Movie lovers can agree that Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are always the epitome of cool on screen. But our double feature on June 19th & 20th shows them as downright cold! You could call this our “Rat Packers as Rat Bastards” double feature!
First, ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO from 1967 presents Martin in his only performance as a full-on bad guy, playing Alex Flood, a corrupt lawman who uses a violent gang to squelch all who dare challenge his power in Jericho. After shooting at Dolan and Hickman (George Peppard, John McIntire), proprietors of a stagecoach line co-owned by Flood’s former girlfriend Molly (Jean Simmons), Dolan sets about undermining Flood by romancing Molly and vandalizing or stealing his ill-gotten gains. Eventually, Jericho’s streets become so violent that only one of these men will hold the means to set things straight.
Martin loved making westerns more than any other kind of movie, and while he may have kept the mood light in specially-shot scenes for the trailer, joking that screenwriters “made” him slap Jean Simmons in a pivotal moment, his deep respect for the genre drove him to deliver genuine menace to this role. Whatever charm or joking Flood engages in is curdled with ugliness. It’s a rarely seen side of Martin that will impress you.
JERICHO’s creative team carries unique backgrounds as well. Director Arnold Laven began his career making high-budget training films for the Air Force during WWII, having access to top stars like Alan Ladd and William Holden, went on to create “THE RIFLEMAN” with Chuck Connors, and directed hundreds of hours of TV westerns and other action series, along with producing and directing several similarly-geared features. JERICHO’s original book author and initial screenwriter, Marvin Albert, was a prolific author of crime and adventure novels, working under multiple pseudonyms. Albert’s screenplay adaptations include frequent New Beverly favorites DUEL AT DIABLO with James Garner and THE DON IS DEAD with Anthony Quinn and Robert Forster.
Though perhaps not so much the bad guy as just a callous mercenary, Frank Sinatra is all business and no swingin’ in 1966’s ASSAULT ON A QUEEN, playing salvage diver turned pirate Mark Brittain, who joins with reckless millionaires (Virna Lisi, Anthony Franciosa) and former WWII personnel to refurbish a U-boat for the purpose of robbing millions in gold bullion from the Queen Mary ocean liner. While the preparation seems to run smooth, Brittain will be faced with tough choices and grim consequences as his partners escalate the stakes and the military intervene in the dramatic heist.
Sinatra’s involvement in ASSAULT is a double duty job, as actor and producer. Meaning this not only follows previous experience playing heels and anti-heroes in films like SUDDENLY and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, but also follows years of producing many of his own films, beginning with JOHNNY CONCHO (where he played a villain), and including his sole director credit NONE BUT THE BRAVE and his final theatrical leading role THE FIRST DEADLY SIN. Thus by the time of production on ASSAULT, his skills at finding good material and performing in it were at their peak.
The thrilling and uncompromising screenplay for ASSAULT comes from another legendary and prolific icon, Rod Serling, creator of “THE TWILIGHT ZONE” and dozens of acclaimed works for television and film. Directing duties are handled by longtime Sinatra collaborator Jack Donohue, who started out with the singer directing his early forays into TV variety programs, as well as directing an earlier Sinatra acting/producing combo, MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS.
Besides the thematic and iconic ties between the movies on this combo, there are these interesting connections. JERICHO director Arnold Laven previously directed the film version of the controversial Korean war teleplay THE RACK, both versions written by ASSAULT screenwriter Rod Serling. And, among his many writing credits, JERICHO writer Marvin Albert created the detective character Tony Rome for three books, two of which were made into films, TONY ROME and LADY IN CEMENT, starring Frank Sinatra as Rome.