A Piece of Himself
Frank Sinatra at the Movies
...a great singer is, by nature, a great actor.

There are only a handful of people who meant as much to the world of film as they did to the world of music: Bing Crosby, Doris Day, even Elvis Presley, although his movies were never as good as his records. But I think the case can be made that Frank Sinatra topped them all.


Sinatra on the set of "From Here To Eternity"

It's often been said that a great singer is, by nature, a great actor, because of the need to impart meaning to the lyrics that he or she sings. It's become a clich' but if it were as simple as that, there would be more great singing actors. In Sinatra's case, if you didn't know he was an enormously popular singing star, you'd still be impressed with his work on film.

I recently hosted a showing of Pal Joey at the Los Angeles Theatre, which boasts an enormous screen - perhaps the largest in Hollywood. To see Pal Joey in that setting, with a packed house of nearly 2,000 people, was amazing; there was electricity in the air. When Frank sang "The Lady Is A Tramp," it was as if he were standing there in person, and when he finished, there was a spontaneous burst of applause. That film (like several others during his career) deliberately blurred the line between Sinatra's public persona and the particular part he played. The word that came to my mind as I watched him in that role was swagger. What a perfect vehicle, tailor-made for him - and presenting him at the peak of his vocal powers.

Sinatra on the set of "From Here To Eternity"It would be difficult for me to choose a favorite Sinatra film. I love his youthful charm in Anchors Aweigh and On The Town. It's a mark of how good an actor he was, even then, that he could persuade us that he was an innocent at large! He's wonderful in High Society, and it's easy to take notice of his impressive work in The Man With The Golden Arm. But he's as good in a piece of fluff like The Tender Trap as he is in the intense drama of The Manchurian Candidate.

Did any of those roles resemble the real-life Frank Sinatra? I'm not in a position to say . . . but I don't think he could have played that sailor in Anchors Aweigh or On The Town if that naivete wasn't a component of his personality. Listen to the disarming sincerity of "The House I Live In." We believe him because he's performing from his heart. But in truth, those wide-eyed early images on-screen may be no closer to a true picture of Sinatra than Nathan Detroit (Guys And Dolls), Angelo Maggio (From Here To Eternity), or Frankie Machine (The Man With The Golden Arm).

Every actor brings a piece of himself to a performance; that's what stamps it as his own. Because Sinatra was such a forceful personality offscreen, many people take his work as an actor for granted. Perhaps they haven't stopped to consider the range of his work. He played a formidable variety of characters and made them credible, without formal training in dramatic arts.

When Frank Sinatra rose to fame, he was compared to his boyhood idol, Bing Crosby. Bing had a marvelous ability to make us feel good, and that's no small achievement - but Frank could do more than that. Somehow, Sinatra reached deeper into his psyche, as a singer and as an actor; perhaps that's why his work has had such a profound effect on us.

- From the liner notes to Sinatra in Hollywood {view the films of Frank Sinatra}

Leonard Maltin is best known for his appearances on television and for his annual paperback reference book Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide.

 

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