Between 1962-1968, Frank Sinatra starred / appeared in 14 films, of which he produced a few directly, or through his company Essex Productions, and directed one – None But the Brave (1965).
Why the big push in film? Perhaps he sensed his years as a jazz crooner were behind him, and he was having more fun with his Rat Pack, making caper movies like Robin and the 7 Hoods (1965), doing Vegas shows and live big band jazz concerts, and flexing his muscles in front of and behind the camera after the studios has exploited his worth as a singer, then actor, then marquee name who could bring in audiences and sell records with hit singles tied to a film.
Most of his film output within those six years encompassed WWII films, capers, dramas, detective thrillers, and comedies, but Come Blow Your Horn is an oddity within Sinatra’s thespian canon because it’s a weird hybrid that’s dated very, very strangely.
Based on Neil Simon’s 1962 debut play, Horn basically involves the gradual switch in morals and narcissistic behaviour when a freshly minted 21 year old named Buddy Baker (future director and The Sting producer Tony Bill, making his own acting debut) moves out of his father’s home and settles in with his older brother (Sinatra), sharing a swanky pad in New York City where the habits of swinging bachelor Alan are absorbed by Buddy, while the elder Baker starts to question his lifestyle and falls for one of his main lovers.
During the slow shift in dominance and debauched behaviour, the brothers’ parents, pop in and out of their increasingly awkward situations. The father (Lee J. Cobb), founder of the East Coast’s biggest artificial fruit company, regards both sons as “bums” until Alan takes responsibility for his love life and employ in the family business, which in the latter usually involved a 2-day work week and 5-day weekend. The mother (Molly Picon) is always befuddled by all the male yelling, and at one point flees to Alan’s pad when the father disowns her for giving him ‘two bums’.
Even in 1963, the age differences between Sinatra and co-star Tony Bill were way too obvious; while Bill was a year or two close to Buddy’s age of 21, Sinatra, then around 48, was twice his age and looked it. The solution was to bump Alan’s age ‘above 35’ for which Sinatra succeeds in performance style – his opening scenes as a buoyant heel are fun to watch – but little by little, even as Bill’s character is remade into Alan’s image with mature clothes and hair, there’s simply no way to hide the preposterous gap of 27 years.
Another factor than mars the play is the terrible caricatures of women; granted they’re largely supposed to be babes, and Jill St. John creates a near-perfect dumbbell blonde both Alan and later Buddy share, but as Alan’s true love Connie, Barbara Rush suffers the most. Fed up with being the chief lover among other lovers for over six months, Connie tells Alan it’s either marriage or the same, and when he (naturally) prefers the same dead-end relationship, she walks out of his life, only to jump for joy and kick her feet with glee (literally) when he calls and proposes. It’s a pat finale, but the script essentially torpedoes her independent character into a classically obedient hausfrau in the end. As an actress tired of the grind, Connie’s preference is to stay at home and cook & clean, so her marriage basically dooms her into becoming a clone of Alan’s sycophant mother.
Simon’s play is essentially an American variation of the French bedroom farce, with frazzled character walking in ad out of rooms and apartments, into hallways, and getting involved in sexual mischief and confusions, which includes a cuckolded husband (Bonanza’s Dan Blocker) clocking Alan for sleeping with his wife. Picon delivers a cliched frustrated & befuddled mother, while Cobb devours the scenery with his dynamic dialogue delivery, and an accent that weirdly progresses from New York City to cranky Jewish-lite. Cobb seemed to realize he could have more fun with audio dynamics, and he has a few standout scenes playing the grumpy father to the hilt. One particular non-stop bombardment of “bum!” to Sinatra and Bill is perhaps the film’s funniest moment in an otherwise flat farce.
Also of note are a few amusing in-jokes, including a cameo by Dean Martin (as, what else, a bum); references to the film’s distributor, Paramount; and when Sinatra spins an LP, we see two turntables bearing a matching set of Reprise albums (Sinatra’s home label), each branded with labels imprinted with Sinatra’s smiling face.
Sinatra also croons a title song in a strange street montage that was clearly designed to ‘open up’ the play and blatantly sell the soundtrack album, and Nelson Riddle’s score has a few strong moments, but in most cases the cues have a TV sound that doesn’t help already theatrical scenes. The 2.35:1 ‘scope ratio, however, is used quite well, exploiting the absurdly massive apartment in which Alan could set up a garment factor and still have wiggle room to live in private.
Olive Films present a clean transfer of the film, and rescues another long unavailable Paramount title from oblivion. It’s also an important career step for director / producer Bud Yorkin and screenwriter Norman Lear, both of whom were on their way to having strong careers in television.
Other Neil Simon plays adapted into films during the sixties include After the Fox (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), The Odd Couple (1968), and Sweet Charity (1969).
This title was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films in tandem with Assault on a Queen [M] (1966).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan