Assault on a Queen Nov 12, 2011 15:15:23 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Nov 12, 2011 15:15:23 GMT -5
The question you have to ask yourself going into any late Frank Sinatra vehicle is: Did Frank give a shit? I can’t think of another star who was so erratic in his interest level. In some pictures he’s clearly engaged and in others he couldn’t be bothered to even phone it in – it looks like he asked a friend to send a telegram.
So the question arises about 1966’s ASSAULT ON A QUEEN – did Frank care? Hard to say. But then, it’s hard to say if anyone else did either.
This pictue is based on a novel by the legendary Jack Finney and adapted by the legendary Rod Serling. Yet, people familiar with the source material – I’m thinking of Nicolas Meyer in his memoirs – make a point of noting the superiority of the novel. The plot of the film – which isn’t about a West Village hate crime – recounts a daring maritime heist. Frank stars as a down-on-his luck ace diver who agrees to work for a somewhat shady couple – icy, Italian blonde (Virna Lisi) and her slick, fast-talking boyfriend (Tony Franciosa). Though the initial idea is to look for sunken treasure off the Florida coast, when Frank comes across a downed German sub (!?) another member of the team – a former Nazi sub mariner – gets the idea they should restore the vessel and use it on a pirate raid against the famed luxury ocean liner -- the Queen Mary. Um…okay.
This is one of those movies where you’re just not certain why the principals involved turn to a life of crime. I mean, if you have the wherewithal and enterprise to raise and painstakingly restore a WWII warship, aren’t there some legitimate and profitable endeavors you could similarly undertake that have a lower causality rate? One would think.
Frank dons the white skipper cap he would also wear as Tony Rome in two of the films that make up his fascinating, late 60s male menopausal trilogy. (THE DETECTIVE being the third.) And like the second Tony Rome picture (LADY IN CEMENT) some of the underwater scenes here look like they were shot in Frank’s pool. The whole picture, in fact, has a very low budget feel to it. They simply don’t have the resources to render the story with any authenticity, as most of the scenes are shot on soundstages. And anyone who balks about how dull the underwater scenes in THUNDERBALL are (shot the year prior) needs to watch what passes for undersea action here.
Frank has some nice moments. There are scenes where he seems to relish Serling's sometimes biting dialogue. Lisi is a bit of a cipher as the femme fatale and, as her boyfriend, Franciosa is, as ever, intense, entertaining, charismatic and wholly unlikeable.
The best part of this film is the character of Frank’s black drinking and card buddy who comes along on the heist, played by Errol John. He’s a powerfully compelling presence and, from his first scene, completely transcends any notion that this is simply a sidekick role. There’s nothing docile or self-consciously “dignified” about him. He’s very much his own man, and his scenes with Frank are the film’s best as the two discuss why the Hell they’re mixed up in this caper anyway. I loved him. It’s one of those situations where the mind wonders and you wish you were watching these two guys in some other story entirely. (I know Sinatra has some messy political and racial baggage, but it’s cool he includes the scene here where he and his buddy sit around taking swigs from the same bottle -- no cuts, one takes a hit then the other. In a country that had segregated water fountains a few years before, it seems like a deliberate provocation by the star against the haters and their nonsense.)
Oddly, the film’s other interesting character is the German naval officer, and the guy who plays him (Alf Kjelin – never heard of him) is commanding, yet subtly inscrutable. That’s what’s best about this picture, in some ways – the characters seem like actual adults. Unfortunately, that too often begs the question – why are they doing this?
The picture just kind of lays there, it’s involving at times, but generally dull. The filmmaking is very flat, there’s just not enough believable action to get you involved. Curiously, Duke Ellington provides the scoring and, even when trying to invoke thrills or suspense, it’s incongruously buoyant and swingin’.
This is one of those heist pictures -- ala OCEAN’S ELEVEN and SEVEN THIEVES -- where, even if they pull off the job, they have to lose the loot in the end. It wouldn’t be until the 70s with movies like $ and THE HOT ROCK that you’d see people actually steal shit and get away with it.