Clive James: One of the many enthralling aspects of the book for me was, I thought I invented the concept of Frank Sinatra as a revolutionary screen actor, but you’re way ahead of me. I thought Sinatra was terrific, I watched everything he did when I was a kid. Movies like Suddenly and The Manchurian Candidate – the scene in that movie with him and Janet Leigh between the two cars on the train, great scene written by George Axelrod, and he’s wonderful. I know he was a big star, but why didn’t he just dominate Hollywood? Was he just too impatient?
Peter Bogdanovich: I don’t think he had the interest in making pictures – he liked singing -that was what he did and absolutely what he believed in. I think he was occasionally interested in movies but I think he lost interest at a certain point. I thought his best performance was actually in Some Came Running, in which he’s superb, a very understated performance, and a lot of the scenes are done without a cut, which appealed to him. You know, he’d come into a recording studio and he’d rehearse, then sing it with the full orchestra once, maybe twice, and that’d be it. I asked him once why he didn’t like to do more than one or two takes – he was notorious for not liking this and would get upset if he had to. So I asked him why, and he said, “It’s kind of like singing the same song for the same audience twice.” He was very conscious of that. He was most interested in singing.
There was no doubt that “not singing the same song for the same audience twice” gave meant that there was a certain ease – an apparent spontaneity – about Sinatra’s best screen work. It probably also meant that when the material was not especially good, he looked as though he was not so much sleepwalking as wishing he were elsewhere.
My first encounter with Sinatra the actor, rather than Sinatra the singing star who happened to appear on the screen, was when I saw – years after it was made – a now very much forgotten film called Meet Danny Wilson. The film, although strongly cast – Shelley Winters and Raymond Burr were in there – was itself no great shakes, but it proved, as Hal Erickson says in the All Movie Guide, “ beyond doubt that Frank Sinatra was capable of delivering a solid dramatic performance long before his “breakthrough” role in From Here to Eternity. From the moment I saw that film, I was as hooked on Sinatra the actor as I was on Sinatra the singer.
Not all the films he made over the next decade an a half were worthy of him, but when he did get the kind of well written material he could get his acting chops around, he proved that From Here to Eternity was neither a one-off no a fluke The influential New York Times critic, Bosley Crowther, writing in October 1954, thought that Sinatra’s performance in the “repulsive role of a fellow grimly intending to assassinate the President of the United States” in the Lewis Allen film Suddenly was worthy of praise.
His memorable playing of Maggio in From Here to Eternity served fair notice that the singer could act a dramatic role. In “Suddenly!” he proves it in a melodramatic tour de force.
All of which brings me to the fact that my friend, John Gore*, has planned a most welcome Sinatra on Screen day at Warwick Arts Centre.
FILM TALK: Sinatra on Screen (PG)
- Sat 11 Oct 11:00AM
Cinema11 Oct 11am – 3.30pm
During a period of nearly 25 years, Frank Sinatra appeared in over 50 movies. It was his success as a singing sensation in the 1940s that gave him entry to the movies but it was only when he emerged from the MGM hit-musical factory that he really gained the performing skills to match his talent as a singer.
Adrian Wootton charts the career of Sinatra the actor, and the event includes a complete screening of the new digital print of Some Came Running, Vincente Minelli’s tale of the soldier coming home to the Midwest. Sinatra stars alongside Dean Martin and Shirley Maclaine.
Founding member of regional exhibitors forum and education consortium. Programmer, Blink Film Festival. Member of Consort, National Consortium of Independent Cinemas. Advisor to Talking Birds for film and media activities. Occasional broadcaster for BBC WM. Also programmes film for mac in Birmingham.