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Come Blow Your Horn & Assault on a Queen

New on DVD

Reviewed by Leah Churner, Fri., April 13, 2012

Spring Screening

Come Blow Your Horn

Olive Films, $24.95

Assault on a Queen

Olive Films, $24.95

For a pop-star-turned-movie-star, Frank Sinatra's acting career was exceptionally full. He appeared in more than 50 features between 1946 and 1980, including From Here to Eternity (1953), for which he won an Oscar, The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Yet perhaps Sinatra's greatest legacy to film history was inadvertent. An anecdote from his past inspired the character Johnny Fontane in Mario Puzo's The Godfather. A singer stuck in a bad recording contract and looking for a Hollywood break, Fontane (played by Al Martino in the film adaptation) is the man to whom the don makes his promise, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." This famous line, along with the fact that Sinatra was under investigation by the FBI for alleged mob ties for more than a decade, has led to conspiracy theories about his longevity in Hollywood.

Spring Screening

As he got older, he increasingly opted for cardboard roles, brushing aside meatier projects that fell into his lap. He turned down the rights to A Clockwork Orange and the role of Dirty Harry. It's rumored that Otto Preminger, initially attached to The Godfather, wanted Sinatra to play Vito Corleone, and he said no.

This month, Olive Films, which has been steadily releasing deep cuts from Paramount's back catalog, presents two titles from Sinatra's late period on Blu-ray and DVD, Bud Yorkin's Come Blow Your Horn (1963) and Jack Donohue's Assault on a Queen (1966). More historical curiosities than entertainments, these star vehicles are relics of Old Hollywood's dire straits in the mid-Sixties and the sort of duds that raise questions about Sinatra the actor.

Come Blow Your Horn is based on a Broadway play by Neil Simon and adapted for the screen by Norman Lear (All in The Family). Set in a Manhattan bachelor pad, Horn looks and feels like a widescreen, single-camera sitcom complete with plenty of door-slamming and matching twin beds in the boudoir. The dynamic could have been the paradigm for Two and a Half Men: Sinatra plays a degenerate 35-year-old gigolo whose social life is upended when his 21-year-old virgin brother shows up on his doorstep. The kid has fallen out with their dad (Lee J. Cobb), a kvetching, conservative, proto-Archie-Bunker type. Sinatra the cad endeavors to initiate his brother into the playboy lifestyle, but after a makeover montage and several martinis, he comes face-to-face with his own folly.

Likewise, Assault on a Queen looks like dated television, an aquatic adventure with the production values of Flipper. Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) wrote the screenplay, but it's surprisingly void of dramatic tension, and the plot is totally inappropriate for the budget. Sinatra stars as a scuba diving World War II vet who teams up with sundry internationals to raise a sunken U-boat full of Nazi skeletons, restore the sub to working order, and then use it to hijack a famous transatlantic ocean liner, the RMS Queen Mary. Inadvertent comedy abounds due to the use of studio-lot backdrops, miniature models, and rear projection. Not having the resources to transform the ocean liner into a series of set-pieces (as The Poseidon Adventure would do in 1972), Assault offers few scenes onboard the ship. Instead, we get an interminable scene of the bandits paddling toward the ship's hull in an inflatable dinghy.

Why did Sinatra participate in these movies? Boredom, probably, though some would blame the Mafia. Supposedly, the feds came snooping around the set of Come Blow Your Horn because a small part in the film went to mobster and Sinatra-associate Sam Giancana's girlfriend. In the end, this suspicious piece of casting didn't amount to much. The FBI probably saw the same thing as the audience: Sinatra, 48, playing a 35-year-old, looking exhausted.

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