By Raquel Stecher
The Sultan of Swoon. The Voice. Chairman of the Board. Ol’ Blue Eyes. Whatever you call him, Frank Sinatra was a bonafide talent. Not only did he have one of the most impressive music careers of all time, he also made an indelible mark on film history with his many acting roles. Whether it was jovial musicals, hard-hitting dramas or Rat Pack comedies, Sinatra could do it all. He was a one-take kind of actor and required a director who knew to let the star do his thing.
In the 1940s, Sinatra was pop idol that had young women swooning across the country. But for some reason Hollywood miscast him as the awkward type, usually matched with a more aggressive love interest and overshadowed by a big movie star like Gene Kelly.
In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Sinatra’s career tanked both in music and film. He had an impressive comeback with From Here to Eternity (1953) which put him back on the map and catapulted him to stardom.
Over the next two decades, Sinatra would make some iconic films and appear with his Rat Pack buddies, including Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop, in lighter fare. One of the keys to Sinatra’s success, beyond his natural talent, was that he always kept himself busy. He was constantly in the public eye, whether it was on TV, radio, or on the big screen. And his fans couldn’t get enough.
For his birthday on December 12th, let’s celebrate the man and the legend Frank Sinatra with a look at some of his films available to rent on DVD Netflix.
Let’s begin at the beginning with one of Sinatra’s earliest film roles in the RKO comedy Step Lively. It’s total fluff, but a great peek at what the very young Frank Sinatra was like at the apex of his early career as a crooner. And if you liked The Producers, you’ll appreciate another Broadway backstage farce.
Frank Sinatra made three films with legendary dancer/actor Gene Kelly and On the Town is by far the most memorable of the batch. Sinatra, Kelly and Jules Munshin star as three sailors on leave in New York City who meet their romantic counterparts in Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen and Betty Garrett. Worth viewing alone for the fantastic rendition of the Bernstein, Comden and Green song “New York, New York.”
Sinatra made it his mission to get the role of Maggio in Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity, a WWII drama about the days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. There are numerous stories and rumors about how he got the part (it’s even referenced to in The Godfather). However he scored the part is beside the point. Sinatra did the part justice and it single-handedly revived his career. He went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor the following year.
Sinatra appeared in some top-notch musicals in his day. However his part in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Guys and Dolls is one of the biggest headscratchers of the era. The lead role of Sky Masterson, the more musical part that would have been perfect for Sinatra, went to Marlon Brando instead. And Sinatra had to be content with the supporting role of Nathan Detroit. This flipped dynamic hurts the movie quite a bit, but it’s still enjoyable for anyone who loves a good mid-20th Century musical.
Charles Walter’s musical remake of The Philadephia Story, featuring songs by Cole Porter, puts Frank Sinatra up against two of the biggest names in Hollywood: Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong also has a part in the movie. Bolstered by the excellent cast, this film was a smash at the box office and has endured as one of the most stylish musicals ever made.
Sinatra made several films with his Rat Pack buddies, including Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), 4 for Texas (1963) and Some Came Running (1958). In Ocean’s Eleven, Sinatra plays Danny Ocean, a former paratrooper who recruits his war buddies to plan a 5-casino heist in Las Vegas. It’s the quintessential Rat Pack movie and features one of the best endings of all time. The film inspired remakes in Ocean’s 11 (2001), Ocean’s 12 (2004), Ocean’s 13 (2007), and most recently Ocean’s 8 (2018).
If anyone needs proof of Sinatra’s chops as a dramatic actor, they need look no further than John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962). This political thriller is a total mind-bender. It features amazing performances by Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, James Gregory and Angela Lansbury. Sinatra plays an army Veteran who tries to save his brainwashed comrade from turning into a political assassin.
With Sinatra’s film career reaching its natural end, he took on several detective roles in films such as Tony Rome (1967), it’s sequel The Lady in Cement (1968) and the aptly named The Detective (1968). My favorite of these three is Tony Rome. Set in 1960s Miami, Sinatra stars as the title character, a down and out former police detective who gets wrapped up in a shady case. It’s a fun mystery with lots of twists and some fantastic location shooting. Sinatra’s daughter Nancy Sinatra sings the movie’s theme song.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.