Sinatra’s First Movie – Higher and Higher

Frank Sinatra’s first movie was Higher and Higher. Produced in 1943 and directed by Tim Whelan, the musical was slightly based on the Broadway musical by Gladys Hurlbut and Joshua Logan. Nevertheless, if you knew the Broadway musical and saw the movie, you would not see any similarities. The only thread of the Broadway production is the one song “Disgustingly Rich”.

Sinatra, of course, is amazingly good, launching his 40-film career, written in at the last moment, playing himself as the handsome neighbor to Mr. Drake. Turner Classic Movies reports that Higher and Higher is Sinatra’s first feature movie. I can’t help but wonder if he was in some prior movies where he is uncredited. A celebrated singer so early in his career one can’t help but wonder if he made an uncredited appearance or two as himself before Whelan’s movie.

Higher and Higher didn’t go unnoticed either. The celebrated movie was nominated by the Academy for Best music, original score and “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” (croon by Sinatra) and Best Music, Scoring a musical Picture.

Jack Haley, Leon Errol, Michele Morgan, Barbara Hale, Victor Borge and Mel Torme star with Sinatra. According to AllMovie the famed singer, as mentioned earlier, was a last minute addition to the film. Haley, who played in the original Broadway production, plays the head servant, Mike, in the household of millionaire Mr. Drake (Errol). When Drake comes to terms with bankruptcy, Mike rallies the servants together and brainstorms a moneymaking plan. To pass off pretty kitchen maid Millie (Morgan) as Drake’s daughter, and marry her off to a wealthy bachelor.

Easier said than done when Sir Bictor Fitzroy Victor (Borge), an impoverished nobleman, who is also looking for a rich wife, adds hilarious mayhem and tuneful plot twists to the movie. Mike saves the day with a last-minute discovery in the wine cellar. Involving Millie, heiress Katherine (Hale), and hired help Mickey (McGuire) and Marty (Mel Torme) the movie was a box office success.

The film is definitely a family affair that you can share with anyone.

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Sinatra in Man with the Golden Arm

Frank Sinatra stars in The Man with the Golden Arm. The 1955 American drama film is based on the novel by Nelson Algren. A gut wrenching tale of a heroin addict is the focus of the movie. The addict gets clean while sitting in prison. Yet, he still struggles to stay clean when he gets outside. Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang and Darren McGavin star with Sinatra in the adapted for the screen by Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer and Ben Hecht (uncredited).

Directed by Otto Preminger the movie was nominated for three Academy Awards: Sinatra for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Joseph C. Wright and Darrell Silvera for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White and Elmer Bernstein for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Sinatra fans will agree it’s a gritty black-and-white film while it portrays heroin as a serious on screen topic. He jumped at a chance to star in the film even before he finished reading the script. Sinatra did his homework by spending time at drug rehabilitation clinics observing addicts going through withdraw as they tired kicking the habit cold turkey. Marlon Brando was also interested in the movie, but Sinatra got the role.

Once Sinatra’s character, Frankie, gets out of prison, he returns to familiar friends and acquaintances. None are very comforting or benefiting to his goal to stay clean. Frankie sees his wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker), who is wheelchair-bound, but secretly fully recovered from a car crash some years ago. Zosh suffocates Frankie and weighs him down on any attempt to make something of his career as a drummer. He thinks he has what it takes to play with a big band. Then, he runs into a past love, Molly (Kim Novak).

Frankie starts using heroin again and gets in all sorts of trouble with the police and Zosh, who finally tells the truth about her condition. Molly comes to his rescue a time or two, setting him back on the straight and honest road. Does the movie have a Hollywood ending? Being a Preminger movie the chances are fifty-fifty.

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Sinatra, Curtis, Wood in ‘Kings Go Forth’

Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood star in Kings Go Forth. Released in 1958, and directed by Delmer Daves, the movie’s screenplay by Merle Miller is based on the novel by Joe David Brown. The romantic movie barely covers World War II in south of France. It’s the love story or romantic triangle taking place in Maritime Alps near the French Riviera that draws the audience to the movie.

Sinatra and Curtis both fall for Wood, a voluptuous, yet innocent, resident of a villa that the two men frequent between fighting the Nazis in the Alps. Her parents are American, but she was raised in France.

Sinatra is the first one to take notice of Wood’s character and instantly falls in love, even though he discovers her father is a Negro and he feels bias. But after a battle in the surrounding hills, her genetic past doesn’t prevent him from falling deeply in love with her.

Curtis adds to Sinatra’s foray when he steps in and sweeps Wood off her feet claiming love and marriage without the intention to carry the pledge whatsoever. Sinatra clearly struggles with the deception of his wartime friend, which places him at odds and frets over Wood’s innocence. Curtis just wants to have a good time and will say anything to capture her intimacy.

Well, as love and war plays out one of the two men fail to make it back from the battlefield. Who is the fortunate one to hold Wood one more time in the beautiful and pristine Riviera? I am not going to offer you a spoiler and tell you the outcome. You are on your own.

If you are a true romantic and want to see these three actors play extremely well off each other, I recommend the movie. Sometimes, Turner Classic Movies airs Kings Go Forth. That is where I first saw it and fell in love with the movie. I know some Sinatra fans will snicker at the probably of this circumstance every happening or that war was ever like this in France. Either way, each actor is believable and makes me long for more Natalie Wood movies.

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Sinatra, Martin, MacLaine in Some Came Running

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Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine star in Vincente Minnilli’s Some Came Running (1957). The movie was praised worldwide with Sinatra earning some of the best and notable reviews of his career.

MGM produced the movie in the shadow of the multi-Academy Award winning film adaptation of James Jones’ earlier novel, “From Here to Eternity”. Sinatra plays the lead, Dave Hirsh as a derisive Army veteran returning to his hometown. Martin plays Bama Dillert, a gambler who befriends Sintara’s character. This would be their first movie together. MacLaine plays Ginny Moorehead, who meets Sinatra’s character on the same bus that brought him to his hometown. MacLaine earned her first Academy Award nomination in this movie, and she credits Sinatra for his insistence on altering the movie’s ending.

Still today, Some Came Running is celebrated as a masterpiece of American cinema, earning box-office and movie rental success – posted by Variety as the 10th highest-earning film of 1958.

Other notable filmmakers praised Minnillie’s film as well, such as Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich. Scorsese includes clip of the movie in his A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies. The celebrated director expresses his fascination with the film’s final carnival scene – one of the best and most dramatic uses of CinemaScope. Bogdanovich writes quite a bit about the movie in his book “Who the Hell’s in It”, stating its impact on cinema.

Some Came Running didn’t go unnoticed at the Academy Awards the year it was release with nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Shirley MacLaine), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Arthur Kennedy), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Martha Hyer), Best Costume Design, Black and White or Color (Walter Plunkett) and Best Music, Original Song, “To Love and Be Loved” (words and music by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn). Ironically, neither Sinatra nor Martin sing for the movie or its soundtrack CD.

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Frank Sinatra’s Plays Assassin ‘Suddenly’

Frank Sinatra starred in an American film noir called Suddenly. Released in 1954, the movie was directed by Lewis Allen and features not only Sinatra, but Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Gates. The story is about a small peaceful town being jolted into the throes of danger when the U.S. President is scheduled to pass through on a train. Sinatra plays a hired assassin who takes over one of the citizen’s home as a perfect location to lie in wait to assassinate the president.

From the look of the poster and publicity photos, Sinatra doesn’t seem to be your typical bad guy. But still, fans will remark that the movie is entertaining and Sinatra carries his own as the ruthless guy with a mission to kill the president.

There is no indication that Sinatra featured a song for the movie. It appears that he plays the lead role and fans like what they see. But, this isn’t the only movie about assassinating a politician. Five years later Sinatra produced and starred in The Manchurian Candidate. Both movies are very different is circumstances and genre. In Manchurian Candidate, we see Sinatra playing a Korean veteran who is trying to resolve his vague memories about being a POW, which leads to uncovering an assassination attempt. His character is not the bad guy like in Suddenly.

Another interesting tidbit about Suddenly is its colorization in 1986 with the home video by Hal Roach Studios. The studio turned Ol’ Blues Eyes into Ol’ Brown Eyes – it was not funny to say the least. But never fear, a new colorized version arrived from Legend Films and was released to DVD on June, 2009. Sinatra eyes went back to his gorgeous blue. The release also includes a newly restored print of the original B & W film.

Any Sinatra fan can catch him in Suddenly via Netflix or Turner Classic Movies without having to purchase it at Amazon or other DVD outlets.

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