Sinatra - The Classic Duets
Arts Alliance America // Unrated // $19.99 // June 10, 2003
Review by Kim Morgan | posted July 3, 2003
Highly Recommended
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From the very first duet between Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald (singing "Moonlight in Vermont") Sinatra: The Classic Duets is absolutely indispensable for Sinatra fans. This collection, which highlights the chairman at his peak musical moments (between 1957 and 1960) is a veritable who's who of popular song, and biggies pitch tune with Ol' Blue Eyes, making it look all so very easy. To imagine any current popular performer swapping songs with the likes of Peggy Lee or Elvis Presley seems almost unimaginable--everything's so canned and planned these days that Sinatra and pals appear positively genius.

In this DVD collection culled from Sinatra TV specials and laced with commentary by Sinatra's family (kid's Frank Jr., Tina and the boots-were-made-for-walking-a-licious Nancy), 18 performances are presented--all delightful, all moving and dare I say, all brilliant. And with newly re-mastered sound and enhanced picture, some filmed or early taped duets are markedly improved. I now can refer to this DVD over every taped bit of film I dubbed while trying to capture Sinatra in all his on-camera charm.

And on-camera is a wonderful way to experience Sinatra. Sure, he's terrific on record, but the man who won an Academy Award for From Here to Eternity and impressed in films like The Man with the Golden Arm, The Manchurian Candidate and one of my favorites, Pal Joey is captivating on screen. His ease and charisma bleeds through the screen with such intensity, you'll catch yourself smiling from his obvious and rascally love for entertaining. His vocal talent is impeccable, but also perfectly sloppy when the time is right and his improv banter between croons is funny and warm. No matter how many purists want to tell you he's simply easy listening, don't listen. Sinatra is jazz. In the best sense and all the way.

All the performances are memorable but of the 18, I'll note the one's that stuck out most for me. The great Peggy Lee and Sinatra's rendition of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" begins very laid back and builds into a sexy, velvet number. Sinatra actually seems turned on my Lee (who wouldn't be?) as they gently banter and sing. The opposite of this is Frank and Ethel Merman doing "You're the Top" with bombastic glee. Full of humor and in a rumpled suit (he even looks a bit drunk) Sinatra and Merman sing with such good sport, that Merman laughs after Frank exclaims: "Somebody's hollerin'."

There's the crooners: Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bing Crosby--sitting first on a scaffold (then lumbering to the ground) and singing "Together Wherever We Go" like the three street-fighting tenors. Later, Frank will sing with Dean again, only a medley and with cigarettes and highballs (perfect). And adding to the Rat Pack, there's Frank with Sammy Davis Jr. humorously taking, "Me and My Shadow" to another dimension. Another terrific duet has Sinatra teamed with the rambunctious Louis Prima and Keely Smith. Frank mixes up they're usual routine (Keely standing bored and bemused) as he continually hogs the mike, keeping Keely from singing.

But one of the greatest moments combines royalty--The Chairman and The King (that would be Elvis Presley). In a TV Special welcoming young Elvis back from his famed army service, Sinatra and Presley swap two of their hits, in unison. Frank sings "Love Me Tender" all punchy, Frank style, enunciating the "LOVE me tender, LOVE me true!" while Elvis dreamily smoothes through "Witchcraft" to a legion of screaming girls. It's a beautiful moment where Elvis is painfully gorgeous and Frank's met his separate equal. But Frank gets the best line. When Frank begins shrugging his shoulders to the music and the hip gyrating Elvis attempts to do the same, Frank comments: "We work in the same ways only in different areas."


Hart Sharp video presents Sinatra: The Classic Duets in Full Screen which fits the package quite fine. These are close shots with singers often shoulder to shoulder. The black and white is crisper than you'll see in VHS presentations though the Elvis/Frank segment could have used some more work. It still looks faded, but perhaps the print is tough to perfect. From film to video, all in all, the picture quality is nice, if dated, which we'd expect. And the additional color medley with Dinah Shore pops.

Sound for Sinatra: The Classic Duets is in Dolby Digital--so much better than the afor-mentioned formats. You can distinctly hear Bing's boo-boo-boo's, Louis Armstrong's sandpaper, Dean Martin's dreamy slide and of course, all the clever off-the-cuff comments in between.

The extras include the option of watching the duets on their own and scrolling through the Sinatra's children's musings on dad and all the performers presented (of course all positive). One's pure performance, the other more documentary style. This is appreciated, especially if you'd like to watch a particular song over and over. Also included is one of Sinatra's original TV ads for "The Frank Sinatra Show," a color medley with Dinah Shore and a text commentary track with oodles of information. Not heavy on extras, but we came to this DVD for the songs and songs we happily, get.

Final Thoughts:
Simply joyful and so incredibly impressive, Sinatra: The Classic Duets reveals what REAL show people were, in their time, required to be--Show People. Back then it wasn't just nice work if you could get it, but if you deserved to get it.

Read More Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun

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