December 12th marks what would have been Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment is celebrating the occasion with the May 5th release of the Frank Sinatra: Five Film Collection on Blu-ray. Packed with bonus features, including a 32-page photo book, the set includes the Blu-ray debuts of the newly remastered 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh, which marked Sinatra’s film debut with Gene Kelly, their reteaming in 1949 for On the Town, and the Frank and his fellow Rat Packers in 1964’s Robin and the 7 Hoods.
The set also includes the already released Guys and Dolls (1955), and the original Ocean’s 11, featuring the infamous Rat Pack. It should be noted that all of the newly available titles will be available for purchase separately, if you wish to avoid double dipping.
Anchors Aweigh (1945)
Famous for a scene in which Gene Kelly dances with seamlessly with the animated Jerry Mouse, Anchors Aweigh stars Frank Sinatra as Clarence Doolittle, who along with his fellow Navy man Joseph Brady (Gene Kelly), is enjoying a four day leave in Hollywood. While both guys have their minds on spending some time with girls, their plans are changed when a policeman asks them to spend a little time with a young man named Donald (Dean Stockwell), who had run away from home with hopes of joining the Navy. The guys take the kid home and wait for his mother to arrive. As it turns out, Donald lives with his Aunt Susie (Kathryn Grayson), a total stunner.
An entertainer and aspiring actress, Clarence is quickly convinced that Susie is the perfect girl for him. Much of the rest of the film follows womanizer’s Joe’s attempts to coach Clarence on how to win Susie’s heart, though it soon becomes apparent that Joe is falling for Susie as well. Eventually, Clarence hits it off with a girl from Brooklyn (Pamela Britton) who he meets at the club where Susan performs. If things weren’t messy enough, the guys get involved in a bit of a white lie when they try to help Susan get her singing career off the ground.
Light and breezy fun, this romantic comedy features some catchy songs, and unforgettable dancing from Gene Kelly. And though she may not be well known to some today, Kathryn Grayson was a very talented soprano, who more than holds her own with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Anchors Aweigh is highly recommended.
On the Town (1949)
On the Town found Frank Sinatra once again co-starring with Gene Kelly in a film that story wise could easily be described as a watered down version of Anchors Aweigh. Gabey (Kelly), Chip (Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) are three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in New York City. Before they even leave the subway, Gabey falls in love with the picture of “Miss Turnstiles,” real name: Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen) and he convinces his buddies to help him find her. In that process, Chip pairs up with an aggressive cabbie Hildy Esterhazy (Betty Garrett) and Ozzie hits it off with Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), an anthropologist at the Museum of Anthropological History.
From there, the couples traverse New York City seeing the sights and singing and dancing. It looks like everyone is having a blast, and the film benefits from co-director Gene Kelly’s (aided by Stanley Donen) insistence several scenes be shot on location in New York City at places such as the Brooklyn Bridge, and Rockefeller Center giving the story an air of authenticity. The studio set sets are surprisingly lavish much of the time, similar to the kind you might find for a Broadway musical. Nonetheless, it seems appropriate given the show stopping song and dance routines throughout the film.
On the Town is much more Gene Kelly’s film than Frank Sinatra’s, as he gets more screen time, and memorable scenes. Nonetheless, Frank is unforgettable when his voice rises above the rest, singing, “New York, New York.”
Guys and Dolls (1955)
The film adaptation of the popular Broadway hit that itself was based on a story by Damon Runyon. Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) runs a floating crap game and when he’s not doing that, he hangs out with his fiancé of more than a decade, dancer Adelaide (Vivian Blaine). Though constantly frustrated she can’t get Nathan down the aisle, Adelaide just can’t quit him. Nathan’s biggest obstacle to marriage is his fondness for his gambling ‘family’ which include his “second,” Nicely-Nicely Johnson (comic actor Stubby Kaye).
Nathan has a friendly rivalry with fellow gambler Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), whom he’s hoping to talk into fronting then money he needs to get a place to run a crap game. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a lot harder than he’d expected. When he finally talks Sky into taking a bet, it’s an odd one: he wagers Sky a cool grand that he won’t be able to talk a dedicated Salvation Army employee named Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) into going to Havana for dinner with him. With Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) looking to shut the guys down, is there any chance of a crap game? Will Sky get the girl?
Sinatra carries himself well here, and obviously has no problems with musical numbers. Guys and Dolls is fun stuff. Even Marlon Brando does a commendable job. Obviously not a singer by trade, he manages not to embarrass himself, and has palpable chemistry with the beautiful Jean Simmons.
Ocean’s 11 (1960)
[Parts of this review appeared in a review of an earlier release—RW]
Blessed with a simple plot and never considered a classic, Ocean’s 11 is still a favorite film of many. A few days before New Year’s Eve, heist-master Spyros Acebos (Akim Tamiroff) is in a panic because he’s become too well known by the police to successfully pull off any robberies himself. Therefore, Spyros hands the reins over to his wind-up merchant friend Danny Ocean (Sinatra) who assembles ten of his ex-Army buddies from the 82nd Airborne Division, to complete the heist. The actual robbery involves robbing the vaults of five illustrious Vegas casinos (Desert Inn, Sands, Flamingo, Sahara, Riviera) but hits problems when one of the gang’s stepfather Duke Santos (Cesar Romero) an underworld bigwig, exploits the situation to his own ends and begins to investigate the crime.
At times, Ocean’s 11 can be slow—particularly in the beginning when viewers get background information on all of the characters without really knowing what’s going on. The heist itself isn’t carefully thought through, and the “plan” is never really explained—I still don’t get how they were able to have two “inside guys” in each casino, plus Josh (Davis, Jr.) driving the getaway vehicle, plus Tony (Richard Conte) rigging the electrical work…with only eleven guys. And with all the characters running around, it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Never mind though, weaknesses or not, Ocean’s 11 is a fun romp. Las Vegas was at the height of its glory; overflowing with class and style. Men wore the best suits and women donned some of the finest gowns. Fans of the Rat Pack (especially Dean Martin, who steals the show), will love it just because. As Dino himself might remark, “Its swingin’ baby!”
Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)
A parody of Robin Hood, Robin and the 7 Hoods is set in prohibition era Chicago. In perhaps the funniest role of his career, Peter Falk’s Guy Gisbourne kills “Big” Jim Stevens (Edward G. Robinson, in an uncredited cameo) to take control of the city, and its racketeering operations, with the sheriff (Robert Foulk) offering protection for a fee.
The only one willing to stand up to Guy, fellow mobster Robbo (Frank Sinatra), joins forces with a pool shark named John Little (Dean Martin). The two befriend Allen A. Dale (Bing Crosby), after Will Scarlet (Sammy Davis Jr.), makes a $50,000 donation to the local boys orphanage he runs, in Robbo’s name. The whole thing comes about because Big Jim’s daughter, Marian (Barbara Rush), believes that the Sherriff is responsible for her father’s death, and Robbo responsible for his disappearance. As such, she gives Robbo a $50,000 payoff. Not wanting the money to be traced back to him, Robbo asks his merry men to get rid of it, hence the donation to the orphanage.
Naturally, Robbo finds it’s quite beneficial to have the public on his side, so other charities follow. It’s fun to watch all this play out on Chicago gangland turf, in the midst of illegal activity. The songs are quirky, and enjoyable, the plot surprisingly clever.
Anchors Aweigh and On the Town are presented in 1.37.1, Guys and Dolls in 2.55.1 widescreen, and Robin and the 7 Hoods 2.40.1 widescreen, each in 1080p high definition. Ocean’s 11 is presented in 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer, identical to the one used on the single disc release that came out a few years back. Detail has been greatly improved over previous DVD releases Facial detail is exceptional throughout the set, and texture is surprisingly good. There aren’t any compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues, and any print damage is minor. In general, fans should be very pleased with Warner’s efforts here.
Audio for the first three movies is handled by a good sounding DTS-HD 1.0 track, though dubbed tracks are offered in Dolby Digital Mono French and Spanish (save for Guys and Dolls, which has English DTS-HD Mono audio only). The DTS-HD tracks on these discs sounds rather crisp, reproducing the dialogue very nicely and featuring some well-balanced levels. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the musical bits are solid. There are spots where the higher end of the mix is just a tiny bit shrill for Ocean’s 11 but that’s minor.
Subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish for all titles. Portuguese, German SDH, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles are also included for Ocean’s 11.
Extras for Anchors Aweigh start off with a featurette called Hanna Barbara & The Making of the Worry Song which is a clip from MGM: When The Lion Roars. It’s a two minute piece on the scene where Gene Kelly dances with the cartoon mouse. We learn it was originally intended to be Mickey Mouse who danced, not Jerry. An MGM short from 1945 called Football Thrills Of 1944 is also included, and it runs eight and a half minutes. A second MGM short, Jerky Turkey is also included, it’s a cartoon presented uncut (with some reasonably racist material intact) with a disclaimer rightly stating that it is a product of its time. It runs seven and a half minutes and was directed by Tex Avery. A theatrical trailer for Anchor’s Away rounds out the extras on this disc.
Extras for On the Town are slim, limited to two vintage MGM shorts: an eleven minute historical piece called Mr. Whitney Had a Notion and an eight minute cartoon from 1949 called Doggone Tired. We also get a trailer for the film.
On the Ocean’s 11 disc we get an an audio commentary by Frank Sinatra, Jr. and co-star Angie Dickinson that may be more fun to some than the film itself. Then, there’s a series of vignettes called “Las Vegas: Then and Now” about the casinos involved in the heist. At about three or four minutes each, these vignettes include reminiscences from former employees of the hotels, and they show what the clubs looked like fifty years ago and today. Next, there’s a four-minute excerpt from The Tonight Show with guest host Frank Sinatra and guest Angie Dickinson, who chat about making the film together. The quality of the video is poor, but the conversation is lively. Rounding things out, are two theatrical trailers.
Extras for Robin and the 7 Hoods include an informative audio commentary from Frank Sinatra, Jr., and a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, What Did They Do to Robin Hood? Also included is a 1939 WB cartoon called Robin Hood Makes Good, a 1958 WB cartoon called Robin Hood Daffy and a 1949 WB cartoon called Rabbit Hood. Last but not least, is the film’s theatrical trailer.
All five discs are inside a blue keepcase with flippers inside to house each disc. This case fits inside a cardboard slipcase that also contains a 32-page hardcover book of photos and information related to each of the five films contained in this collection.