Classic Hollywood from A to Z – F is for Frank Sinatra

Classic Hollywood From A to Z – an alphabetical journey through the Golden Age of cinema.

F was not an easy letter for me as it was a showdown between two showbiz greats – Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire. Back and forth I would go. Fred, no, Frank. Frank, no, Fred. Finally, I settled on one and had to go with Frankie.

frank sinatra
Full disclosure: I’m a HUGE Sinatra fan. My dad is a big fan and he passed on his love of Ol’ Blue Eyes to me. I could go on and on about the fella but today I’m just going to stick to his film career which is quite diverse.
It all started in 1941 as an uncredited singer in the forgotten film, Las Vegas Nights. For the next few years his film roles were mostly bit parts – he would sing a song and play a character named…Frank Sinatra. That’s exactly who he played in the above still from a movie called Higher and Higher.

In 1944 he landed a lead part as Gene Kelly’s costar in the navy musical, Anchors Aweigh.

In the role he’s an innocent, naive partner to Gene Kelly’s man of the world. For the next few years he would continue to play this type of roll in several MGM musicals, three of which co-starred Gene Kelly. Maybe he was type cast, but if it created scenes like this, I don’t mind.

By the way, that scene was shot on location at the Hollywood Bowl!
Speaking of on location, in 1959 Sinatra starred in On the Town, a highly regarded musical shot on location in New York City.
 At the time, location shooting was a rare occurrence and the film took full advantage of it.

In 1953 Sinatra landed a role that would put an end to the shy simpleton roles he’d previously played – Maggio in From Here to Eternity.
This role earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year. Maybe the Mob did buy it for him. I don’t know but at any rate it did prove that he had true acting chops.

After this, he starred in a new kind of role – the guy from the wrong side of the tracks. Sometimes it was a serious turn, such as Barney Sloane in Young at Heart.

And sometimes it was lighthearted like lovable gambler, Nathan Detroit, in Guys and Dolls.
Either way, it provided for some amazing musical moments.

Perhaps, the ultimate version of this type of role came in 1955 when he played a heroin addict in Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm.

Sinatra is utterly convincing as a drug addict who can’t seem to kick his habit in this serious non musical film.
Although Sinatra was now a proven dramatic actor he still made time for the musical roles he was famous for, like Mike Connor in the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story – High Society.
This role led to one of the best duets caught on film – Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing Well, Did You Evah.

Soon after, came the ultimate Sinatra role – the irrascible loser, Pal Joey.
The role seemed tailor made for him and from it came some of his most memorable songs.

After this came the 1960’s and the dawn of the Rat Pack era. The group starred in multiple films but you can’t beat the original Ocean’s 11.
Maybe it isn’t as good as the remake but it’s still a fun glimpse into the world of the some of the most famous entertainers of that era. It’s also, a fitting end to this tour of Sinatra’s filmography as the remainder of his carrer (minus The Manchurian Candidate) was less than memorable.
My essential Sinatra films:

1 Comment

  1. Baryshnikov at The Broad Stage - La Explorer May 1, 2014 at 6:00 am

    […] me that when it comes to entertainment…be sure to see the legends. In the 80′s she saw Sinatra in concert. Sure he wasn’t in his prime but she still treasures the fact that she got to see […]

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