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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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Views On Film:


(Film Commentary on Classic Cinema

and Contemporary Blockbusters)




     A former on-air TV reviewer of film as well as magazine publisher, Steve Vertlieb's much published dissertations on cinema over the last near half-century have made him a much sought after consultant on numerous projects, including an appearance in the 2006 award winning documentary KREATING KARLOFF, and as consultant on TCM's 75th Anniversary Restoration of Merian C. Cooper's original KING KONG.
     Divided into three departments - "Reviews", "33 1/3rd: The Art & Craft of the Film Score",  and "Vertlieb Considers" (editorial commentary on classic and contemporary cinema), It is the honor of the GullCottage / Sandlot to include Steve Vertlieb's 24 FRAMES as an integral addition to our online film magazine and ever growing cinema reference / research library and network.

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SINATRA_print.pdf Version




 Steve Vertlieb

     This is a love story as affectionate as any.  In the current vernacular it might be referred to as a “bromance,” the non-romantic affection for one man by another.  For, in all the life of this writer at  least, never has there been the adoration for another human soul… beyond brother, parents, and beloved girlfriend (dear Shelly), than that felt more than half a century for a man called "Sinatra".  Music and films have, I imagine, played an integral role in the life of yours truly from the earliest of memories, perhaps as early as 1950.

     When I was four our family got it's first television set and, from the moment that magical square box came to life, that young child would be permanently and adoringly enchanted and entranced by the sights and sounds which came lovingly from its intimate screen and speakers.  During my early youth, mom and dad would take my brother and I to the movies, either at our premiere local movie house, The Benner Theater or, during more sophisticated journeys beyond the realm of the Oxford Circle in Northeast Philadelphia, to Philadelphia’s first-run downtown theaters such as The Mastbaum, The Stanley, The Boyd, The Fox, Randolph, Stanton, or The Arcadia. 

  Philadelphia's legendary BOYD THEATER, and a young Steve Vertlieb (both circa 1950s)

     Dad would always take me to adventure movies such as IVANHOE with Robert Taylor, THE SEARCHERS with John Wayne, or MOGAMBO with Clark Gable.  While Mom on the other hand escorted me to the big musicals such as ANNIE GET YOUR GUN With Betty Hutton and Howard Keel, Fred Astaire in THE BANDWAGON, and that little musical opus from the pen of Cole Porter called HIGH SOCIETY.  And it was during a screening of the latter that I first encountered Frank Sinatra on the big screen. This was 1956.  Now, to be candid, my singular man crush of the period was with Bing Crosby. 

     I'd discovered at the tender age of ten or younger that I’d developed a reasonably good romantic singing voice; and as such I'd aspired to follow in the theatrical footsteps of Harry Lillis Crosby (“Bing” to you) when I grew into manhood.  I only had eyes for Bing at the time, and had little interest in an upstart named Sinatra.  My cousin Marsha had developed something of a teen crush on Frank, but the purity of my ten year old “vision” would only allow for the more traditional warbling of “the old groaner.”

1958 - with pals Dean Martin (left) & Sammy Davis, Jr. (right) on the set of SOME CAME RUNNING

     I had first encountered the enigma called Sinatra a year earlier during a “live” television broadcast of Thornton Wilder’s classic OUR TOWN.  The highly publicized and significant tv production was to be aired in “Living Color” on NBC.  The famous story was given a new wrinkle for television.  It was to be an entirely new and original musical production with words and music written expressly for the show by the popular composing team of Sammy Cahn and James (Jimmy) Van Heusen.  Cahn and Van Heusen had become Sinatra’s composers of choice, and their tunes for the program went on to achieve their own “star” status on America’s HIT PARADE. 

     Van Heusen, whose real name was Chester Babcock and who took his stage name from his favorite shirt, was often spoofed by friend Bob Hope when the comedian used the song writer’s real name as his character name in some of the Crosby and Hope “Road” pictures for Paramount.  OUR TOWN premiered as a part of the “Producer’s Showcase” series on September 19th
, 1955, and featured Paul Newman as George, Eva Marie Saint as Emily, and Frank Sinatra as “The Stage Manager.” The program contains the only known visual record of Paul Newman singing. Network news commentators and personality hosts all stood gleefully in line to extract interviews from the cast and, in particular, from Frank Sinatra whose recently revitalized career offered him the rare opportunity to introduce four new songs for the production. 

     These included the title song from the production, “Our Town,” as well as newly realized Sinatra standards such as “Look To Your Heart,” “The Impatient Years,” and the program’s mega hit tune, “Love and Marriage.” The color elements of the original program seem to have been lost over the ensuing years, but a fine black and white “kinescope” survives, and attests to the still poignant drama of this unique interlude in early television history and development.

with Danica Daniel

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"It Was A Very Good Year" - Vers. in D Minor
(1965 / E. Drake) vocal by Frank Sinatra

     Now, I’d seen the coming attractions at The Benner Theater for a new film biography “Coming Soon,” and decided in 1957 to go see THE JOKER IS WILD - starring Frank Sinatra as comedian Joe E. Lewis.  It was a wonderful experience which further intoxicated my growing dreams of pursuing a show business career as a singer, further reinforced by Sinatra’s screen performance of a new Cahn and Van Heusen song called “All The Way.”  The film had originally been produced as “ALL THE WAY,” which must have exasperated Cahn and Van Heusen when their carefully fashioned title tune was sung for a film now titled THE JOKER IS WILD.  Nevertheless, that song would come to play an important role in the transition of my own humble musical tastes. 

     Wedged somewhere between that growth from childhood to maturity comes the transitional period often referred to as one’s teenage years.  It was during this often troubling period that I came to fall in love with the voice of a young folk/rock singer named Jimmie Rodgers.  I had left Crosby behind, and was purchasing every recording I could find by Rodgers.  “Honeycomb,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” and “Oh-Oh, I’m Fallin’ In Love Again” became my favorite songs of this era, and I played them quite literally until the grooves on the recordings had been worn to dust.  I was the singer’s biggest fan from 1957 until somewhere midway through 1960 when a curious thing happened.  At fourteen years old.  I'd become aware of politics for the first time, adored Jack Kennedy and Camelot, and wistfully longed for adulthood to consume me. 

     One of the first full fledged albums ever purchased, after “Johnny’s Greatest Hits” by Johnny Mathis, and “Music From One Step Beyond” by Harry Lubin, was “This Is Sinatra,” followed quickly by “This Is Sinatra: Volume Two".  Borrowing a little portable record player each weekend from my neighbor, Art Soren, I'd play these Sinatra recordings over and over again throughout these now interminable weekends for my parents.  That was it.  I was in love.  I wanted to BE Frank Sinatra.  

     Sinatra’s friendship with Jack Kennedy only served to solidify my connection with the artist.  And as for the singer’s validity and credentials as an actor in the motion picture community, these early years in which my cinematic and musical tastes were rapidly developing became integral to my later adult years as a writer.  I was growing ever more serious, both in adoration of Sinatra and the career path that would subsequently guide the direction and meaning of my life.  This, then, was no simple “idol” chatter.

     Of Sinatra’s progression from the bobby sox idol of his day to a motion picture star, his evolution was alternately maddening and unforgettable.  It seemed inevitable that the crooning recording artist, first for Harry James and then for Tommy Dorsey, would eventually wind up appearing on movie screens across America.  How to cast the youthful singer, however, became problematic, as his squeaky clean image with drooling teenage girls allowed for little more than fluff appearances in those early war related years. 


  SHIP AHOY (1942)

     His first appearance came in 1941 with a minor effort produced by Paramount entitled LAS VEGAS NIGHTS.  This decidedly less than stellar endeavor remains notable only for its inclusion of an appearance by the Tommy Dorsey band, and its fledgling male vocalist singing Ruth Lowe’s classic lament for a woman who had lost her husband to war, “I’ll Never Smile Again.” 

      MGM’s SHIP AHOY followed a year later in 1942 as a thoroughly innocuous musical for dancer Eleanor Powell and comedian Red Skelton. Tommy Dorsey and his band appeared once again, accompanied by an ambitious crooner named Sinatra who would sing the ballads “The Last Call For Love” and “Poor You".  And over the years many would come to consider these interludes the highlights of the film.


     Moving over to Columbia Pictures in 1943, Sinatra would perform a single tune, but what a tune.  Sans the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, he sings Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” for an otherwise forgotten Ann Miller vehicle titled REVEILLE WITH BEVERLY. Later the same year, Sinatra would co-star with Michele Morgan and Jack Haley in his first somewhat “starring” screen role in HIGHER AND HIGHER (which he would later refer to as “Lower And Lower”), an ineffectual musical “comedy” produced for RKO.  He plays a boy next door type who, not surprisingly, is actually Frank Sinatra.  He loses the girl to “the tin man,” but virtually steals the show when crooning “I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night,” and “This Is A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening.”

 In one memorable sequence, he sings standing by a piano played by Rick Blaine’s CASABLANCA accompanist, Dooley Wilson.  RKO managed to step lively when preparing their star’s next screen fling, STEP LIVELY, co-starring Gloria De Haven and future United States Senator George Murphy.  

     As innocuous as its predecessor, the more white than black comedy featured Sinatra as a young country bumpkin aspiring to conquer Broadway as a budding playwright.  The music, however, overwhelmingly steals the show as Sinatra’s stunning interpretation of “As Long As There’s Music” dominates the proceedings.

     It was only natural, and clearly inevitable, that Sinatra would soon move over to the reigning bastion of musical comedies, Metro Goldwyn Mayer and, in 1945, the studio released its blockbuster extravaganza, ANCHORS AWEIGH starring Sinatra, along with his new partners, Kathryn Grayson and Gene Kelly.  While no more sophisticated in his characterizations than in his previous roles, Sinatra had dramatically grown in importance to Tinseltown, earning a coveted starring role in a huge MGM musical featuring outstanding production values, and memorable songs.  


     Adding his usual class to the presentation was the incomparable classical conductor Jose Iturbi who was, in his own right, becoming a highly dignified staple of the MGM musicals.  It is Gene Kelly, however, who steals the show in his immortal dance duet with Jerry The Mouse from the TOM AND JERRY cartoons. Sinatra’s defining moment in the cherished musical comes with his tender performance of “I Fall In Love Too Easily” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.  The film was helmed by George Sidney who would direct a decidedly different, far more artistically developed Sinatra a mere twelve years later in PAL JOEY for Columbia. 



"Ever Homeward" - from

(1948 / K. Lubomirski - Styne & Cahn) vocal by Frank Sinatra

     RKO would produce, perhaps, the most influential and important Sinatra film of the decade later in 1945.  THE HOUSE I LIVE IN, written by blacklisted writer Albert Maltz (one of the celebrated “Hollywood Ten” accused by Senator Joseph McCarthy), and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, was a powerful ten minute short focusing on racial intolerance in America in which Sinatra, playing himself, records in a studio, blithely unaware of the street kids in the adjoining alley terrorizing another boy from a different ethnic background.  

     Sinatra’s heartfelt plea to the youngsters for tolerance won the singer and the film a special Academy Award.  Sinatra, known even then for his liberal politics, had been visiting area high schools, preaching racial acceptance and harmony.  And it was these caring, selfless acts on the part of the singer which prompted the studio to produce the now celebrated Oscar winning short in the first place.  Performing with arranger / conductor Axel Stordahl, Sinatra sings “If You Are But A Dream,” and the stunning title anthem by Earl Robinson and Lewis Allan.



     In 1946, MGM produced one of their most lavish and respected musicals.  TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, inspired by the life and music of composer Jerome Kern, featured a vast ensemble of the studio’s musical contract players in separate set pieces and production numbers, including Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Kathryn Grayson, Van Johnson, June Allyson, and Dinah Shore.  The film’s climactic masterpiece, however, remains the brilliant performance by Frank Sinatra, dressed in a stunning white tuxedo, echoing the pain of millions, in a spectacular rendition of Kern’s superb “Old Man River” from SHOW BOAT.


     Sinatra’ next starring vehicle for MGM would be the delightful IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN (1947), pairing him once more with Kathryn Grayson, along with Jimmy Durante and later Rat Pack pal, Peter Lawford.  Two army buddies, stationed in England, return to the U.S. at the conclusion of WWII, and vie for the attentions of the proverbial girl next door.  

     Naïve, but utterly charming, Sinatra's vocals include “Time After Time,” “I Believe,” “It’s The Same Old Dream” and, in a memorable duet with Durante (in which Sinatra wonderfully emulates the elder statesman of comedy), “The Song’s Gotta Come From The Heart.



Sensing the need to expand his artistic horizons, Sinatra took a gamble with his next picture, playing his first somewhat dramatic part in RKO’s tale of faith and spiritual miracles.  Premiering in 1948, THE MIRACLE OF THE BELLS was a deeply moving story of a young actress whose untimely death precedes the opening of her first starring role in a film about Joan Of Arc.  Fred MacMurray stars as a hungry studio publicist trying to keep the producers from shelving the picture after the death of its star. 

     Alida Valli (THE THIRD MAN) essays the role of Olga Treskovna - the film-within-a-film's ill fated star. And Lee J. Cobb co-stars as Marcus Harris, the conflicted studio head trying to save his company.  Sinatra appears in a brief, but pivotal and moving, performance as Father Paul, the young parish priest whose small Coaltown, Pennsylvania church has been chosen as the location of Olga’s final farewell.  Sinatra sings the deeply emotional “Ever Homeward,” written by Kasimierz Lubomirski, with Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.

     MGM’s THE KISSING BANDIT, released in 1948, found the crooner adrift once more in a likeable, if sappy variation of THE PIRATE in which Gene Kelly was mistaken as a notorious buccaneer.  Sinatra, a milquetoast business school graduate from Boston, finds himself in old California where he impersonates a kissing bandido in a gang once run by his late father.  The film, while colorful and entertaining, has been acknowledged by Sinatra as the least favorite of his various screen roles (together with his performance as Miguel in THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION).  The exquisite Kathryn Grayson co-starred once again as his romantic lead.

     TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME from MGM in 1949 was the second and, perhaps, the weakest of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly musical collaborations, featuring the pair of unlikely sports figures, playing both baseball and vaudeville while simultaneously wooing Esther Williams and Betty Garrett.  To Sinatra’s credit, the singer underwent punishing dance steps and routines under the supervision of Kelly in both this film, as well as their earlier collaboration, ANCHORS AWEIGH, and emerged a highly professional dance partner for the more remarkably skilled hoofer.  Their next collaboration, however, would become the most memorable of their three dance films together.




     ON THE TOWN, produced by MGM in 1949, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics (as well as screenplay) by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, became the first musical film ever to shoot on actual locations, rather than indoor stages and sets, in the streets of New York.  The city's streets, subways, skyscrapers and bustling landscape were as much the stars and personality of the beloved musical as were its human protagonists.  The Big Apple, with its exuberance, excitement, and pulsating electricity, provided the vibrant backdrop and story of three sailors on leave in who discover romance, music, and adventure along Rockefeller Center and The Great White Way.    

  ON THE TOWN (1949)


     The incomparable vitality of Kelly and Donen’s direction and choreography, together with spirited on location performances by Kelly, Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, the radiant Vera Ellen as the ever elusive “Miss Turnstiles”, along with the music of Leonard Bernstein, and the shattering steel and chrome exhilaration of the world’s greatest city, joyfully combined to create a truly one of a kind motion picture musical experience.

     RKO’s embarrassing DOUBLE DYNAMITE co-starring Jane Russell and Groucho Marx followed in 1951, nearly ending the long careers of each of its players. But Sinatra’s next performance, though largely forgotten today, would powerfully shape the dramatic career path and stature of its star for the remainder of his life.

     Before this, however, Frank Sinatra would go through the worst period of his life.  He had grown beyond the adoration of his one time bobby soxer fans.  And MGM had tired of his seemingly one dimensional screen persona, ... although they had helped to fashion and perpetuate it.  While trying desperately to resuscitate his singing career, Sinatra would hemorrhage his vocal chords, leaving him to wonder if he’d ever sing again. Various cronies, sensing the end of his career, deserted him and wouldn’t pick up the phone to take his calls.  With professional medical care and prescribed rest, his voice would eventually return. But for a time Sinatra would remain a professional hot potato in Hollywood. 


Part 1 (1941 - 1960) pg. 1, 2, 3

Part 2 (1960 - 1984) pg. 1, 2

PART 3 - SINATRA: ALL THE WAY: Memorabilia from the Steve Vertlieb Archives

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