Coming soon, from a producer who did not make “Raging Bull,” the story of a hot-tempered, wild-brawling, hard-punching Italian-American slugger who rose from the streets to gain fame and wealth, only to have his self-destructive lifestyle destroy his marriage and lead to his downfall. Don’t miss. . . .
Just how frank is television’s Frank? It’s reasonable to assume that Tina Sinatra softened at least some of the edges in her role as executive producer of “Sinatra,” the authorized but largely negative biography of her famous singer-actor father, which airs in two parts at 8 p.m. Sunday and 9 p.m. Tuesday on CBS (Channels 2 and 8). So if this indeed is sanitized Frank Sinatra, one can only speculate--as many have--about the real story and the nastiness that William Mastrosimone omitted from his script, which ends in 1974 with its unsympathetic protagonist finally back on top and belting out a song in Madison Square Garden.
The miniseries “tells you everything you want to know about Ol’ Blue Eyes,” Harry Smith, the apparently clairvoyant co-host of “CBS This Morning,” announced before his Thursday interview with Tina Sinatra, in which he asked her for details about the story. She said “Sinatra” came “from Dad” and that she “cross-referenced” his account with others.
“I can’t wait to see it!” Smith gushed.
Prickles and all, however, “Sinatra” somehow manages to retain the flatness of a routine celeb pic that fails to penetrate the veneer of its seemingly complex subject. It’s enjoyable on a glossy, superficial level, the way a magazine is when you flip through, glancing only at the pictures. But don’t expect insights. And don’t expect to be moved.
Philip Casnoff’s Sinatra is an ambitious kid from Hoboken, N.J., who is transformed by success into a crude, cold, self-indulgent narcissist whose ego dwarfs his voice. His humanity--especially his devotion to his parents (Olympia Dukakis and Joe Santos) and some of his friends--is eclipsed by his darker side, and despite his supremacy as a singer, the gentleman is a tramp.
There are easier acting tasks than depicting a living institution whose face and public persona are known virtually to all. Casnoff is unable even to approach Sinatra’s magic as a performer, but he does a good job of affecting the walk and singing mannerisms of Sinatra, and he adroitly lip-syncs his way through the spate of Sinatra classics that thread the story. The music is nice.
This is supposed to be more than a Sinatra songbook, however, and there’s no indication that Casnoff has a clue about the demons that drive his character.
We first meet young Frank on the mean streets of Hoboken, see him get his start as a singer in a burlesque house and court his first wife, Nancy (Gina Gershon). His crooning career flourishes in the big band era, first with Harry James, then with Tommy Dorsey and ultimately on his own, despite Dorsey’s warning: “You have a small voice, Frank. Away from this band, you’d be nothing.”
Small voice, enormous appeal. That’s evidenced by the legions of screaming, shrieking, swooning bobby-soxers who hang on his every note in the early 1940s and go limp just getting a glimpse of his anorexic, hollow-cheeked face and trademark floppy bow tie. But he’s changing. As his recording and movie career soars, keeping him away from home, his marriage flounders. His fast lane is crowded with women and booze, and by the late 1940 his turbulent behavior has eroded his life and career. “Can I be finished at 33?” he wonders.
His savior becomes an Oscar-winning role as the tough little soldier Maggio in the 1953 film “From Here to Eternity.” “Sinatra” then takes us through its protagonist’s subsequent Rat Pack era (with his buddies Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford), during which Sinatra uses his Mafia connections to boost John F. Kennedy’s presidential bid, only to be discarded by the Kennedys later. In 1965, he meets 19-year-old Mia Farrow (Nina Siemaszko), and later they marry.
More than anything, however, the emotional core of this story is Sinatra’s lingering, torrid romance with the woman who would become his second wife, the sultry actress Ava Gardner (Marcia Gay Harden). At one point, director James Sadwith has strapless-gowned Ava slink into a club where Frank is performing, tantalizingly removing her black wrap in a way that becomes almost a metaphor for their long-term relationship.
Nothing means anything to him except “being with her,” he admits at one point to the cloying, ever-suffering Nancy, who comes across here as a human pincushion.
As with all docudramas, viewer caution is advised, for only the most fervent Frankophile will always know where the miniseries and the real man intersect and separate.
There are some obvious false notes on a smaller scale. They include some bad paste-up jobs in which the real Sinatra’s head has been supplanted by Casnoff’s--like something out of “Zelig"--for the purpose of showing the TV audience photographs of Frank with his friends and associates. Also, Casnoff never does look older than his actual age (37), even when playing Sinatra at nearly 60. Moreover, the actor playing J.F.K. stands virtually eye to eye with Casnoff, even though the real Kennedy was about half a head taller than Sinatra. And in this account, the much-shorter Robert Kennedy is taller than Jack.
These aren’t major gaffes. Nor is “Sinatra” a major work, unfortunately.