Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin made six feature movies together. These guys were like Newman and Redford or Clooney and Damon as a film duo.
Frank and Dino were kool kats, and from the mid 1950s to the late 1960s, Hollywood was their playground. The films they made together between 1958 and 1965, ranged from very good to misfires. Good, bad or otherwise, they always seemed to be having a party on screen.
In looking at their films, notice how many film titles below has a number in it.
Sinatra and Martin appeared with other members of the Rat Pack in other films. For instance, Martin and Joey Bishop appeared in Texas Across the River, a comedy from 1966. Of the Sinatra/Martin films, there are not really any classics, however, Some Came Running might be the best overall film of theirs, but not the most interesting of the six.
Sinatra and Martin seemed to have a similar approach to acting. Show up ready, hit your mark, say the lines and move on to the next scene. Sinatra was known to detest multiple takes; he was reported to be the same way in the studio. Martin, as I have written about, only showed up on the day of the taping of his television variety show, usually reading from cue cards and getting delight from sketches that went awry and ad-libbed through the debacle. If you look at the list of film appearances for both, from 1954 through the end of the 1960s, each appeared in usually two or three films per year, even as many as four. The films were made quickly; pick up the check, and move on to the next concert, television appearance or film.
The last film they appeared in together, Cannonball Run II (1984), is a bit of an anomaly, more of cameo appearances in a film best forgotten. I am sure it was a blast on the set. I will overlook other cameo appearances like Come Blow Your Horn, a Sinatra film where Martin pops up very briefly.
Let’s go in reverse order.
Marriage On the Rocks (1965) Easily, the worst of their films together. Yikes. The quality of a bad TV film, the writing is terrible, cliched and sexist. Yes, even for the Rat Pack it is sexist. Sinatra plays a married man who ignores his wife (Deborah Kerr). Sinatra plays a boring guy, and it is a boring film. Martin is the fun bachelor. Sinatra and wife end up getting a divorce, and Martin accidentally marries her, but doesn’t want to be married. Hilarity ensues, as they try to right this ship. Actually, hilarity does not ensue, the film is a mess and even if you enjoy Sinatra and Martin together, skip this one.
Editorial comment: Through the end of the 1960s, and dribbling into the 1970s, Hollywood continued to crank out marital comedies, usually wrapped around the changing the social mores. With the exception of films like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, these films were awful and missed the bullseye by a mile.
Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964) Another big ensemble film, sort of a musical version of Ocean’s 11. Big musicals were begin to wain, and would be nearly dead by the end of the decade. Huge production values, Sinatra as producer, spend smartly on music by Nelson Riddle, and songs by Sammy Cain and Jimmy Van Heusen, and musical numbers staged by Jack Baker. Besides Sinatra and Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Peter Falk, Barbara Rush, Victor Buono and Edward G. Robinson headline the cast. I am not much on musicals, but this is a rare example of where I would prefer to cut out everything between the songs and keep just the songs. The story, of warring gangsters in Prohibition Chicago, with good guys Sinatra, Martin and Davis saving the day. You might enjoy the paint-by-numbers story and acting, it is not awful, just ordinary, to get to the better parts. Aside from the music and songs which I have mentioned, there are some very good acting parts: Peter Falk and Victor Buono. Before Columbo, Falk carved out a find feature film career in the 1960s in supporting roles, including two Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations. Buono was a regular in Sinatra films, and in many campy roles of the decade including King Tut on Batman.
4 For Texas (1963) Of all the Sinatra/Martin films, this one is my favorite. The twenty minute opening scene is perhaps the best part of the film. Produced, directed and co-written by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?), he provides an exciting opening to the film that sets up the competition between Sinatra and Martin’s characters throughout the film. While the rest of the film is entertaining and fun, after that opening sequence, the film settles into a more conventional Western. Also in the cast are Anita Ekberg, Ursula Andress, Victor Buono and Charles Bronson. The Three Stooges make an appearance. The story is about rivals Thomas and Jarret, out to recover $100,000 in gold, and then battle each other, and Buono/Bronson to refurbish a steamboat into a gambling casino. In the end, they must team up to save the boat.
Sergeants 3 (1962) Most of the Rat Pack played in this film, a remake of Gunga Din. This comedy Western fits nicely in between Ocean’s 11 and 4 For Texas. Director John Sturges has a nice action pedigree: The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. Sergeants 3 is nowhere near these two films, but it is a pleasant diversion and has it’s moments. Sinatra, as producer, was wise to hire action directors like Aldrich and Sturges to give his films bite and keep the action moving. When he resorted to traditional directors, particularly his late 1960s films, the results were…boring. Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, Bishop and Silva keep things lively entertaining. This was the last iteration for the full Rat Pack, as Bishop and Lawford would vanish from the group, although Bishop would resurface later in a film with Martin, and as late night television host, and he would reconnect with members of the Rat Pack. The story is of course derivative of Hollywood stereotype cavalry-Native American fare and not that interesting, even though it is based on a classic film. The interplay between Sinatra-Martin-Lawford-Bishop-Davis is what propels the film above the average, or “warmed-over” as some reviews read.
Ocean’s 11 (1960) This is really a fun film. The direction is very static, but it does not hurt the effort. Lewis Milestone started directing films in the silent era, and had some big hits along the way, but by 1960, was not the best choice for the Rat Pack. This was the first gathering of the Pack. The hip/cool score and cinematography (the Las Vegas colors pop) add a level of vibrancy to a film that feels like it escaped from the 1950s into a swinging, adult decade of fun. Danny Ocean (Sinatra) and his ex-Army pals, gather to pull a multi-casino heist on New Year’s Eve. Martin and Davis sing, but otherwise play it straight. The cast also includes Buddy Lester, Angie Dickinson, Richard Conte, Henry Silva, Ceasar Romero, Adam Tamiroff, Shirley MacLaine and George Raft. The film is fun and inventive, although it is quite sexist, even for the time. I rarely pass up this film when it is on television.
Some Came Running (1958) Arguably, the best of the Sinatra/Martin collaboration. A big budget production, Vincent Minnelli directing from a script by James Jones (From Here to Eternity). Co-starring Shirley MacLaine, Martha Hyer and Arthur Kennedy, the film had a great look and production values, and songs by Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, and music by Elmer Bernstein. The story was of an Army vet, Sinatra, returning to his hometown, a bit unfocused, but wanting to be a successful writer. His reintegration is bumpy, as he struggles to reconnect to his brother, and chooses some rough influences to align with, including Martin as a gambler. Sinatra could internalize characters who struggle (Manchurian Candidate) and play those working both sides of the street (Ocean’s 11), which he did here. Martin enjoys the loose characters, who do not have big plans, and who do not pretend to be the All-American boy. The film does not depend on Sinatra or Martin to carry it, there are plenty of things to enjoy and MacLaine turns in a very textured performance.