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Frank Sinatra

Review: That’s Entertainment

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

There is a group of films which are meant to be entertaining, are seldom noteworthy, and are usually G-rated. They can be termed entertainment films and customarily offer nothing for something. It is their habit to stay clear of anything that anyone might consider controversial. So extreme is this fear of controversy that they often end up virtually without content. Technical expertise is not generally one of their assets…. With all this on the debit side, it’s surprising that they ever succeed. But successful entertainment films of a special variety were turned out by one studio with remarkable consistency. The studio was MGM. The special films were musicals. To succeed where others failed, MGM had a formula involving two basic elements: use the best talent available, both in front of and behind the camera.

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Review: That’s Entertainment

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

I have never counted myself among the musical buffs. It’s mainly been the arousal of interest in a director—Donen, Lester, Minnelli, Cukor, et al.—that enticed me into a theater or in front of a TV screen where a musical was playing. Conversely, taking Groucho’s advice in Horse Feathers, I have more often than not seized on the unwelcome musical interludes in essentially nonmusical films to go make a sandwich or flip over to another channel to check out the credits of the movie starting there. So if I tell you That’s Entertainment is just utterly swell, I’m telling you. And it is. Utterly. There’s nary a ringer among the numbers selected—except for episodes like Jimmy Stewart c. 1936 singing “You’d Be So Easy to Love” without benefit of redubbing, or Clark Gable doing a semi-improvisatory vaudeville song and dance number in the salon of a resort hotel (Idiot’s Delight), and of course those too become marvelous in their very unexpectedness and forgotten-biographical-footnote splendor (Gable is having such an outrageously good time, Stewart an outrageously uncomfortable time). When a sequence has been compressed or otherwise excerpted, it’s been excerpted sensitively and intelligently. And “director” Jack Haley Jr. has exercised impeccable judgment in deciding when to stay with the original 1.33:1 format, when to go with the full 70mm aspect ratio, and when to let the image grow from one to the other. The color has been faithfully transferred (if it hurts your eyes it would have hurt them in 1948, or whenever), and the black-and-white looks more like black-and-white than in any other color movie in my experience. Some of the newly stereophonicked sound is a trifle distracting, the mobility of the voices occasionally getting away from the less agile figures onscreen; but mostly the great care taken with every facet of the technological renovation has paid off many times over.

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DVD: ‘Come Blow Your Horn’

The 1960s was filled with films featuring swinging single men (or even, God forbid, cheating married men), most of them between 30 and 50 living in lavish bachelor pads with fully stocked bars and a revolving door of younger women passing through to their bedrooms:Boeing, BoeingA Guide For the Married ManWhat’s New PussycatHow to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life, any James Bond movie and oh so many films with Dean Martin (the Matt Helm movies) and Frank Sinatra (Tony Rome and friends). These aren’t films about the sexual revolution, mind you. These men are unapologetic players and the women are either playmates or long-suffering good girls waiting for the man-boys to grow up and commit.

Sure enough, Sinatra is the ring-a-ding bachelor of the 1963 comedy Come Blow Your Horn, a film based on a Neil Simon play where sex comedy collides with the coming of age comedy of 1950s family values. Sinatra anchors the film as Alan Baker, the runaway son and free-wheeling sales executive of his father’s company (the biggest manufacturer of plastic fruit on the East Coast!) and now mentor to his 21-year-old kid brother Buddy, played by Tony Bill in his feature debut. Buddy has just fled his suburban family home on the tree-lined streets of Queens and landed at his brother’s super-cool New York City bachelor apartment, a lavish fantasy of wood paneling, wall-to-wall carpets, a fully-stocked bar, and a living room the size of a small ballroom: a playground that is clearly beyond his means.

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