Movie Stars: Sinatra, Frank–Centennial Celebration

From_Here_to_Eternity_posterThis month marks the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the multi-talented Frank (“The Voice”) Sinatra, born December 12, 1915.

We will celebrate Sinatra’s career as a film actor and star in a series of articles.

He made his film debut in 1941, performing in an uncredited sequence in Las Vegas Nights, singing “I’ll Never Smile Again” with Tommy Dorsey’s The Pied Pipers.

In 1943, he had a cameo role along with Duke Ellington and Count Basie, in Charles Barton’s Reveille with Beverly, making a brief appearance while singing the popular tune, “Night and Day.”.

The following year, Sinatra was assigned leading roles in Higher and Higher and Step Lively at RKO.

Sinatra and Gene Kelly









In 1945, MGM cast Sinatra opposite Gene Kelly in the inventive musical, Anchors Aweigh, in which he played a sailor on leave in Hollywood for four days.  A major success, it garnered several Academy Award wins and nominations.  Though it was Kelly’s dominant performance that drew attention, that film’s song, “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” sung by Sinatra, was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar and enhanced his popularity.

In 1946, Sinatra featured in an ensemble cast which included Robert Walker, Judy Garland in the commercially successful Till the Clouds Roll By, a musical biopic of Jerome Kern, directed Richard Whorf (with additional uncredited work by Vincente Minnelli, who was married to Judy at the time).

In 1949, Sinatra again co-starred with Gene Kelly in the musical Take Me Out to the Ball Game, based on a story set in 1908, in which Sinatra and Kelly play baseball players who are part-time vaudevillians.

He teamed up with Kelly for a third time in the highly acclaimed musical, On the Town, playing a sailor on leave in New York City.  Rated highly by critics, the film ranks No. 19 on the AFI’s Best Musicals

However, Sinatra struck bad luck, when Double Dynamite (1951), a Irving Cummings comedy produced by Howard Hughes at RKO, and Joseph Pevney’s Meet Danny Wilson (1952) failed to make an impression.

Major Comeback: From Here to Eternity

From_Here_to_Eternity_4_sinatraFred Zinnemann’s  highly acclaimed 1953 Oscar winner, From Here to Eternity, was a turning point in Sinatra’s career, earning him his first (and only) Oscar Award in the Supporting Actor category.

The film deals with the tribulations of three soldiers, played by Burt Lancaster, Monty Clift, and Sinatra, stationed on Hawaii in the weeks leading up to the Pearl Harbor.  Sinatra was eager to find a role which would bring him back into the spotlight, and Columbia Pictures boss, Harry Cohn, was inundated by appeals from various Hollywood personalities to cast Sinatra as “Maggio,” the doomed soldier (see our review).

During production, Montgomery Clift became a close friend, and Sinatra later claimed that he “learned more about acting from him than anybody I ever knew before.” After several years of critical and commercial decline, his Best Supporting Actor Oscar helped regain his position as the top recording artist in the world. The Los Angeles Examiner wrote that Sinatra is “simply superb, comical, pitiful, childishly brave, pathetically defiant,” commenting that his death scene is “one of the best ever photographed.”

Some_Came_Running_4In 1954, Sinatra starred opposite Doris Day in the musical Young at HeartHe then earned critical praise for his performance as a psychopathic killer posing as an FBI agent opposite iconic actor Sterling Hayden in Suddenly, a film noir admired by some critics.

Sinatra was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar once, as the drug addict in Otto Preminger’s drama, The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), a movie that challenged censorship and broke many taboos.  More importantly, it established Sinatra as a solid lead dramatic actor.


If you want to know more about the Oscars, please read my book:

Guys and Dolls

He showed diversity of acting and singing in the popular musical, Guys and Dolls, opposite Brando and Jean Simmons, and the comedy The Tender Trap, with Debbie Reynolds

Some_Came_Running_5Sinatra was praised and nominated for the BAFTA Best Actor for his role as hospital orderly in Stanley Kramer’s blockbuster drama, Not as a Stranger.  During production, Sinatra got drunk with chums Robert Mitchum and Broderick Crawford and trashed Kramer’s office.  Kramer vowed to never hire Sinatra again, but later (mis)cast him as a Spanish guerilla leader in 1957 in The Pride and the Passion, a misbegotten project from start to finish, which caused an embarrassment to all involved, including Cart Grant and Sophia Loren.

Sinatra featured alongside Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly (both at their prime) in High Society,  an MGM musical version of Cukor’s sublime 1941 The Philadelphia Story.  The public rushed to the cinemas to see Sinatra and Crosby together on-screen, and it earned $13 million at the box office, becoming one of 1956’s top-grossers.

In 1957, Sinatra starred opposite Columbia’s two major stars, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak, in Pal Joey, for which he won the Golden Globe. His rendition of “The Lady Is a Tramp,” was a show-stopper–and a highlight of his entre screen career.

He played the comedian Joe E. Lewis in The Joker Is Wild, and the song “All the Way,” won the Best Original Song Oscar.

Some_Came_Running_1By 1958, Sinatra was one of the ten biggest box office draws in the U.S., appearing with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine in Minnelli’s superbly executed melodrama, Some Came Running, followed by Kings Go Forth, co-starring Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

“High Hopes,” the melodic tune sung by Sinatra in Frank Capra’s comedy (and last film), A Hole in the Head (1959), won the Oscar Award for Best Original Song, staying on the 100 Hit List for four months.

pby8qeu52aoHe owed Fox a picture after walking off the set of Henry King’s 1956 Carousel, and so agreed to play opposite Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier, and Louis Jordan in Can-Can, in 1960.

That same year he starred in Ocean’s Eleven, the first film to feature the Rat Pack together and the start of a “new era of screen cool.”  Sinatra personally financed, to make sure his pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., get paid properly.

In 1962, Sinatra played a leading role (alongside Laurence Harvey) in the cult noir thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, which he considered to be his best role and the high point of his film career.

He appeared with the Rat Pack in the Western Sergeants 3, and 4 for Texas in 1963. For his performance in Come Blow Your Horn he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award as Best Actor.

The WWII drama Von Ryan’s Express, in 1965, was a major success, and that same 8fecp5xcw6zyear, he also directed  None But the Brave.  In the late 1960s, Sinatra became known for playing detectives, including Tony Rome in Tony Rome (1967) and its sequel Lady in Cement (1968). He also played a similar role in 1968’s The Detective, opposite the beautiful and talented Lee Remick, a smash hit in which he gave one of his best performances.

Sinatra was meant to play Detective Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry (1971), but had to turn the role down due to illness.  That coveted role went to Clint Eastwood, establishing the latter as a major movie star in what became an iconic franchise.

Sinatra’s last screen role was in 1980, opposite Faye Dunaway, in Brian G. Hutton’s The First Deadly Sin, which was a flop.