
Everybody ought to be in love
Put your dreams away
Closing credits

REVIEW:  One of the countless frightening musical variety specials that were all the rage during the 1970s, Frank here is paired with guest stars who range from true "friends" to "stars" who would soon be making appearances on episodes of The Love Boat and The Muppet Show. As such, it's a hit and miss affair, with enough hits to make it worth purchasing (but only available in Europe - U.S. DVD players won't be able to decode this). It begins with a full-cast rendition of "Where Or When" with each of the guest artists taking a line of the song and Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra providing backing; it's a curious choice for an opening number, since the Rodgers and Hart song was written as a ballad, but it's a good introduction for what follows. Basically, the show alternates between Frank and the guest singing a duet, and then the guest artist getting a solo spot to plug a song, and then Frank getting to sing a three-song mini-concert at the end of the program. Of the guest stars, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, and Dean Martin come closest to matching Frank's charisma and songcraft, with Broadway and cabaret star Leslie Uggams and country-pop singer John Denver coming in a close second.  Country star Loretta Lynn is hopelessly mismatched on her duet with Frank "All Or Nothing At All", and John Denver, at the height of his popularity, proves a surprisingly adept partner, with his clear tenor voice an interesting contrast to Frank's on "September Song".  Natalie Cole, still years away from her makeover as retro-pop chanteuse, manages to give a surprisingly affinitive reading of "I Get A Kick Out Of You", presaging her own classic pop albums by several years, and Dean Martin pops in for a sloshy trio of "Oldest Established..." with blustery Bob Merrill.  Tony Bennett is pure class in his duet with Frank on "My Kind Of Town", and Frank's final solo turn is so-so, with his somewhat suspect voice limiting his readings of "Night And Day" and "Put Your Dreams Away".  This special needs to be released in the U.S. as it's worth watching.


Frank Sinatra: The First 40 Years (1979)
Warner Music Vision; 
DVD Released September 30, 2002; 
120 min.

Frank Sinatra - The First 40 Years  REGION 2 ONLY
Cast:
Frank Sinatra
 
Paul Anka  
Lucille Ball  
Tony Bennett  
Milton Berle  
Charlie Callas  
Sammy Davis Jr.  
Glenn Ford  
Cary Grant  
Harry James  
Gene Kelly  
Rich Little  
Dean Martin  
Robert Merrill  
Don Rickles  
Red Skelton  
Orson Welles  
William B. Williams  
Flip Wilson

REVIEW:  This over-long tribute, stuffed with more stars than Luigi's on a Saturday night, served a couple of purposes when it first aired on NBC: First, it was a celebration of Frank's career in show biz for forty years (counting from 1939, I guess); it was Frank's sixty-fourth birthday; He received the ASCAP's 1st Pied Piper Award for service to lyricists, and finally was presented a special Grammy Trustees' Award. Whew! Well, I guess I'm glad this was all taken care of on one 2-hour special rather than broken up into four different events, but seriously, who would want to watch this? It's nothing more than an excuse to trot out the roster of guest stars, some of whom are legends (Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis Jr., Glenn Ford, Cary Grant, and Gene Kelly) as well as lesser lights like Paul Anka, Rich Little, Robert Merrill, Don Rickles and Red Skelton; and then there's the names that don't ring any bells with me: Harry James? William B. Williams? Charlie Callas? and what is Flip Wilson doing here? But this is nothing more than a clip show of many of Frank's career highs, with Frank soaking it all in with good grace and all the humility he can muster - and you can always count on Don Rickles to throw a barb or two, and Dean Martin tries to be on his best behavior (not really), but mostly it's just two hours of speeches, broken up by film clips and tributes. Ugh.



Frank Sinatra: The Man and His Music with the Count Basie Orchestra (1981) WEA/Warner Brothers;
DVD Released September 21, 1999,
50 min.


 

Or buy from Amazon.co.uk:
The Man and His Music (1981)
Songs Include:
(This is a) Lovely Way to Spend an Evening [Instrumental]
Nice 'n' Easy
The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else
Pennies from Heaven
I Loved Her
The Girl from Ipanema
At Long Last Love
Something
Monday Morning Quarterback
The Best is Yet to Come
(We Had a) Good Thing Going
Say Hello
I Get a Kick Out of You
Theme from "New York, New York"
Thanks for the Memory

REVIEW:  Who knew that a lousy preposition would leave this little DVD out in the cold for so many years?  For a long time, I assumed that this title was the same as Sinatra: A Man and His Music, rather than the separate 1981 television event that it was.  Essentially a review of Sinatra's Reprise-era recordings up to that point, THE Man and His Music makes quick work of a baker's dozen of Sinatra's most recent tunes, with special emphasis on She Shot Me Down, and accompanied by Count Basie and his powerhouse orchestra.  Despite what other reviews have said about this special, I found a lot to like about it, beginning with it's emphasis on the singer and the songs, rather than any "special guest artists" - this is just Frank, on an ornate staircase set, singing live with the band, and putting as much gusto into each number as he can muster, which, in 1981, was still formidable.  Anyone who can watch Frank belt out  Theme from "New York, New York" and not be wowed has got rocks for heartstrings, and similar sentiments can be stated for his in-the-pocket readings of "The Girl I Love Belongs To Somebody Else", "Something" "The Best Is Yet To Come" and particularly, a loose, ultra-swung version of "I Get A Kick Out Of You."   Vocally, Sinatra is very strong here, with the odd exception of two numbers: " I Loved Her" sounds very rough, as though it were the last number recorded - and Frank wobbles noticably on both pitch and power, while one of my favorite tracks from Sinatra and Swingin' Brass, "At Long Last Love" feels like Frank doesn't lock into the melody until a good third of the way in (in fact, it seems like he's not singing the melody at all - but a sort of sub-melodic line in its place).  The lack of an audience is a little disconcerting, as each number is met with resounding silence, but overall, I enjoyed the intimacy and immediacy of this show, and if you, like me, have been overlooking this late-period gem, I highly recommend it to you.   Keep watching through the credits, as the orchestra, as if in recompense for the lack of applause, gives Frank a standing ovation.


Concert For The Americas (1982)

Warner Music Vision;
DVD Released September 30, 2002,
86 min.
 

Frank Sinatra - Concert For The Americas  REGION 2 ONLY
Songs include:
01.- Introduction
02.- Ive Got The World On A String
03.- I Get A Kick Out Of You
04.- Come Rain Or Come Shine
05.- When Your Lover Has Gone
06.- The Lady Is A Tramp
07.- Sinatra Speaks about America
08.- The House I Live In
09.- Buddy Rich - Prologue / Jet Song (from West Side Story)
10.- Searching
11.- My Kind Of Town
12.- Something
13.- The Best Is Yet To Come
14.- Strangers in The Night
15.- All Or Nothing At All
16.- Band Introductions
17.- The Gal That Got Away / It Never Entered My Mind
18.- Ive Got You Under My Skin
19.- Send In The Clowns - Featuring Tony Mottola on guitar
20.- I Wont Dance/Theme From New York, New York

REVIEW:  Recorded in the Domincan Republic when Sinatra was sixty-six years old, this concert stands as one of Frank's finest latter-day concerts. Backed by the Buddy Rich orchestra which is directed by Vincent Falcone, Jr. (although Buddy is featured on a spectacular drum solo halfway through the set), the set is a dream, with some of Sinatra's signature tunes delivered with an energy and panache that shows that The Chairman of the Board was still willing to pull out all the plugs. Part of the energy comes from the band, who eschew a string section, giving each number a hard-edged punchiness in the brass and percussion which really rocks the house on the swing numbers, like the swaggering "My Kind Of Town" or "The Lady Is A Tramp", and especially are powerful on the closing numbers - the authoritative stance of "(Theme From) New York, New York" shows Frank at the top of his game. He's good here vocally as well, from the blue mood of "Something" (which suffers a bit from the lack of a string section) or the fine medley of "The Gal That Got Away/It Never Entered My Mind", to Frank's wonderfully morose rendition of "Send In The Clowns". But one of my favorite moments has to be the surprise inclusion of West Side Story's "Jet Song" which follows Buddy Rich's 10-minute-long drum solo - Frank rips into the song with a bite and joy which makes me wish that he had committed this particular song to vinyl. It's a dream of a concert, and Warner Home Video needs somebody to tap them on the arm and release this DVD in the States, where it belongs. (Hello? Concert For The Americas... released only in Europe? Hello?) Almost worth buying a multi-region player for.


Sinatra In Japan: Live At The Budokan Arena, Tokyo (1985)
Warner Music Vision;
DVD Released January 28, 2002,
70 min.

Frank Sinatra - Sinatra In Japan  REGION 2 ONLY
Songs Include:
1. Introduction / Instrumental Medley
2. The Lady is a Tramp
3. Fly me to the Moon
4. My Way
5. I've Got You Under My Skin
6. Something
7. I Get a Kick Out of You
8. My Kind of Town
9. Someone to Watch Over me
10. All or Nothing at All
11. Mack the Knife
12. Luck be a Lady
13. L.A. is My Lady
14. Strangers in the Night
15. Come Rain or Come Shine
16. Pennies From Heaven
17. One for my Baby
18. Theme From New York, New York
19. You Are There - Instrumental

REVIEW:  At this fine concert filmed when Sinatra was seventy years old, a fit, focused Frank takes the stage at the Budokan Arena, which, although in setting it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to The Main Event, this concert is much preferable to that one, in both performance and set list.  In 1985, it had been eleven years since Frank's last appearance in Japan, and although Frank uses humor that would be considered insensitive today (referring to himself as "Ol' Rue Eyes" and to "Luck Be A Lady" as 'Ruck Be A Rady' in front of the predominently Asian audience) he doesn't say it in a mean-spirited way, simply as a cultural bias that was the norm at the time.  His voice is also not in great shape, leading him to speak some lines of songs rather than sing them, but Frank is such a fine performer that even these lapses are forgiveable.  After a lengthy orchestral introduction which presents several of his signature songs in medley form (including My Way/I Get a Kick out of You/Young at Heart/Nancy/This Heart of Mine/High Hopes/I've Got You Under My Skin/My Kind of Town/All the Way/Strangers in the Night), Sinatra enters the stage to sing an electric version of "The Lady Is A Tramp".  He's accompanied throughout the show by a hot orchestra, led by Joe Parnello, and featuring jazz guitarist Tony Mottola, and drummer Irv Cottler.  Among the highlights are Quincy Jones' arrangements of "Fly Me To The Moon" and "Pennies From Heaven", Nelson Riddle's charts on "Something" and "I've Got You Under My Skin".  But the entire concert is a triumphant return to Japan for Sinatra, and it's obvious that he still is giving it all for his adoring fans.


Judy, Frank & Dean: Once In A Lifetime (1962) 
Kulter Entertainment;
DVD Released November 19, 2002,
50 min.

 

Songs Include:
1. Introductory Theme
2. Just In Time
3. When You're Smiling
4. You Do Something To Me
5. Too Marvellous For Words
6. You Do Something To Me
7. You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby
8. You Do Something To Me
9. One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else
10. I Can't Give You Anything But Love
11. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves you
12. You Made Me Love You
13. Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody
14. Swanee
15. Closing Theme


REVIEW:  This is the same television special which was captured on the On The Air CD release reviewed elsewhere on this site, the occasion being Judy Garland's short-lived television show, and the inclusion of Frank and Dean as guest stars.  For this DVD release, the unfortunate decision was made to 'colorize' the picture, with distracting results, but on the plus side, the audio has been remixed into stereo, which is a nice addition.  The show itself is a marvel to watch, with Judy Garland fresh from her 1961 triumph at Carnegie Hall, and even if you don't care much for her voice in later years, you've gotta admit she really knows how to sell a song.  From the easy patter of "Just In Time" to the smooth seduction of "You Do Something To Me" - this is Judy showing herself the equal of any performer who ever lived, with a powerful set of pipes which by this time could growl or blast like a trumpet blare.  Sinatra is the first guest on, and the obviously scripted patter gives way to a marvelous performance of "Too Marvellous For Words" which Frank sings holding a cigarette in one hand and giving a knock-out reading of the song with a loose, easy manner.  Judy reprises "You Do Something To Me" to introduce Dean Martin, who takes the stage to sing a slushy version of "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby", and then Frank & Dean team up for a fun, Rat Pack take on "The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else" leaving the rest of the show to be performed by Judy, who does show-stopping versions of her concert repetoire: "You Made Me Love You", "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby (With A Dixie Melody)", and "Swanee". This kind of music/variety show is a wonder to watch, and the star power involved here is spectacular - I just wish more care had been given to the presentation of the video. Added as a bonus feature is a brief biography/discography of Judy Garland.


Frank Sinatra: Off The Record (1965) 
Twentieth Century Fox;
VHS Released August 25, 1998,
60 min.


 

Cast:
Frank Sinatra
Walter Cronkite
Gordon Jenkins, et al.

Features:
A candid behind-the-scenes look at Frank Sinatra, as he talks about his career, milestones, and twenty-five-year presence in show business.  Includes a 10-minute segment of Frank in the recording studio.


REVIEW:  CBS scored a real coup when it approached Frank Sinatra and asked if they could conduct an exclusive one-on-one interview with the legend.  Frank was notoriously leery of the press, and also extremely touchy about revealing much of his personal life, but given the sincerity and credentials of Walter Cronkite, who was labelled "the most trusted man in America" - Frank gave his consent, and this video chronicles one of the rare moments when Frank drew back the curtain on his life and allowed fans a peek.  Sinatra was at the time in his forty-ninth year, and was in the process of creating the seminal album September Of My Years, and interspersed with filmed performances of signature songs ("You Make Me Feel So Young", "I've Got You Under My Skin", and "Luck Be A Lady Tonight") Frank sits down with Cronkite and shows himself to be a self-effacing, serious, and occasionally harsh self-critic, but with doses of his brash confidence and humor peeking through.  The performances and interview are both revealing, showing Frank as an artist completely committed to the music, throwing himself into each song as if it were the first time he were performing it, and showing the work that went into what appeared in the final product as effortless ease.  Most interesting in the extended look into the recording studio, as Frank allowed cameras into the creation of one of September Of My Years classic songs, "It Was A Very Good Year".  This ten-minute long journey with Frank as he records live in the studio with Gordon Jenkins conducting the orchestra is a one-of-a-kind experience as we see Frank take charge of the session, even stopping a take when he hears a single violin hit a "clam" (a wrong note).  His professionalism and intensity make this video a real gem, and worthwhile watching for any affeciando of popular music.  VHS only


Sinatra: The Best Is Yet To Come - The Definitive Look at the Greatest Entertainer of Our Time (1990)
MGM Entertainment [VHS];
Released May 4, 1999,
80 min.


best is yet to come
 
DETAILS:
  • Offically sanctioned tribute celebrating Sinatra's 90th birthday.
  • Features previously unseen concert and personal film clips.
  • Tributes by Roger Moore, Robert Wagner, Tony Bennet, Perry Como, George Burns, and more.

REVIEW:  An OK tribute special, filled with the usual "stars" heaping effusive praise on Frank, this nearly 90-minute tribute won't ring many bells with viewers except for the interwoven clips of Frank performing live in concert in front of a star-filled audience.  Frank's in fine form, even though this is one of his latter-day concerts - he looks occasionally blank while he's performing, but he clearly is having a good time, as is the audience.  But intercut between these live outtakes are several long, dry stretches with various co-stars and hangers-on boasting about their relationships with Frank.  Some are justified: a frail-looking Gene Kelly doesn't so much talk about Frank as narrate as various clips from Frank's film dances fill the screen.  Shirley Maclaine is a riot in her tongue-in-cheek reminiscences, and George Burns gets off a few hoary jokes at Frank's expense (what else is new?)  But then you have other stars, such as Robert Wagner, and Tom Selleck (who uses the time to plug his TV series Magnum P.I.), and the droll Roger Moore acting as a wooden master of ceremonies.  The film clips are nothing special; mostly taken from Frank's various television and film appearances, and nothing here is excerpted at length - we just get glimpses - so the main event of this video is the live concert, which is fun - even though you have to hit the fast forward button on your VCR Player to get to the good stuff.  It's all very dry and reverential, which is what you should expect from an "officially sanctioned" tribute.


Sinatra: The Miniseries (1992)
Warner Brothers Television;
VHS Released December 10, 1992,
DVD Released May 18, 2008;
250 min.

 

 
Cast:
Philip Casnoff ....  Frank Sinatra
Olympia Dukakis ....  Dolly Sinatra
Joe Santos ....  Marty Sinatra
Gina Gershon ....  Nancy Barbato Sinatra
Nina Siemaszko ....  Mia Farrow
Joe Grifasi ....  George Evans
Marcia Gay Harden ....  Ava Gardner
Bob Gunton ....  Tommy Dorsey
David Raynr ....  Sammy Davis Jr.
Ralph Seymour ....  Budd
Andrew Bloch  
Robin Gammell  
Jeff Corey ....  Quinlin
Danny Gans ....  Dean Martin
Vincent Guastaferro ....  Hank Sanicola
James F. Kelly ....  John F. Kennedy
Matthew Posey ....  Harry James
Jay Robinson ....  Major Bowes

REVIEW:  A surprisingly unflinching look at the life and career of Frank Sinatra, taking over four hours to tell his life story, this is a fine tele-film, produced by Frank's daughter Tina, and using the original music from Frank's career.  In short, the producers did it right.  Philip Casnoff as Frank is very good, mimicking Frank's voice and mannerisms without ever falling into parody or hysterical over-playing.  Olympia Dukakis is her usual radiant self as Frank's tough Italian-to-the-bone mother, and the film takes the story from early in Frank's life in Hoboken, New Jersey, showing a fourteen-year-old boy who discovers within himself the desire and drive to become a singer.  It follows Frank through his early career as a singer in the Hoboken 4 on Major Bowes Amateur Hour, thorugh his tutorial in solo singing in Harry James band, through his tempestuous relationship with Tommy Dorsey (portrayed with suitable vinegar by Bob Gunton), to eventual rise to stardom as a solo performer.  The different eras are believably portrayed, with excellent attention to detail in costuming and settings, and the actors are for the most part convincing.  The only flaws in the film are the obvious ones from trying to portray an entire life in a truncated form - while the opening and first three-quarters of the film manage to hit both high-and low-lights of Frank's life, the final hour feels rushed, trying to fit in too many references to famous friends and notorious accquaintences, but not able to satisfactorally tie it all together.  but the tone, the acting, and most of all the music, which manages to hit all of the eras of Frank's career, are all top-notch, and Sinatra is a wonderful all-around introduction to both Frank's life and his music.


The Rat Pack (1998)
HBO Studios;
Written by Kario Salem,
Directed by Rob Cohen;
DVD Released May 3, 2005,
120 min.

 
Cast List
Ray Liotta ... Frank Sinatra
Joe Mantegna ... Dean Martin
Don Cheadle ... Sammy Davis Jr.
Angus Macfadyen ... Peter Lawford
William L. Petersen ... John F. Kennedy
Zeljko Ivanek ... Bobby Kennedy
Bobby Slayton ... Joey Bishop
Megan Dodds ... May Britt
Deborah Kara Unger ... Ava Gardner
Veronica Cartwright ... Rocky Cooper
Dan O'Herlihy ... Joe Kennedy
Robert Miranda ... Momo Giancana
Barbara Niven ... Marilyn Monroe
Michelle Grace ... Judy Campbell
Tyress Allen ... George Jacobs
John Diehl ... Joe DiMaggio

REVIEW: This expertly produced, sleek-looking production from HBO looks great, sounds great (with original music being used), but misses the mark completely in its main focus, and stumbles in some of its casting choices.  The good stuff first: the show manages to capture pre-Beatles America with great finesse; the sets and costuming are first rate, and the script, by Kario Salem manages to capture the fast-talking patter of the Rat Pack in all their slangy glory.  The songs are classics too, from "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Come Fly With Me" for Frank's character, to "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)" taken by Dean, and Sammy's "Too Close For Comfort" are tearing up the soundtrack.  Several of the characters manage to nail their impersonations as well, with Joe Mantegna looking like Dean Martin, and capturing his mannerisms, (if not his voice); Don Cheadle giving a nicely nuanced performance as Sammy Davis Jr. (even though he doesn't much resemble him) and Angus Macfadyne doing a nice impersonation of the timid Peter Lawford.  But the lynchpin for most Sinatra fans, in the casting of Ray Liotta as Frank, turns out to be a dissapointment.  It's not just that Ray doesn't look at all like Frank, but his voice and mannerisms don't capture his essence either.  He comes across as brittle and thuggish, but Ray tends to look psychopathic when upset, rather than simply angry.  And William L. Petersen tries hard, but anyone who puts on that thick of a New England accent and gives such a one-note performance of John F. Kennedy as a bed-hopping playboy can't be taken seriously.  The tone of the film is disappointing as well, with the focus more on politics and mob relations than the performing chops of these ultra-talented friends: rather than be entertainment, HBO stoops to creating a hash-job bio pic, showing Dean as a drunk, Sammy as a conflicted man torn by the racial jabs he laughs at onstage, and Peter Lawford so scared he practially jumps at his own shadow.  Sinatra is portrayed as a power-hungry hanger-on who has strong mob connections and uses them to bring Kennedy the White House on a silver platter.  HBO also makes sure the film is rated "R" by throwing in some needless sex and foul language.  Not my idea of entertainment, but some good performances, and great music.


The Rat Pack (1999)
A&E Entertainment;
Written by Luke Sacher,
Directed by Carole Langer;
DVD Released January 1, 2001,
200 min.

 

Cast (in credits order) 
Frank Sinatra ....  Himself (archive footage)
Dean Martin ....  Himself (archive footage)
Sammy Davis Jr. ....  Himself (archive footage)
Peter Lawford ....  Himself (archive footage)
Joey Bishop ....  Himself (archive footage)
Danny Aiello ....  Narrator (voice)
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Lauren Bacall ....  Herself (archive footage)
Count Basie ....  Himself (archive footage)
Milton Berle ....  Himself
Jules Blumberg ....  Himself
Humphrey Bogart ....  Himself (archive footage) 

Lillian Burns ....  Herself (as Lillian Burns Sidney)
Montgomery Clift ....  Himself (archive footage)
Harry Cohn ....  Himself (archive footage)
Pat Cooper ....  Himself
Frank Costello ....  Himself (archive footage)
Tony Curtis ....  Himself
Grace D'Amato ....  Herself
Paul 'Skinny' D'Amato ....  Himself (archive footage)
Elvera Davis ....  Herself
Angie Dickinson ....  Herself
Jimmy Durante ....  Himself (archive footage)
Jean Fedeli ....  Herself
Clark Gable ....  Himself (archive footage)
Ava Gardner ....  Herself (archive footage)
Sam Giancana ....  Himself (archive footage)
Jackie Gleason ....  Himself (archive footage)
Katharine Hepburn ....  Herself (archive footage)
Virginia Hill ....  Herself (archive footage)
John F. Kennedy ....  Himself (archive footage)
Joseph P. Kennedy ....  Himself (archive footage)
Patricia Kennedy ....  Herself (archive footage)
Robert F. Kennedy ....  Himself (archive footage)
Sonny King ....  Himself
Janet Leigh ....  Herself
Jerry Lewis ....  Himself
Shirley MacLaine ....  Herself (archive footage)
Louis B. Mayer ....  Himself (archive footage)
Marilyn Monroe ....  Herself (archive footage)
David Niven ....  Himself (archive footage)
Patti Page ....  Herself (archive footage)
Louis Prima ....  Himself (archive footage)
Frank Sinatra Jr. ....  Himself (archive footage)
Nancy Sinatra ....  Herself (archive footage)
Red Skelton ....  Himself (archive footage)
Keely Smith ....  Herself
Claude Trenier ....  Himself
Cliff Trenier ....  Himself (archive footage)
Sophie Tucker ....  Herself (archive footage)
Lana Turner ....  Herself (archive footage)
Jack L. Warner ....  Himself (archive footage)

REVIEW:  Cable channel A&E put together a fine documentary of The Rat Pack in this 1999 production, managing to cover not only their art, but the politics and mob connections in this well-rounded, and lengthy pic.  Narrated by Danny Aiello, the documentary deftly weaves together archival material, such as the Democratic fund-raiser put on by Frank; the Summit; Peter Lawford television performances, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Television specials, and also delves into Frank's romance with Ava Gardner, while slipping in interviews with celebrities who were in the know at the time: Angie Dickenson, Keely Smith, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Tony Curtis, and others.  Split into four sements, the film moves chronologically (more or less) through the rise of Vegas as the gambling capital of the world, and simultaneously notes the rise of the main Rat Pack ensemble.  Stories of their infamous practical jokes, infighting, racial tensions, and political and mob associations which would haunt them for the rest of their lives, are all neatly woven together with lots of accompanying photographs, location shots, and snips of performances and music.  In keeping with A&E tradition, no interviews with any of the lead characters are included, and the focus of the documentary leans towards Sinatra, and almost completely excludes Joey Bishop, except for passing mentions.  And teetering time-wise at over three-and-a-half hours, the show moves remarkably fluidly, and manages to keep interest-level high, although Danny Aiello's narration can seem a bit dry and perfunctory at times, and the common problem of how to tie things up appears here, with a rushed finish feeling unsatisfactory.  But even so, this is probably the highest-quality, most even-handed approach we're going to see on The Rat Pack, so don't be afraid to check this out.

All Or Nothing At All
Eagle Rock Entertainment (DVD/Blu-Ray);
Released November 20, 2015,
240 min.


Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All is the definitive account of the life, music and career of Frank Sinatra, the greatest entertainer of the 20th century. Told in his own words through extensive archive interviews, along with commentary from those closest to him, the film weaves the music and images from Sinatra's life together with rarely seen footage of Sinatra's famous 1971 'Retirement Concert' in Los Angeles. The film's narrative is shaped by Sinatra's song choices for that concert, which director Alex Gibney interprets as the singer's personal guide through his own life. With the participation of the Frank Sinatra Estate, family members and archivists, 'Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All' is an intimate portrait of the singer, the actor and the man.
  • This deluxe box set contains:
  • 'All Or Nothing At All' documentary on 2DVDs
  • 'Retirement' Concert from 1971 on 1DVD and 1CD
  • The 1965 Walter Cronkite CBS TV interview on 1 DVD
  • 2 booklets, one of which is a reproduction of the 1971 Life magazine article on the 'Retirement' Concert
  • 6 art cards

REVIEW:  Well, considering this IS Frank Sinatra we're talking about - I suppose it would be too much to expect that any release about his life would be able to sidestep controversy, and this set certainly doesn't.  Not with the documentary itself - running a hefty four-hours, it's a fairly standard biography, produced and shown on HBO, and released in three baffling formats by Eagle Rock Entertainment.  The one shown above is the one to get - it features bonus content unavailable on either the blu-ray release, or the 2-disc DVD versions, and the bonus features are worth the extra money, one being a complete "farewell concert" when Frank was fifty-five, and considering retirement.  The second is a 45-minute-long television special produced for CBS's 60 Minutes, and has additional rare footage from the recording studio and a prison(!) with a bare minimum of actual interview footage.  Additionally, a CD is included which duplicates the 1971 retirement concert.  The video footage of the documentary and concert are well-preserved on DVD, so unless you absolutely HAVE to have blu-ray, the DVD will serve the purpose well.  The documentary itself is the usual conglomeration of quotations, narrative, and music, stitched together using Frank's own conceit of using the 1971 concert as a semi-autobiographical journey through his life.  We don't see the people speaking, but they are identified on-screen, and the abundance of photographs and video footage is very good - as you would expect from HBO.  Worth owning, but only in the box shown above. 

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