17 May 2008 | Bunuel1976
KINGS GO FORTH (Delmer Daves, 1958) ***
My father owns a paperback edition of the Joe David Brown novel which inspired this film and I recall reading it many years ago. Ever since his Oscar triumph in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), Frank Sinatra tried to augment his typically light material with heavier stuff: in 1958, he had two of the latter back-to-back (along with Vincente Minnelli’s SOME CAME RUNNING) and, curiously enough, he finds himself with the less showier of the lead roles here.
Tony Curtis’ part as the smooth-talking but put-upon charmer is effectively an extension of his Sidney Falco in Alexander Mackendrick’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957). The female roles are equally well filled: a lovely 19-year old Natalie Wood plays a young mulatto American raised in France who comes between Army “buddies” Sinatra and Curtis, while 35-year old Leora Dana is cast as Wood’s proud middle-aged mother (she must have quite impressed Sinatra because she was in SOME CAME RUNNING too – as Arthur Kennedy’s wife).
The film – backed by a fine score from Elmer Bernstein and including a jam session featuring Curtis and real-life jazz musicians – is well enough made scene by scene and certainly well acted, but the effect is slightly diluted by the unnecessary and ultra-soapy coda (Sinatra losing an arm, Dana dying, Wood gathering together and teaching war orphans – but especially the corny children’ song at the very end). The film is much more of a romantic melodrama than it is a war movie, but the few action sequences therein are good and well spread out throughout the film.
Delmer Daves may have been best renowned for his Westerns – but his very first shot as a director had actually come via a war movie, DESTINATION TOKYO (1943), and he eventually returned to the same territory intermittently with PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945), TASK FORCE (1949) and, finally, KINGS GO FORTH itself.