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Frankie's first feature, in 1943, was Higher and Higher, in which he plays--hmm--a young singer named Frank Sinatra. All right, it's not much of a stretch, but the kid fits quite comfortably into a madcap ensemble that includes Jack Haley, Mary Wickes, Dooley Wilson, and a youthful (practically unformed) Mel Torme. This is the kind of wacky universe in which a scullery maid has a French accent (it's Michele Morgan) and a British nobleman has a Danish accent (it's piano comedian Victor Borge). The film is completely insane, but fun. Step Lively (1944) has the same director, Tim Whelan, and a similarly over-heated farce in play: a theatrical producer (obnoxious George Murphy) tries to whip together a show while dodging hotel managers (Adolphe Menjou, deadpan Walter Slezak). Frankie's in there as a playwright who also sings. It's a version of the Broadway play that also served the Marx Brothers in Room Service, but the whole thing is really too labored to pay off. It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) doesn't offer much in the way of substance (Sinatra is a WWII vet returning to his beloved, but now less friendly, Brooklyn), but at least Frank is teamed with Jimmy Durante. Oh, and Kathryn Grayson and Gloria Grahame are in there too, even if the real love match is Sinatra and Durante singing together. Tunes are by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, including "Time After Time." 1948's The Kissing Bandit became for Sinatra what The Silver Chalice would be for Paul Newman: a source of self-mockery in later years. A truly bizarre concoction about the son of a Zorro-like bandit settling in Boston, the film has one specialty number featuring Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller, and Ricardo Montalban, and a lot of filler. Sinatra's career was sliding by the time Double Dynamite (1951) was released, and the movie did little to help. Frankie's a poor bank clerk who scores on a horse-racing bet but can't prove he didn't actually rob the bank. It isn't great, although Groucho Marx at least has one of his better solo roles, while Jane Russell is stuck in a dizzy-dame part (rather than her preferred sassy mode).

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WA37360 Frank Sinatra Early Years Collection DVD (Double Dynamite/Higher and Higher/It Happened in Brooklyn/Kissing Bandit/Step Lively) $35.99