by Harry Currie
Reprise/Rhino/WEA R2 78285 6 CD set
Playing Time: 6:59:33
Just when I thought I had every Sinatra recording I’d ever need or want (and I have every commercial recording on 78rpm, 45rpm, 33 1/3rpm and CD) along comes a six-CD set that I simply couldn’t do without - Frank Sinatra in Hollywood (1940-1964). Think you’ve heard it all before - that these are just recycled reissues of the same old material? Think again. Of the 160 tracks in this set only about 16 have ever been issued on commercial recordings in any format, and, while quite a few of the songs had also been commercially recorded by Sinatra on RCA, Columbia, Capitol or Reprise, the studio recordings have marked differences, sometimes in the arrangement, orchestra or conductor, and very often in interpretation, for Frank rarely did the same thing twice when he recorded.
The packaging is first-rate, the black box containing a hard-cover fold-out for the CDs, and a matching 120-page, hard-cover book with copious notes, articles by the producers, Leonard Maltin, Michael Feinstein, Will Friedwald and Scott Allen Nollen, photographs and illustrations, taking you through the sessions and the films one-by-one. A labour of love for producers Didier C. Deutsch and Charles L. Granata, they worked for several years to retrieve the material presented here, with the full co-operation of most of the major film companies involved. The one exception we’ll discuss later.
This was no easy task for several reasons. First of all, there’s the time factor: we’re going back 60 years for those early films, and some studios were less than scrupulous about keeping properly archived material back then. Secondly, there’s the problem of deterioration - prior to 1951 film stock was made of nitrate, which produced a sharp image, but its chemical makeup was hazardous. With age, and without perfectly controlled storage, nitrate film has a tendency to shrink, destroying both audio and visual information. Stored in a film can, nitrate’s chemical compounds produce gasses that break up and decompose the fragile emulsion. In time, the film melts into a gooey, shrunken mass, and with the danger of nitrate’s propensity for spontaneous combustion the hazard is potentially deadly. Considering these roadblocks, it’s a wonder that as much was found that was salvageable and able to be transferred.
Sinatra’s first movie song, Dolores, was in the 1940 film Las Vegas Nights, in which he appeared as a band singer with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Unfortunately, Dolores ended up on the cutting-room floor, but a promotional 78 rpm record from a private collector yielded the complete song in excellent condition to be included here. The other Sinatra song from Las Vegas Nights, I’ll Never Smile Again, had to be culled from an edited nitrate print from the UCLA collection, and this version has the dialogue and sound effects over part of the vocal, which obviously couldn’t be removed. And so it went, from film to film, each song requiring both detection and restoration in varying degrees.
There are many spectacular finds here, but there are some unfortunate gaps, and a few oddities. The finds include the soundtrack for a 1954 animated version of Finian’s Rainbow which was never completed, pairing Frank in duos with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Logan, and accompanied on one tune by Oscar Peterson. Another is the complete song used in the film Advise and Consent - Heart of Mine - which has never been recorded in any other format. Complete vocal soundtrack recordings for Meet Danny Wilson and The Joker is Wild yield remarkable material, and High Hopes, from A Hole in the Head, is heard as it was recorded live on the sound stage with Eddie Hodges, rather than the Capitol commercial release, done in a studio, which used a boys’ choir.
The most serious gap is the omission of the song Farewell, Amanda, a Cole Porter tune that was only written and recorded for the Spencer Tracy/Kathryn Hepburn film Adam’s Rib. No version of the original recording could be found, so the song is not in this collection. What puzzles me is why they didn’t include the version taken from the edited film, at least for completeness. I have a DVD of Adam’s Rib, which has, at least, a good portion of the song in it. As already mentioned, they used this solution for I’ll Never Smile Again from Las Vegas Nights and for the version of All Or Nothing At All which was used on the soundtrack of A Thousand and One Nights, and also for the snippet of The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower from Paris When it Sizzles. This is an unforgivable gap that could have been partially filled.
Both the song Three Coins in the Fountain from the film of the same name and the tunes Sinatra recorded for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, before he walked off the picture, are not included in the collection. Standing in for the film recordings are the released Capitol recording of Three Coins, and a version of Carousel’s Soliloquy from a never-issued Capitol recording done about the same time (wonderful to have, by the way). Both of these films were from 20th Century Fox, and the reason cited for their omission is ‘contractual restrictions’. One can only speculate as to what that statement really means, but it smells of a lack of cooperation for some reason or other. A pity, for now there is material that belongs in this collection, which may remain unreleased, or, heaven forbid, may disappear.
There is no mention whatsoever of the film Sinatra in Israel, a short 45-minute featurette done in 1962 in which Frank sings two songs - In the Still of the Night and Without a Song. Granted these weren’t studio recordings, but for the sake of completeness they should have been included. A version of Stardust from a Lucky Strike Hit Parade film short was included, and Sinatra in Israel is just as important as that.
Frank often had songs written to coincide with non-musical films he was appearing in - Kings Go Forth, Johnny Concho, From Here to Eternity and Some Came Running, for example. These songs were not recorded for the films, but released by Capitol as commercial recordings to ride on the coattails of the film releases. Though these songs - Monique, Wait for Me, From Here to Eternity and To Love and Be Loved respectively - are included here, they really have no business in this set as they already exist on commercial recordings and are not from the films themselves.
But there’s always an exception, and in this case it’s the song The Man With the Golden Arm, written for and recorded by Sinatra to coincide with his film of the same name. Not only was the song never issued, but many Sinatra buffs never knew of its existence, for most discographies don’t even list the recording date, and it wasn’t included in Capitol’s Complete Singles Collection box set. (There were many strange omissions from that ‘complete’ set, but that’s another story.) The producers of FS in Hollywood stumbled across The Man With the Golden Arm in the Capitol vaults, and fortunately included it in this set. That’s a real find.
A personal highlight for me is the recording of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas done for the soundtrack of the film The Victors. In the 60’s I was working in the music business in London, England, often doing vocal backings for recordings, films and broadcasts conducted by Peter Knight, Bob Farnon and Wally Stott, among many others. One day, working with Wally Stott, an arrangement of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was passed out and another conductor took over to record it. It was just a vocal backing, and the singer wasn’t present, so I had no idea what it was for. Now I know, for the Sinatra backing for The Victors version of the song was recorded by the Wally Stott Orchestra and Chorus in London, England, conducted by Gus Levene. (The song, by the way, has previously only been available on the old vinyl Colpix soundtrack LP.)
There are some great tidbits included. Promotional spots recorded by Frank for several films, the songs from the war effort shorts The Road to Victory and The All-Star Bond Rally, a couple of presentations to Frank including his 1946 Oscar and his acceptance speech for the Oscar for best-supporting actor for From Here to Eternity, and a hilarious five-minute excerpt from the vocal tracking session for Don’t Be a Do-Badder from the film Robin and the Seven Hoods, with Frank, Dean and Sammy cutting each other up while they try to record the finale.
Of course, the great soundtracks are all here - Anchors Aweigh, On the Town, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Guys and Dolls, High Society, etc., and even some lovely songs from the picture Frank hated most of all - the rarely seen The Kissing Bandit costarring Kathryn Grayson. And in case you ever wondered why, on the Capitol soundtrack album of Pal Joey, the real names of the actor/singers aren’t used for song credits (they’re referred to as Joey, Linda and Vera and not FS, Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth), it’s because Novak and Hayworth didn’t sing the parts. Novak’s songs were dubbed by Trudy Irwin and Hayworth’s by Jo Ann Greer, and finally these unnamed singers are getting the credit they deserve.
Although I had some nits to pick, this is a wonderful collection of rare material, painstakingly restored, and beautifully packaged. Much of the sound is superior to the shellac and vinyl recordings of the periods, for it was directly recorded onto film, which had a higher level of fidelity. Not on general release in Canada, it can be specially ordered, but it is also available online at Amazon and it is generally available in the USA.