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Case Number 13613

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Frank Sinatra: The Early Years

Higher And Higher
1943 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Step Lively
1944 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
It Happened In Brooklyn
1947 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
The Kissing Bandit
1948 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Double Dynamite
1951 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 13th, 2008

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All Rise...

The record shows Judge Clark Douglas took the blows and did it his way.

The Charge

A new kid in Tinseltown.

Opening Statement

"And now, ladies and gentlemen…Mr. Frank Sinatra!"

Facts of the Case

Five films are included in this collection of early Frank Sinatra films. Each film is housed inside its own standard-size DVD case, with all five cases inside a glossy cardboard box.

Things kick off with Double Dynamite, featuring Sinatra in a role that must have been quite a stretch for him: a poor, ordinary person. Sinatra plays Johnny Dalton, a bank teller who pines for co-worker Mibs (Jane Russell, The Outlaw). Unfortunately for Johnny, Mibs has a taste for expensive things, and Johnny just can't afford to pay for the kind of things she wants. Things take a nice turn when Johnny rescues a bookie and is rewarded with a great big pile of cash: $75,000. Strangely, the bank is missing precisely that amount! It must be a coincidence, but Johnny is suspected of the crime. Will he be able to work his way out of this jam?

Higher and Higher, contrary to my expectations, is not about a wild drug trip. The film is about a "Distinguishingly Rich" fellow named Mr. Drake (Jack Haley), who suddenly becomes quite poor. Drake's servants determine to try and change this situation…not out of love for their frequently sometimes unpleasant employer, but so they can save their jobs. They have one of the maids pose as Drake's daughter and hope that she will be able to win the heart of some rich young man. Indeed, a rich young man shows up with a song in his mouth and love in his heart: Frank Sinatra. It takes him quite a while to appear, but once he does, he takes over the film.

In It Happened in Brooklyn, Sinatra plays Danny, a G.I. who is finally getting a chance to come home. During the four years he's been at war, he's thought about nothing but getting home to Brooklyn. But it's going to take some work to get re-acclimated. Getting a job isn't as easy as he thought it would be. Finding the right girl isn't so easy, either. However, with a little bit of work (and an incredible singing voice), Danny is going to be okay. He might even be able to help out a young kid and a pal from England, too!

Sinatra unleashes his inner Mexican in The Kissing Bandit as Ricardo, aka The Kissing Bandit. It's the remarkable story of a guy named Frank Sinatra transforming into the least convincing Mexican of all time. Meanwhile, colorful supporting characters like songs, cinematography, and set design attempt to make the film seem like it's more than just a flimsy bit of nothing. Will the plot become credible? Will the dance sequences be entertaining enough to overcome the movie's many shortcomings? Will Frank Sinatra's performance make you laugh? Find out in The Kissing Bandit!

Step Lively is based on the play Room Service (which had been previously adapted for the screen in 1938 by the Marx Brothers), which centers around a corrupt producer played by George Murphy and a talented playwright/singer played by Frank Sinatra. Money, music, and Broadway get spun through a series of wheelings and dealings in this fast-paced, frantic comedy. Along for the ride are the likes of Wally Brown, Alan Carney, and Walter Slezak.

The Evidence

Frank Sinatra will always have more respect for his singing career than his acting career, but he certainly had his proud moments. Consider a role like The Man With the Golden Arm, where Sinatra played a drug addict to impressive effect. However, Sinatra had more than his share of weaker roles, particularly in the early stage of his career. The films included in this collection highlight some of Sinatra's less impressive performances, so it's only going to be of real interest to big fans of the crooner. They're the sort of mildly diverting entertainments that you might watch bits and pieces of on Turner Classic Movies, but I don't imagine very many viewers will feel an urge to give the films in this collection repeat viewings.

Most of these films feel very similar: lightweight comedies featuring Sinatra as the leading man wooing a lovely leading lady, some not-too-nasty villains messing things up, and some colorful veterans providing a few laughs. They vary in terms of specific quality, but all of the movies in this collection are unambitious, pleasant, and a little bland. The films don't take themselves too seriously, and are even a bit self-aware. A couple of films mention that Sinatra's character "looks a lot like Frank Sinatra," and Sinatra even gets to play himself in Higher and Higher.

Sinatra has a lovely voice, but he's simply wooden in these performances. Though he was a credible dramatic actor, he's really not much of a comic actor. Consider several scenes in Double Dynamite in which Sinatra tries to act frantic and nervous; it's not often you will see such obvious "acting" and so little genuine feeling. Higher and Higher was Sinatra's first film appearance, and as such he is asked to do only a little acting and a whole lot of singing. Too bad a few more of these films didn't try the same trick.

Video quality is rather disappointing on most of the films in this set. Scratches and flecks are fairly minimal, but there is a lot of serious grain here (though that's not the case on The Kissing Bandit). Some of these films from the 1940s and 1950s look like they could have been made in the 1930s, which is a shame. The mono audio is generally quite solid though, and the songs are thankfully mostly free of damage or distortion of any sort. In terms of DVD extras…well, there are none. Not even trailers for the films.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If Sinatra and the screenplays aren't able to provide a whole lot of entertainment, there are two areas where we do get some fun. First, quite obviously, there are the songs. Few of the films are really proper musicals (Higher and Higher is the exception), but there are some songs contained within every one of them. Frankie and Groucho offer up a delightful duet on "It's Only Money" in Double Dynamite, and he teams up again with Russell for "Kisses and Tears." It Happened in Brooklyn provides a real gem, Sinatra's classic "Time After Time." There's a sensational dance sequence with a few guest stars in The Kissing Bandit, while the musical sequences in Step Lively often have a refreshingly spontaneous feel to them.

Second, there are the delightful supporting bits from veteran actors in each film. Double Dynamite offers the incomparable verbal improvisations of Groucho Marx, who tosses off at least a dozen lines that made me laugh. The cranky Jack Haley has a handful of fun moments in Higher and Higher. Jimmy Durante brings his patented brand of flavor to It Happened in Brooklyn, and his nose inspires Frank Sinatra to sing "Schnozzola" (in which Sinatra offers his amusing Durante impersonation). The Kissing Bandit has a nice little turn from J. Carrol Naish. The perpetually underappreciated Walter Slezak is quite splendid in Step Lively, providing a terrific turn as a cranky hotel manager. These wonderful smaller performances help compensate for the often-stilted Sinatra.

Closing Statement

Diehard Sinatra fans will probably appreciate the opportunity to check out these early (and cheesy) efforts starring Ol' Blue Eyes, but those who are merely curious can find much better work from the singer/actor elsewhere.

The Verdict

Combine mediocre films with bare-bones packaging and you get a guilty box set. However, the judge is in a generous mood, as the defendant sang some rather nice tunes for him. Six months parole will suffice. Court is adjourned.

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Scales of Justice, Higher And Higher

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 70
Story: 78
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Higher And Higher

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1943
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Higher And Higher

• None

Scales of Justice, Step Lively

Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Step Lively

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1944
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Step Lively

• None

Scales of Justice, It Happened In Brooklyn

Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 70
Story: 75
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, It Happened In Brooklyn

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1947
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, It Happened In Brooklyn

• None

Scales of Justice, The Kissing Bandit

Video: 93
Audio: 90
Extras: 0
Acting: 70
Story: 65
Judgment: 68

Perp Profile, The Kissing Bandit

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Kissing Bandit

• None

Scales of Justice, Double Dynamite

Video: 70
Audio: 75
Extras: 0
Acting: 70
Story: 70
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, Double Dynamite

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Double Dynamite

• None








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