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FRANK SINATRA: 1915-1998 | His Movies

The Chairman

Frank Sinatra helped define popular culture for more than half of the 20th century, in a career that ranged from swing-era clubs to films to best-selling CDs. Here are some of the highlights.

May 16, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frank Sinatra was just a skinny 25-year-old crooner with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra when he made his film debut in 1941's "Las Vegas Nights," singing the Oscar-nominated tune "Dolores."

Though "Las Vegas Nights" is just a faded memory, the musical did launch his film career. Over the next four decades, Sinatra demonstrated his versatility in musicals, dramas, thrillers, comedies and war movies. Here are some milestones (those on video are noted):

"Higher and Higher" (Turner, $20): Sinatra made a less-than-compelling acting debut in this lightweight 1943 musical comedy. But his renditions of "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" and "The Music Stopped" made his teenage fans scream with delight.

"Anchors Aweigh" (MGM, $20): Two years later, Sinatra hit pay dirt when he teamed with Gene Kelly in the popular wartime musical comedy.

"It Happened in Brooklyn" (MGM, $20): The majority of Sinatra's films from this period found him cast as a shy, meek and sweet character, as in this so-so 1947 musical.

"On the Town" (MGM, $20): A landmark 1949 musical in which Sinatra, Kelly and Jules Munshin play three sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York.

"Double Dynamite" (Turner, $20): As Sinatra's singing career hit the skids in the early 1950s, so did his movie career. The less said about this painful 1951 comedy, which also stars Jane Russell and Groucho Marx, the better.

"From Here to Eternity" (Columbia TriStar, $20): The Sinatra persona that emerged in this 1953 classic was vastly different than his '40s image. The mature, more world-weary Sinatra proved he could hold his own with such dramatic powerhouses as Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. Sinatra won an Oscar as best supporting actor for his memorable performance as the happy-go-lucky but ill-fated soldier Angelo Maggio.

"Suddenly" (Sinister Cinema; Nostalgia, $15): Sinatra gives a startlingly chilling performance in this 1954 cult favorite as a paid killer out to assassinate the president.

"Young at Heart" (Republic, $15): Sinatra went dramatic with good results in this 1954 musical remake of the 1938 tear-jerker "Four Daughters."

"The Man With the Golden Arm" (Warner, $20): Sinatra turned in another gritty, textured performance in Otto Preminger's controversial 1955 drama, earning a best actor Oscar nomination as junkie Frankie Machine.

"The Tender Trap" (MGM, $20): Sinatra didn't abandon his musical and comedy roots during this period of his career. He has charm to spare as a swinging, carefree bachelor in this breezy 1955 comedy.

"Guys and Dolls" (Fox, $20): As gambler Nathan Detroit, Old Blue Eyes added some badly needed pizazz to the static 1955 film version of Frank Loesser's musical.

"The Joker Is Wild": Sinatra combines his dramatic skills with his music with terrific results in 1957's compelling bio-pic about troubled comedian Joe E. Lewis.

"Some Came Running" (MGM, $20): Sinatra teams up for the first time with fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin in Vincente Minnelli's juicy 1958 melodrama.

"Ocean's Eleven" (Warner, $15): "E-O-11" is the best film effort from the Rat Pack. Sinatra, Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford star in this 1960 Las Vegas caper flick.

"The Manchurian Candidate" (MGM, $20): In the midst of appearing in mindless Rat Pack vehicles, Sinatra starred in and produced one of the best political thrillers ever made. He is effective in this tautly directed John Frankenheimer 1962 chiller as a Korean War vet who believes members of his platoon were brainwashed during the war.

"Von Ryan's Express" (Fox, $20): Sinatra is well cast as a tough American Air Force colonel who leads a group of European POWs to freedom in the rousing 1965 World War II adventure.

"None but the Brave" (Warner, $15): Sinatra made his first and only foray into directing in 1965 with this heavy-handed World War II flick.

"Contract on Cherry Street": Sinatra made his first and only TV movie in 1977, playing yet another tough New York police officer.

"The First Deadly Sin" (Warner, $15): Unfortunately, Sinatra's last starring feature was this dreadful 1980 thriller. He plays a New York police lieutenant out to nab a killer while fretting over his dying wife (Faye Dunaway).

"Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones" (Warner, $20): Sinatra's last feature appearance was in this 1990 documentary.

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