December 2015 marks the 100th birthday of the legendary musician and actor, Frank Sinatra. This American superstar is still regarded as one of the most influential musicians of all time, in addition to being one of the best-selling. Sinatra also won critical acclaim for his film roles, earning three Academy Awards during his film career, and numerous others for his music. This review will take a look at three Sinatra films in celebration of the 100th birthday of Chairman of the Board: Frank Sinatra.
Anchors Aweigh (1945)
As Sinatra was on a high with his music career, he began the transition in the world of film. After several minor roles, mostly comprising of Sinatra singing a tune or two, he landed a role in the MGM musical Anchors Aweigh, opposite Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson. Sinatra and Kelly play sailors spending four days on leave in Los Angeles. There is no doubting that the film is led by Kelly, but Sinatra plays a very important supporting role. Anchors Aweigh is a very entertaining film, with a variety of songs from the three leads, and plenty of dancing from Kelly, including his famous dance with Jerry the mouse. However, at two hours and twenty minutes in length, there is not enough story to keep the film entertaining for that length of time. As enjoyable as any musical film from this era is, by two-thirds of the way in, my attention was beginning to wane. Unfortunately for Sinatra, his acting technique was not perfected at this early stage in his career, and he comes across as very wooden on screen, with some of his line deliveries being unintentionally humorous. Although immensely popular upon release, and nominated for several Academy Awards, I feel that Anchors Aweigh does not represent Sinatra in his full glory; the best is yet to come.
On The Town (1949)
With a story remarkably similar to that of Anchors Aweigh, we join Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly again, alongside Jules Munshin, as three sailors with 24 hours leave in New York City. With women on their mind, they pick up Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller. Although again, this film is led by Kelly, who co-directed with Stanley Donen, On The Town has six strong lead actors who have great chemistry on screen, and pristine white sailor outfits which never get dirty. The music is catchy, the dancing is entertaining and there is a great amount of humour contained in this film, mostly from Munshin. I cannot fault On The Town in any way, and Sinatra is a large part of the reason that this film is still held in such high regard. His acting had undoubtedly improved since Anchors Aweigh, and On The Town could possibly convert those previously not interested in musical films. This is a musical gem set in a beautiful city, and you will come away singing New York, New York for hours after viewing On The Town.
Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)
Unlike Anchors Aweigh and On The Town, Robin and the 7 Hoods comes at a much later stage in Sinatra’s career. The jolly, post-war musicals had mostly vanished, and the 1960s brought along a different style of musical. Robin and the 7 Hoods is set in 1930s Chicago, as we follow Sinatra as gangster Robbo, running his group which includes Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bing Crosby. After getting public backing due to a series of seemingly good deeds, Robbo and his gang fit into the Robin Hood motif, on which the film is based. With a stellar cast and a range of amazing vocals on offer, it’s no wonder that Robin and the 7 Hoods is regarded as a highlight of Sinatra’s later career. His performance of My Kind of Town, and a performance of Style sung by Sinatra, Crosby and Martin is pure joy on the big screen. Sammy Davies Jr. also sings about his love of guns in the song Bang! Bang!, which in the context of 2015 looks slightly odd. In addition to leading the film, Sinatra also acted as producer, and by this point in his career, he was established at playing ‘tough guy’ roles. Although having less catchy tunes than Anchors Aweigh and On The Town, Robin and the 7 Hoods will appeal to those who are less keen on the sentimental musicals of Sinatra’s early film career. He had truly shown himself to be a master of his craft by this point in his career, and the Frank Sinatra legacy was now, and still is, established in both music and film.
Happy 100th Birthday to Frank Sinatra!
The Frank Sinatra: 3-Film Collection is available to buy now.