Rat Pack [1998]

Genre: Drama
The original hepcat spree, the big daddy of Rat Pack movies, the straight flush in a high-stakes game: yeah, it's Ocean's 11, baby. Long before George Clooney dared to rework this movie into a franchise, Frank Sinatra turned a straightforward heist picture into--well, in some ways, a star-studded but still straightforward heist picture. Ocean's 11 is sometimes a surprise to fans who expect a jokier, more freewheeling movie; the boys actually play it fairly straight in this one, and after all they're under the direction of Lewis Milestone, once the director of All Quiet on the Western Front. Sinatra is fairly effortless, Dean Martin gets loose on "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?", Sammy Davis Jr., croons an approximation of a title tune, and Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Angie Dickinson fill in the gaps. The lingo is fun (Richard Conte: "Give it to me straight, Doc--is it the big casino?"), the d├ęcor is eye-peeling, and the general ambience of 1960 Las Vegas has a great time-capsule quality. While they were shooting the picture, the members of the Rat Pack were also performing on stage at night, which suggests that the real fun were happening when the cameras weren't on. The swagger, however, endures. --Robert Horton Lurking inside the Rat Pack's Sergeants 3 (1962) is a true film classic: 1939's buoyant Kipling adventure, Gunga Din. The plotline's about the same, but the action in is transferred from colonial India to the Old West. Our three roistering Army buddies are played by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford, who are assigned a tense scouting mission just about the time Lawford is ready to quit the service in favor of--horrors--marriage. Sammy Davis Jr., assumes the Gunga Din role, as a freed slave who tags along after the sergeants in hopes of joining the Army. (Yes, he blows a bugle.) Less successfully transferred than this outline is the way the cult from Gunga Din becomes a bloodthirsty tribe of Ghost Dancers in Sergeants Three, a bit of fudged movie history that will have to be taken with a grain of salt. But it's about as believable as everything else in this movie, right down to the fake beards on the cowpokes in the opening saloon brawl. Director John Sturges, who made this movie between his commercial high points of The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, apparently had little interest in making the interiors look like anything but studio sets. The exteriors fare much better, as many were shot in Utah's Bryce Canyon. The actors look as disengaged from this material as Sturges, with oomph sneaking in only when the boys are teasing each other (notably a sequence in which stuffy officer Joey Bishop--yes, he's in here too--is tricked into swallowing a laxative). It's all pretty flat, lending credence to the idea that the movie's long delay in securing a DVD release had less to do with racial insensitivity than with sheer lameness. --Robert Horton Rat Pack buddies Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were prized for their ability to appear relaxed on camera, but in 4 for Texas (1963) they're nearly asleep. It must have looked good on paper: reuniting the crooners and teaming them with two international sex symbols in a jokey Western under the guidance of topnotch director Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly). Ursula Andress, as a riverboat owner who hooks up with Dino, unleashes her bedroom purr to great effect, but formidable Anita Ekberg had a bad year in 1963 (she also got stuck in Bob Hope's immortal Call Me Bwana). A tasty roster of character actors is wasted, although Charles Bronson and Victor Buono are amusing as unsavory citizens of 1870s Galveston. Even the Three Stooges, in their Curly Joe configuration, wander through. After a terrific opening sequence in the desert, establishing Frank and Dean's rivalry, this one quickly goes south. --Robert Horton "My kind of town, Chicago is...." Robin and the 7 Hoods, the last film venture by the Rat Pack, finds Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. in an update of the Robin Hood legend, set in Chi-town in 1928. The boys play gangsters who become Jazz Age Merry Men; Bing Crosby is their eloquent spokesman. As usual, women are in short supply within the featured cast, but the film is colorful enough anyway with its period trappings. By the time this movie was released in 1964, the Zeitgeist was already shifting toward the Beatles, and Frank, Dean, and Sammy looked like your father's entertainment. But while this film is no knockout, director Gordon Douglas (Young at Heart) makes it a pleasant enough way to say good-bye to the Rat Pack's life together on film. --Tom Keogh On the DVDs The four movies are bundled with a collection of goodies: a deck of Rat Pack cards, a somewhat weird reproduction of an original publicity booklet for Ocean's 11, small reproductions of Sergeants 3 lobby cards (full color), and some 5x7 black-and-white stills from the movies. Special features on the individual movies include commentaries by Frank Sinatra Jr., on Ocean's 11, Sergeants 3, and Robin and the 7 Hoods (in the last he gives the scoop on how the filming was never the same after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which occurred midway through production and hit the elder Sinatra hard). If you've never heard a Sinatra Jr. commentary, you need to experience it: somber tributes to the acting genius of Cesar Romero are interwoven with Junior's first-hand reminiscences and infectious fondness for the countless movie people he's known. (He does identify John Sturges as the son of Preston Sturges, a forgivable blunder.) A couple of vintage "making of" featurettes and a very wacky 4 for Texas trailer fill out the bill. --Robert Horton

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