14 October 2005 | theowinthrop
Before Detective Yamana
Tony Franciosa is a highly capable actor who has not appeared in much in recent years. I suppose that he is best recalled for his handling one of the recurring lead roles on THE NAME OF THE GAME with Gene Barry and Robert Stack. But he is equally good in comedy as well as drama, and in 1964 he made this series, VALENTINE'S DAY, about a publishing executive in New York City, who has misadventures due to his family, friends, and himself (due to his many girlfriends). But above all his valet and confidant, Rocky Sin, causes many problems. Rocky is always looking for a fast buck, and frequently drags Valentine into schemes he has little interest in.
Most of this sounds like hundreds of preposterous television sit-coms of the 1950s through the 1970s. This was the type of artificial stuff that made Newton Minnow label television "a vast wasteland". But if the material was handled correctly it was frequently very, very funny. On VALENTINE'S DAY you had Mr. Franciosa doing his damnedest to bring life to the film - and doing it well. He was widely abetted by Jack Soo as Rocky Sin.
Soo had made his name in Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE FLOWER-DRUM SONG, both on stage and screen. Then he appeared in other films like THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (he is one of Bea Lillie's two minions - with Pat Morita - who at one point do an impromptu sand dance to "Japanese Sandman"). Here he took his superb comic skills and aided in filling out the artifice of the scripts.
It also helped that the scripts were well written for a change. In one, Valentine's mother is coming for a visit the same day that an important book reviewer is coming. Years before they had an affair, but it ended in mutual recriminations. When the mother sees her old boyfriend she says, "It's amazing what the morticians accomplish. You'd swear he's alive!" That kind of dialog was rare in 1964 sitcoms.
One of my favorite episodes deals with Soo trying to get a restaurant started with Valentine backing it. It's an expensive proposition, and Franciosa is properly dubious about it. Franciosa and his various friends come to the restaurant, and the experience turns into a disaster. But another man who comes in is an elderly Chinese gentleman, who in looking over the menu latches onto one item. His face positively beams, and he orders (and keeps repeating the order), "Blueberry Blintzes". In the end the restaurant is started with the backing of the elderly Chinese gentleman, not Franciosa.
Despite the chemistry of Franciosa and Soo, and the wit brought to the scripts, the show lasted only one year. Both stars went on to other work, but it was the first comedy on television for Soo, and in Rocky Sin one gets glimmers of that outstanding police officer, Detective Yamana on BARNEY MILLER.