Friday, April 18, 2008

Further Sinatra Research: Frank as a Dick

Frank Sinatra’s movie career was a whirligig of the good, the real bad and the very ugly, an indeterminate mixed bag of breezy musicals, half-assed action pics, a few prestige productions and high mannered projects, and a whole lot of oddities. In the late sixties Sinatra hooked up with glorified traffic controller Gordon Douglas (The Chairman’s favorite sort of director) and made three successive policiers, each one strangely lurid and overtly vulgar, all three brimming with certifiable bad taste. The initial Douglas/Sinatra collaboration was Tony Rome (1967), featuring Frankie Boy as the lowlife Miami gumshoe of the title, which was followed up by a sequel of more of the same Lady in Cement (1968), while in between the duo released The Detective (1968), a surprise box office hit with Sinatra as small time New York police dick/agent of morality Joe Leland. Watching these three back-to-back-to-back recently I was struck by the commonality of tone, mood, subject matter, and misc-en-scene that existed outside of the familiar Sinatra persona and formula. All three movies exhibit an odorous mix of repellant chauvinism, on-the-surface homophobia, and a bleary-eyed view of society, swirled in a cocktail of lurid sixties-styled psychoanalyses, suggestively shining a shaky spotlight of Sinatra’s ever mutating public metamorphosis from civil rights liberal through Rat Pack Party Boy to budding anti-hippy conservative. The movies feature sexy, tough gals like Jill St. John, Racquel Welch, Lee Remick, Gena Rowlands, and Jacqueline Bisset, and utilize meat-and-potatoes actors (and some Sinatra buds) like Richard Conte, Martin Gabel, Ralph Meeker, Jack Klugman, Dan Blocker, Rocky Graziano, and Sugar Ray Robinson, and have characters with names like Catleg, Fat Candy, Packy, and Shev. The movies all depict (with obvious disgust) drug usage, homosexuality, ineffectual law and order, open sexuality, and rampant societal cowardice, with the only redeeming signposts being a stiff drink, a horse race, an old fashioned lay, or a sucker punch. Tony Rome remains eminently watchable, albeit in a laugh-with-me/laugh-at-me fashion, possessing an undeniable throwback charm that’s part highly-absurd-faux-hip-Chandleresque-romp and equal part shoddy-trashy-brain dead-finger snapper, a movie that begins and ends with a zoom-in on a bent-over woman’s ass. Now, that’s entertainment, baby.

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