Classic Film Guide

Frank Sinatra - The Early Years

Double Dynamite (1951), an RKO title that not too subtly refers to the assets of its top billed Howard Hughes discovery Jane Russell, is a subpar comedy that was directed by Irving Cummings (In Old Arizona (1928)) and written by Melville Shavelson from a story by Leo Rosten. It’s about an ordinary bank clerk (third billed Frank Sinatra) that improbably receives a gambling windfall from a bookie (Nestor Paiva) that he’d ‘rescued’ from a beating by some rival’s thugs. Russell plays Sinatra’s long suffering fiancée who’d be glad that her man can finally afford to marry her except for the coincidental fact that the bank where they’re both employed is suddenly missing $75,000. Master of the one-liner Groucho Marx plays a waiter friend of Sinatra’s that helps him to navigate the situation and Don McGuire plays the bank president’s son that also has designs on Russell. Harry Hayden plays a stereotypically unsatisfactory boss.

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Higher and Higher (1943) earned Academy Award nominations for the Jimmy McHugh-Harold Adamson original song "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" and its score by C. Bakaleinikoff, but its real historical significance stems from the fact that it features Frank Sinatra’s first starring role. It was produced and directed by Tim Whelan and was scripted by Jay Dratler and Ralph Spence from the musical play by Gladys Hurlbut and (future director) Joshua Logan, with additional dialogue provided by William Bowers and Howard Harris. Sinatra fills in the gaps of the rather average romantic comedy between Michele Morgan and Jack Haley (who were billed above Sinatra per their contracts) with songs that were tailored especially for him. The story is about a near bankrupt (Leon Errol) widower who forms a corporation with his many loyal servants (including Mary Wickes, Mel Tormé and Dooley Wilson), to whom he owes significant back wages, to try to pass off his scullery maid (Morgan) as a debutante in order to catch a wealthy husband that can save them all from their dire financial situation. Haley plays Errol’s valet; his idea attracts an equivalent fraud (Victor Borge) – a cook pretending to be foreign royalty – who’d been courting Elisabeth Risdon’s daughter Barbara Hale. Sinatra’s character is insignificant to the silly plot which ends when Haley finally realizes that Morgan loves him shortly after he’d saved the day with a convenient discovery.

It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) is not a great movie, but if you like its cast of singing stars – Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson (without Technicolor), Peter Lawford and Jimmy Durante – you’ll enjoy it anyway (and as a bonus there’s Gloria Grahame!). It was directed by Richard Whorf and scripted by Isobel Lennart (one of the four Sinatra films that she wrote) from a story by John McGowan. Sinatra plays a Brooklyn born soldier that returns home to find that he hadn’t changed as much as he’d thought he had. He believed himself to be more confident. But he’s influenced by Durante, his old high school’s janitor, who takes him under his wing and encourages a would-be romantic relationship with the music teacher come opera singer Grayson. Sinatra’s character discovers that he’s happy helping others with their dreams. Lawford plays a shy fellow that Sinatra had met in England (during which Grahame plays a nurse, also from Brooklyn) just before his discharge from the Army; he’s sent to Brooklyn to satisfy his Duke (Aubrey Mather) grandfather, who’d hoped that Sinatra could give him confidence. Lawford and Grayson make a better match. Everyone is hitting on all cylinders when they help a young pianist (uncredited Billy Roy, whose compositions are performed off stage by 17 year old André Previn, also uncredited) that wants to earn a scholarship.

The Kissing Bandit (1948) is a forgettable musical comedy starring Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson; J. Carrol Naish and Mildred Natwick, who plays Grayson’s chaperon, also appear (among others). It was directed by Laslo Benedek and written by John B. Harding and Isobel Lennart. Sinatra plays the yokel son of ‘the kissing bandit’ who is urged to carry on the family tradition by his father’s former assistant (Naish, nearly unrecognizable for the circus clown sized red nose of his character). As an innocent virgin of a ‘young’ man, Sinatra’s character is as ill-suited to the titled role as the 32 year old singer was for the part. Grayson’s character is dismayed that this bandit who has a reputation for kissing any maidens that are present during his robberies isn’t interested in a lip lock with her, though her father the governor (Mikhail Rasummy) is hardly disappointed. One of the film’s few highlights is a fiesta dance performed by Ricardo Montalban, Ann Miller and Cyd Charisse. Billy Gilbert, Clinton Sundberg (as a Colonel that gets demoted rank by rank to a Private) and Carleton Young play secondary roles in the silly plot.

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Step Lively (1944) - full review!

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