Holes [2003]

Five Sinatra movies are boxed in this set, culled from his biggest era as movie star. There are no Rat Pack movies here, nor the early croonings of the bobby-soxer's dreamboat, rather a look at how Sinatra chose to spend his most powerful years as a box-office draw. There's just one bona fide classic in the bunch, The Manchurian Candidate, although Guys and Dolls is an awfully fun picture. Not many extra features for this box, although Manchurian Candidate has the good supporting stuff from its regular disc. 1962's Manchurian Candidate, directed by John Frankenheimer from a crackerjack novel by Richard Condon, is simply one of the essential American films of the 1960s, and a gnawing cry of discontent that sounds more clearly with each passing year. Sinatra and Laurence Harvey are ex-Korean War POWs with a shared nightmare, but only Harvey has a purpose: he's a lethal political weapon. Frankenheimer's direction is brilliant, capturing the feel of the early TV age, and the film is blackly, weirdly funny. Sinatra gives maybe his greatest performance, but Angela Lansbury nearly steals the movie as Harvey's mother. Guys and Dolls (1955) is adapted from one of the finest of Broadway musicals, so you can understand why director Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve) fell in love with the Damon Runyon characters and the stylized milieu of sharpies and dames. Sinatra makes perfect sense as Nathan Detroit, and Vivian Blaine repeats her show-stopping stage role as Adelaide, but Mankiewicz perversely cast two non-singers in the leads: Marlon Brando as high-roller Sky Masterson, and Jean Simmons as Salvation Army lass Sarah Brown. Neither is a belter, but they do bring something gentle to their roles. The whole thing is overdone, but the marvelous music holds up. The Pride and the Passion (1957) puts Sinatra in one of his most embarrassing roles, a Spanish fighter in the age of Napoleon, shepherding a giant cannon with the help of a British military man (Cary Grant). The boys share a mistress, Sophia Loren. This madness was directed by Stanley Kramer, who somehow let Sinatra do a Spanish accent, complete with rolled "r"s. Amazingly, it was one of the ten biggest grossing films of its year. An even odder curio is Delmer Daves's Kings Go Forth (1958), with Sinatra and Tony Curtis as WWII soldiers competing for the attention of Natalie Wood, who has a secret that will affect the way they see her. It comes from Hollywood's era of "topic" movies, but simply doesn't gain much traction--the only character not Representing Something is Sinatra's tender portrait of a soldier at loose ends. Finally, Frank Capra's A Hole in the Head (1959) gives Sinatra the kind of lovable rogue part he could knock off without breaking a sweat. He's a Miami widower with a son and some big dreams… you might even call them "high hopes." Yes, that Oscar-winning song comes from this movie, with Frankie and child star Eddie Hodges providing the vocals. If the movie isn't quite a Capra classic (he'd been out of film for a few years before this, and would make only one more feature after it), it fits neatly into the "family film" format. There goes another rubber-tree plant…. --Robert Horton

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