Cleaning Out The DVR: Tony Rome (dir by Gordon Douglas)


The 1967 film, Tony Rome, is about a detective named …. can you guess it?

That’s right! Tony Rome!

Tony works out of Miami and, because he’s played by Frank Sinatra, you can be sure that he’s a tough guy who knows how to throw a punch but who, at the same time, also knows how to have a good time. He’s got a bottle of liquor in the glove compartment. He’s got his own boat. He’s got a snappy quip for every occasion and a properly cynical sense of humor but at the same time, he also cares about doing the right thing. He says what’s on his mind and if that hurts your feelings, tough. Again, none of this should be a surprise, considering that he’s played by Frank Sinatra and Sinatra could play these type of sentimental tough guys in his sleep.

That’s not to say that Sinatra sleepwalks through the role, of course. Far from it. As played by Sinatra, Tony comes across as an authentic tough guy, as someone who has seen it all and who, as a result, understands that importance of stopping to have a drink and appreciate the world around him. Tony Rome might be a Rat Pack-style private investigator but that doesn’t mean he can’t solve the case and, even while Tony’s having a good time, Sinatra never lets you forget that he takes his job very seriously.

As for the film, it’s a story that beings when Tony is hired to drive a passed out rich girl back to her home. This leads to him investigating a jewelry theft and eventually discovering an extortion plot. Sue Lyon plays the rich girl. Gena Rowlands plays her stepmother while Simon Oakland (the psychologist at the end of Psycho) plays her father. Richard Conte, who played bad gangster Barzini in The Godfather, plays Tony Rome’s best friend on the police force. (Every good private eye has a best friend on the police force.) Jill St. John plays Ann Archer, who helps Tony out with his investigation. Ann is recently divorced. Will Tony claim her heart or will she go back to her husband? It wouldn’t be a Sinatra film without a little heartbreak. (To a large extent, St. John’s performance here feels like a slightly more serious version of the performance she would later give as Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever, which is perhaps as close as we’ll ever get to a Rat Pack-style James Bond film.)

The story itself is surprisingly easy to follow. This is not one of those detective stories that will leave you shocked over who turns out to be the bad guy. For a film that often takes something of a light-hearted approach to Tony’s efforts to solve the mystery, it’s also a rather violent film. More than a few people get killed. Tony gets kicked in the ribs at one point and the sound of the 50-something Sinatra groaning in pain is disconcerting. Of course, Tony recovers quickly and immediately gets his revenge. When you watch the scene, you think to yourself that anyone who would try to beat up Frank Sinatra has to be a fool. That’s largely because Tony is Sinatra and Sinatra is Tony.

It’s an entertaining film, one that works well as a time capsule of what it was like to cool and swinging and middle-aged in 1967. Tony Rome is smart enough to focus more on Sinatra’s charisma than on trying to impress the viewers with its own cleverness. If I ever have to hire a private detective, I hope he’s like Tony Rome. I hope he gets the job done. I hope he has a good time while doing it. And I hope he comes with his own Nancy Sinatra-sung theme song. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Cannonball Run II (1984, directed by Hal Needham)


In 1981, director Hal Needham and star Burt Reynolds had a surprise hit with The Cannonball Run.  Critics hated the film about a race from one end of America to the other but audiences flocked to watch Burt and a group of familiar faces ham it up while cars crashed all around them.  The original Cannonball Run is a goofy and gloriously stupid movie and it can still be fun to watch.  The sequel, on the other hand…

When the sequel begins, the Cannonball Run has been discontinued.  The film never explains why the race is no longer being run but then again, there’s a lot that the sequel doesn’t explain.  King Abdul ben Falafel (Ricardo Montalban, following up The Wrath of Khan with this) wants his son, The Sheik (Jamie Farr, returning from the first film) to win the Cannonball so he puts up a million dollars and announces that the race is back on.  Problem solved.

With the notable exceptions of Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, and Adrienne Barbeau, almost everyone from the first film returns to take another shot at the race.  Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise are back.  Jack Elam returns as the crazy doctor, though he’s riding with the Sheik this time.  Jackie Chan returns, riding with Richard “Jaws” Kiel.  Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. return, playing barely disguised versions of themselves.  They’re joined by the surviving members of the Rat Pack.  Yes, Frank Sinatra is in this thing.  He plays himself and, from the way his scenes are shot, it’s obvious they were all filmed in a day and all the shots of people reacting to his presence were shot on another day.  Shirley MacClaine also shows up, fresh from having won an Oscar.  She plays a fake nun who rides with Burt and Dom.  Burt, of course, had a previous chance to co-star with Shirley but he turned down Terms of Endearment so he could star in Stroker AceCannonball Run II finally gave the two a chance to act opposite each other, though no one would be winning any Oscars for appearing in this film.

Say what you will about Hal Needham as a director, he was obviously someone who cultivated a lot of friendships in Hollywood because this film is jam-packed with people who I guess didn’t have anything better to do that weekend.  Telly Savalas, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva, Abe Vigoda, and Henry Silva all play gangsters.  Jim Nabors plays Homer Lyle, a country-fried soldier who is still only a private despite being in his 50s.  Catherine Bach and Susan Anton replace Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman as the two racers who break traffic laws and hearts with impunity.  Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Foster Brooks, Sid Caesar, Arte Johnson, Mel Tillis, Doug McClure, George “Goober” Lindsey, and more; Needham found room for all of them in this movie.  He even found roles for Tony Danza and an orangutan.  (Marilu Henner is also in the movie so I guess Needham was watching both Taxi and Every Which Way But Loose while casting the film.)  Needham also came up with a role for Charles Nelson Reilly, who is cast as a mafia don in Cannonball Run II.  His name is also Don so everyone refers to him as being “Don Don.”  That’s just a typical example of the humor that runs throughout Cannonball Run II.  If you thought the humor of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was too subtle and cerebral, Cannonball Run II might be right up your alley.

The main problem with Cannonball Run II is that there’s not much time spent on the race, which is strange because that’s the main reason why anyone would want to watch this movie.  The race itself doesn’t start until 45 minutes into this 108 minute film and all the racers are quickly distracted by a subplot about the Mafia trying to kidnap the Sheik.  Everyone stops racing so that Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. can disguise themselves as belly dancers to help rescue the Sheik.  By the time that’s all been taken care of, there’s only 10 minutes left for everyone to race across the country.  After a montage of driving scenes and a cartoon of an arrow stretching across the nation (the cartoon was animated by Ralph Bakshi!), we discover who won the Cannonball and then it’s time for a montage of Burt and Dom blowing their lines and giggling.  Needham always ended his films with a montage of everyone screwing up a take and it’s probably one of his most lasting cinematic contributions.  Every blooper reel that’s ever been included as a DVD or Blu-ray extra owes a debt of gratitude to Hal Needham.  Watching people blow their lines can be fun if you’ve just watched a fun movie but watching Burt and Dom amuse themselves after sitting through Cannonball Run II is just adding insult to injury.  It feels less like they’re laughing at themselves and more like they’re laughing at you for being stupid enough to sit through a movie featuring Tony Danza and an orangutan.

The dumb charm of the first Cannonball Run is nowhere to be found in this sequel and, though the film made a profit, the box office numbers were still considered to be a disappointment when compared to the other films that Reynolds and Needham collaborated on.  Along with Stroker Ace, this is considered to be one of the films that ended Reynolds’s reign as a top box office attraction.  Cannonball Run II was also the final feature film to feature Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  This could be considered the final Rat Pack film, though I wouldn’t say that too loudly.

Cannonball Run II is a disappointment on so many levels.  It’s hard to believe that the same director who did Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper could be responsible for the anemic stunts and chases found in this movie.  The cast may have had a good time but the audience is left bored.  Stick with the first Cannonball Run.

 

Music Video of the Day: My Way performed by Christopher Lee (2006, dir by ?????)


Christopher Lee recorded this version of My Way for Revelation, a 2006 album of covers.  This video features Lee at his home in London’s Tufnell Park.

My Way was originally written by Paul Anka, who based the song on a French song called Comme d’habitude.  The song, of course, was made famous by Frank Sinatra but it’s also been recorded by everyone from Elvis to Sid Viscous to Jay-Z.  As for Lee’s version — well, whatever he may have lacked in vocal range was made up for by the fact that he was Christopher Lee!  As for the music video, how could any Hammer horror fan resist the chance to see the inside of Christopher Lee’s home?

There is a strain of melancholy running through Lee’s version but then again, I don’t know if it’s possible to record a non-melancholy version of My Way.  On the one hand, it’s a song of triumph.  On the other hand, it’s a song that acknowledges that we’re all mortal, even those of us who refuse to compromise and who maintain our independence.

Enjoy!

Music Video Of The Day: The Night We Called It A Day, performed by Bob Dylan (2015, dir by Nash Edgerton)


This song, of course, has been around even longer than Bob Dylan.  It was originally published in 1941.  Frank Sinatra’s first ever solo recording was a performance of this song and he would later record two more versions of it, in 1947 and 1957.

The Bob Dylan version appeared on Dylan’s 36th studio album, Shadows in the Night.  (Shadows in the Night consists of covers of songs that Sinatra originally made famous.)  Dylan performed this song on the second-t0-last episode of Late Show with David Letterman.  Even though my musical taste usually runs the gamut from EDM to More EDM, I’ve always liked Bob Dylan.  David Letterman, on the other hand, I’m a bit less impressed with.  (Is he ever going to shave off that stupid beard?)

This nicely melancholy video feels like a throw back to the gangster films of the 30s.  Helping to create that retro atmosphere is the casting of Robert Davi, an actor who would have fit right in with Cagney, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson.  Interestingly enough, Davi is also known as a skilled interpreter of Sinatra.

(He also once wished me a happy birthday, which was a nice of him.)

Enjoy!

Rat Pack – 3 = FOUR FOR TEXAS (Warner Brothers 1963)


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The wait is finally over, my new DirecTV receiver has arrived and is all hooked up! Unfortunately, all my DVR’d movies have vanished. And since it was filled to about 70% capacity, that’s a lot of movies! Needless to say, I’ve got to load up the ol’ DVR again. Thanks to TCM, I re-recorded one of my old favorites the other day, FOUR FOR TEXAS, an action-packed Western comedy I’ve seen about 100 times already (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration). This combines the two leaders of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin , with the talents of director Robert Aldrich. The result is an all-star, slam-bang entertainment that is loads of fun for film fans.

The pre-credits sequence looks like we’re about to watch a traditional Western, with a gang of outlaws led by Charles Bronson   riding out to ambush a stagecoach. But wait, that’s Frankie and Dino…

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RIP, Ya Hockey Puck: Don Rickles on Film and Television


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“Mr. Warmth”, the great Don Rickles, died yesterday at age 90. He was outrageous, rude, definitely non-PC, and hysterically funny. Rickles threw his verbal brickbats at everybody regardless of race, creed, national origin, or political persuasion, and it was all in good-spirited fun. There will never be another stand-up comic quite like Don Rickles, especially in today’s “safe space” world, and it’s a pity, because if we can’t all laugh at ourselves, if we can’t take a joke, then it’s time to pack it in.

Something I didn’t know about Don Rickles is he didn’t start out to be “The Merchant of Venom”. He intended to become a serious actor, studying at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. Frustrated with his lack of acting jobs, Don began doing stand-up as a way to gain exposure. When he was heckled by some audience members, he heckled ’em right back…

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Enjoy Christmas With The Dean Martin Christmas Show!


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I was doing a search on YouTube for Christmas specials, Christmas songs, and Christmas scenes when I came across The Dean Martin Christmas Show, which originally aired on December 21st, 1967.  It’s a Christmas show starring Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and their respective families.  Sure, some of the jokes may be corny but c’mon — it’s Frank and Dino!

Now, the video is occasionally a little rough.  I assume that this was copied from a VHS tape.  But no matter!  Not only does this special serve as a time capsule but it also serves as a valuable reminder that Christmas is even better when it features a little Rat Pack swagger!

 

 

Turn That Frown Upside Down With ANCHORS AWEIGH (MGM 1945)


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(Post-election blues got you depressed? Cheer up, buttercup, here’s a movie musical guaranteed to lift your sagging spirits!) 

Gene Kelly  and Frank Sinatra’s first screen pairing was ANCHORS AWEIGH, a fun-filled musical with a Hollywood backdrop that’s important in film history for a number of reasons: it gave Kelly his first chance to create his own dance routines for an entire film, it’s Sinatra’s first top-billed role (he was red-hot at the time), it gives viewers a glimpse of the MGM backlot in the Fabulous 40’s, and it features the iconic live action/animation dance between Kelly and Jerry the Mouse (of TOM & JERRY fame). It’s a showcase of Hollywood movie magic, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Actor (Kelly), Color Cinematography (Charles P. Boyle), and Song (Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn’s ” I Fall in Love Too Easily”), winning for George Stoll’s Best Original…

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Batter Up!: TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (MGM 1949)


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The National Pastime is just a frame for TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to hang its picture in. That’s okay though, because producer Arthur Freed and the MGM Musical Dream Factory put together a rollicking, colorful romp with turn of the (20th) century baseball as an excuse to let Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra , Esther Williams, Betty Garrett, and company razzle-dazzle us with plenty of songs, dancing, romancing, and comedy.

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There’s not much of a plot in this outing. The World Champion Wolves are at spring training, awaiting the arrival of star diamond duo Eddie O’Brien and Denny Ryan, who’re off on a vaudeville tour. Eddie (Kelly) is a skirt chaser with Broadway dreams, while Denny’s (Sinatra) a shy, geeky guy who lives and breathes baseball. They get to camp just in time to hear the Wolves’ owner has died and left the club to his only relative, K.C. Higgins (Williams), who…

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Cleaning Out The DVR #5: Around The World In 80 Days (dir by Michael Anderson)


Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle.  Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne.  He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon.  Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag.  Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.

Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film.  In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot.  Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.

Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures.  If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch.  Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment.  When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting.  When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians.  When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed.  Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.

Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.  Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.

But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers.  Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity.  (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.)  I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos.  For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship.  But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake.  However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.

Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos.  But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie.  David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport.  Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.

Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:

Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time.  Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.