This is my entry in the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen and Classic Movie Hub. For the full list of participants: go here
I am honored to be a part of The Dynamic Duos of Classic Film Blogathon. As I looked over the list of duos that other bloggers will he writing about this weekend, it only made me more excited to read their contributions. I hope that you will check out their blogs too, as there as some great pairings!!
As the Nostalgic Italian, it makes sense that I would chose a duo of two Italians – Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. To say that these men were great friends is an understatement. They were almost like family. Frank, upon hearing of Dean’s passing in 1995 said, “Dean was my brother – not through blood but though choice.” Frank had matching pinkie rings made for the two of them and according to Deana Martin, Dean never took his off. Frank said of Dean, “He had been like the air I breathe – always there, always close by. Our friendship has traveled down many roads over the years and there will always be a special place in my heart and soul for Dean.”
Growing up, I came to know Dean Martin because of Cannonball Run. I was a child of the 70’s and 80’s and this Burt Reynolds All Star flick had many famous folks in it, including Dean and fellow Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. I was familiar with the fact that Dean was a singer, but knew of only a handful of his songs. Frank, on the other hand, I was familiar with as a prolific singer and (because of my dad and grandparents) knew many more of Frank’s songs.
In the early 1990’s I was given a VHS tape with a “Best of” show that contained clips from Dean Martin’s Variety Show. It was while watching this tape that I realized what an amazing talent he had. I wanted to know more about him and all that he had done. I stumbled on a CD of Dean, Frank, and Sammy in Chicago in 1962. The chemistry of these guys on stage is like nothing that I had ever heard before. Their timing, their joking, their playfulness, their talent was so amazing that it is indescribable. Now it became a mission for me to find all I could with these guys.
I began to watch Frank’s solo movies: The Manchurian Candidate, Guys and Dolls, Pal Joey, and Von Ryan’s Express. I also began finding Dean’s movies: Rio Bravo, The Silencers, Bandolero, Five Card Stud, The Young Lions and Airport. As I began searching for more movies, I found that these two had actually done movies together!
SOME CAME RUNNING
In 1958, Frank and Dean shared the screen with Shirley MacLaine in Some Came Running. The film was based on the book by James Jones, who also wrote From Here to Eternity. Dean was quoted as saying that, “It was the happiest picture I have ever been in. A part like that will never come my way again – being with Shirley and Frank … I don’t know, it was just happy.”
Frank plays an army veteran, Dave, who winds up back in his hometown after being away almost 20 years. He hasn’t kept in contact with his family, as he is holding on to some anger about the way he was treated when he was younger.
Shirley plays a woman named Ginny who falls in love with Dave, after he invites her to come back home with him (while he is drunk), and she does. Dave sobers up and gives her money to go back home, but she doesn’t want to go because of a violent ex-boyfriend back in Chicago.
Dean plays a good hearted gambler named Bama Dillert. Bama is always seen wearing his hat. He doesn’t take it off because it’s “bad luck” if he does. Bama and Dave get in pretty deep when Ginny’s ex, a gangster named Ray, comes to town stalking her.
While there are good scenes with Frank and Dean throughout this film, I never really felt the friendship and playfulness that the two exhibit in the Rat Pack films. One of my favorite lines in the film is spoken by Bama. Dean, who made a lifetime pretending to be a drunk, says to Frank “Ever since you’ve given up drinking, you’ve been impossible.”
This is the first of the “Rat Pack” films, and probably the best of them (storywise), as well, in my opinion. The premise of the film is that a group of World War II veterans are reunited by Danny Ocean (Frank) and Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford) to rob five Las Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve. The team also consists of Josh Howard (Sammy Davis Jr.), Sam Harmon (Dean Martin), Tony Bergdorf (Richard Conte), and others (including Norman Fell, Joey Bishop, Henry Silva, and Buddy Lester). Peter Lawford first heard the plot of the film from a film director, who had heard it from a gas station attendant. When Lawford told Frank about it, Sinatra responded, “Forget the movie, let’s pull the job!”
The film consists of the elaborate plans of how the job is going to work. Dean’s character is an entertainer at one of the casinos and he is the one who seems to have the biggest issue with the job. When he basically tells the group that the job is impossible, the group is faced with figuring out how to do the job without him. After a brief moment of tension, Sam (Dean) proves his loyalty to the group and says he’s in.
After all of the elaborate planning, New Year’s Eve arrives and the plan goes off without a hitch, except that Bergdoff has a heart attack and dies in the middle of Las Vegas. This raises suspicion with police and with Duke Santos (played by the great Cesar Romero) who figures out who pulled the job. Duke confronts the thieves and demands half of their take. The ending of the film is one of the greatest! I won’t give it away, but if you have never seen this film, you need to. The film was reworked recently, but I refuse to see it. I have never been a fan of remakes, and looking at the cast of the newer version, I just can’t picture any “magic” at all.
While this film was being made, the gang would often appear at night on stage in Vegas. Their schedule was insane. The worked all day and all night, but you’d never know that they were often performing on little or no sleep. Frank and Dean play well off each other in this film and you begin to get a sense of their true friendship in their scenes together.
This is the second of the “Rat Pack” films. It is a remake of Gunga Din, a film from 1939. It is the last of the films to have all five members of the “Pack” in it because of a falling out that Frank had with Peter Lawford following the film.
This film was set in the American West, while the original was set in India. Sinatra, Martin, and Lawford and three sergeants who are stationed in Indian Territory in 1870. Frank and Dean are true buddies in this film as their goal is to prevent Lawford’s character from leaving the army to go and get married.
This film has a bit more of the “fun” of the Rat Pack, as one can see in a playful scene where Dean and Frank try to get Joey Bishop’s character to pass out drunk. Honestly, though, it really isn’t that great of a film. Even Frank knew the movies weren’t masterpieces. He was once quoted as saying, “Of course they’re not great movies, no one could claim that … but every movie I have made through my own company has made money.” The only Rat Pack film that was not produced by Sinatra was Ocean’s 11.
ROAD TO HONG KONG
You are right if you are thinking, “This isn’t a Frank and Dean movie!” This film is worth a mention because of a brief, and playful cameo by the two of them. The “Road to…” films were very successful for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (A Shroud of Thoughts is doing a blog on these two this weekend!). The cameo by Dean and Frank comes at the end of the film. Hope, Crosby and Joan Collins all end up on a rocket bound for another planet. When they land they believe they are alone. Hope informs Crosby that the “Italians” are there. Dean and Frank are dressed in some very silly space outfits and are asked how they got there. “Special effects” is their answer. As they go to smooch on the sexy female, Hope and Crosby use “special effects” to send Dean and Frank floating away.
Note: In many of the concert recordings of Dean’s act, he often referenced his appearance with Frank in this film (which he referred to as “the road to Hong Kongy”). This was a set up for Dean to go into some jokes about Bing Crosby.
4 FOR TEXAS
This was a Western comedy that featured Frank and Dean with Ursula Andress and Anita Ekberg. The plot of the film is that a shipment of $100,000 is being transported by stage coach and they money is the object of a “tug of war” between Zack (Frank) and Joe (Dean). The two go at it while also trying to fend off a band of outlaws lead by Charles Bronson and Mike Mazurki. Zack and Joe must eventually team up to work together to hold off Bronson and a banker (Victor Buono) to keep their new venture, a gambling boat, in operation.
The interactions with Frank and Dean are great, but the highlight of the film is Dean’s interaction with the Three Stooges in a cameo. While it is a classic Stooge bit, it is great to see Dean with them.
ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS
This is, by far my favorite of the Rat Pack films. To me, this one is the most fun. This film is a musical, with some amazing songs, including one that Frank would make a monster hit – My Kind of Town. The song was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and it was nominated for an Academy Award.
The film is basically the story of Robin Hood set in 1930’s Chicago. Sinatra is “Robbo”, Dean is “Little John”, Sammy is “Will”, Bing Crosby plays “Alan A. Dale”, and the great Peter Falk puts in an amazing performance as “Guy Gisborne”. Edward G Robinson appears in the beginning of the film and insisted on not getting screen credit for his appearance. Crosby was technically retired from acting when he made this film, but appeared as a favor to Frank.
The film features great original music including “Any Man Who Loves His Mother” (which is accompanied by an amazing scene of Dean shooting pool), “All For One and One For All” (which features Peter Falk singing!), Mr. Booze (which would get a send up in the animated series Family Guy), and “Style” (featuring Frank, Dean, and Bing).
If I had to pick a word to describe the film, it would be fun. The interplay between Frank, Dean, Bing and Sammy is light hearted and funny. Falk steals almost every scene he is in, and plays his part to perfection! While the fun shows on the screen, the movie almost didn’t get finished. There were some very troubling events that occurred during the filming that almost caused Frank to stop making the film. It was filmed between November and December of 1963, and Frank was forced to deal with the assassination of his close friend President John F. Kennedy and the kidnapping of his son, Frank Jr., a few weeks later. Thankfully, production continued and available for our enjoyment.
MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS
Made in 1965, this would be the last time that Frank and Dean would appear in a film together for about 20 years. This is a very comedy about a businessman’s wife who ends up divorced by mistake, and then in an even bigger mistake, getting married to her ex’s best friend. Deborah Kerr appeared as Frank’s wife who ends up married to Dean. Frank plays his character well, and Dean seems to get all the laughs in the movie. The two play comedy so well (something that one can see in Frank’s appearances on Dean’s TV show), you wonder why they never made it a point to make more together.
Part of the plot takes place in Mexico. It is interesting to note that the Mexican government was so offended by the depiction of Mexico in this film that it was banned (with other Sinatra films) from being shown in the country!
If you watch carefully, you will see actual shots of Dean’s home in this film.
Sadly, audiences would have to wait 19 years before Frank and Dean would appear in another film together. What is even more sad, was that it was in Cannonball Run II – a pretty bad film
CANNONBALL RUN II
In 1981, Burt Reynolds gathered together an amazing all-star cast for the film Cannonball Run. In the cast were Dom Deluise (who often worked with Dean Martin on his variety show), Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jamie Farr, Roger Moore, Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw, Farrah Fawcett, Bert Convey, Jack Elam, Jackie Chan, and many, many more! The film was a success, and naturally, Hollywood decided it needed to do a sequel. Many of the same cast members returned, and this time others were added: Charles Nelson Riley, Telly Savalas, Marilu Henner, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Danza, Ricardo Montalban, and a host of others in cameo roles.
The plot of this movie is basically the same as the previous one. In a bit of a twist, Dean and Sammy’s characters are in a pinch for money. They need it to pay off the mob, so they go to their “leader”, Frank Sinatra for help. What is truly disappointing is that Frank is never seen with any of the other actors. Director Hal Needham said that Frank showed up to the set and shot his scenes alone. He is always seen alone on film, and when he is seen from behind with the actors, that is his double. Word is that Frank did, however, hang around and reminisce with some of the cast at some point. In the end, Frank stated he never understood the plot of the film and was unhappy with it. Frank received 2nd billing (after Burt), even though he only appears in two brief scenes in the film. It would be the last theatrical film for Frank and Dean. A true disappointment and not the way two huge stars should end their film careers.
It seems to me that the one thing that the entertainment business is lacking today is performers who can do more than one thing. Within the last few years, there are many singers who try to act, but do not do it well. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were true entertainers. They could act in films – both in serious and comedic roles. They could be a presence in a film, even if it was only in a brief cameo. Their interactions in sound recordings, on film, and on television remains some of the most entertaining material in existence today.
Sure, some may not immediately call to mind Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as a Dynamic Duo in films, however, it is a bit hard not to think of one when thinking of the other. I believe that they made enough films together to consider them a duo. Their love and respect for each other is evident on and off screen. It is evident in the references that they made to each other when they were performing. We are lucky that we still have the ability to watch these two interact with each other long after they have passed away. They are still fun to watch, and at the same time it is sad. It is sad, because the world will never know of men with the extreme talent that these two men had again.
Feel free to read the other bloggers contributions all this weekend:
Silver Screen Classics – Abbott and Costello
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Greta Garbo and John Gilbert
Classic Movie Hub – Doris Day and Rock Hudson
Caftan Woman – Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog
Real Weegie Midget – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
A Shroud of Thoughts – Hope and Crosby
Cinematic Scribblings – Amedeo Nazzari and Yvonne Sanson
The Dream Book Blog – Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland
Moon in Gemini – Paul Newman and Robert Redford
The Old Hollywood Garden – Anthony Mann and John Alton
Critica Retro – Laurel and Hardy
Silver Screenings – George Burns and Gracie Allen
Champagne for Lunch – June Allyson and Van Johnson
Reel Charlie – Philip Morgan (Farley Granger) and Brandon Shaw (John Dall) in Hitchcock’s Rope (1948)
Overture Books and Film – Linda Darnell and Tyrone Power
Love Letters to Old Hollywood – Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams
Blog of the Darned – Rock Hudson and Tony Randall
Midnite Drive-In – Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck
The Story Enthusiast – Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery
That William Powell Site – William Powell and Clara Bow
Popcorn & Flickers – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
LA Explorer – Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies – Lucy and Desi
Old Hollywood Films – Margaret Dumont and Groucho Marx
Anybody Got a Match? – Joan Crawford and Clark Gable
Blogie & Bacall – Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn
Watching Forever – Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee
Once Upon a Screen – Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma and Pa Kettle