Lawrence Sanders wrote a series of novels about NYPD detective Edward Delaney; popular in their day, they have not remained in print. Sanders actually gave them sequential titles: 'The First Deadly Sin', 'The Second Deadly Sin', 'The Third Deadly Sin'. The series died before Sanders ran out of sins.
Frank Sinatra was occasionally an inspired actor, although always an undisciplined one. (He snagged the great lead role of Billy Bigelow in the film version of 'Carousel' -- Sinatra would have been brilliant in this part -- but then dropped it when he learnt that the film was going to be shot in two different screen ratios, and he would have been required to do all his scenes twice.) Sinatra's Academy Award for 'From Here to Eternity' was well-deserved, and in my opinion he should have got an Oscar for 'Von Ryan's Express' too, and possibly for 'Suddenly'. However, Sinatra apparently ran out of energy (and talent) before he made the movie version of 'The First Deadly Sin'. This was Sinatra's last starring performance; apparently he'd planned to develop a franchise series based on Sanders's novels, but this movie was such a clanging flop that no sequels were made. Two later friends of mine had worked (before I knew them) on the crew of this film; they've told me that the production was a nightmare, plagued by wrong-headed decisions.
Delaney (Sinatra) is hunting a serial killer while Delaney's wife (Faye Dunaway) struggles with cancer. These two plots never interlink, nor does Sinatra convey any sense of a man torn between two priorities. He just shuttles (in slow motion) between police procedural sequences and hospital sequences.
The killer is known to the audience, so it's no spoiler when I tell you that the murderer is Daniel Blank, a wealthy playboy who has no particular motive for killing random Manhattanites: he just kills 'em for the hell of it. With an ice axe, no less. The killer is played by David Dukes, who filmed his scenes in Manhattan concurrently while starring on Broadway in 'Bent', in which he played an inmate of a concentration camp. Dukes's head was shaved to a tight crew cut for his stage role, but this coiffure was inappropriate for his film role as a murderous playboy, so Dukes plays his scenes in a hairpiece. Which would have been fine, if the film chose not to call attention to the hairpiece. Instead, we get a stupid sequence in which Dukes's hairpiece flies off while he sinks the axe into a victim's skull. Then we get a bad dialogue scene later, explaining why the playboy has a crew cut and why he wears a wig to cover it. Hell toupee. My friends on the film crew told me that the wig fell off by accident, and then the dialogue was inserted so they wouldn't have to shoot a retake. Frankly, Dukes's performance quite fails to impress me: given the handicap of his inappropriate hairstyle, the casting agent should have chosen another actor (with more hair) instead.
We get an utterly pointless scene in which Sinatra swots up evidence with two civilian volunteers, of the sort whom real police call 'cop groupies'. One of the volunteers is played by Martin Gabel, an American actor who spoke with a pronounced mid-Atlantic accent. (In real life, Gabel described himself as 'affected'.) Gabel's accent was useful in some other roles, but here it's just distracting.
SPOILERS COMING. Sinatra's (very slow) race to find the killer occurs during the week before Christmas, but this has nothing to do with the plot. And the film was shot in late summer, worse luck. (The exterior scenes in this movie show very little snow.) As New Yorkers know, every year during Christmas season -- and *only* during Christmas season -- the Empire State Building's upper floors are lighted green and red. While 'The First Deadly Sin' was shooting principal photography, Sinatra's production company paid some bucks to Helmsley-Spear (the Empire State Building's landlords) to wire up the Christmas lighting a few months ahead of schedule. This *would* have been a very effective device for an exterior shot of Sinatra in midtown Manhattan at night, with the Empire State Building glowing green and red in the background. Instead, after all that trouble, we merely get one quick insert shot of the Empire State Building's upper storeys, lighted in the appropriate colour scheme but with no surroundings -- no context -- at all. This shot occurs immediately before the death scene.
Ouch! The death scene. After nabbing the killer, Delaney goes to visit his wife in hospital. This scene is beyond awful. Sinatra reads aloud from an old-time children's book about two little girls named Sunny and Honey. He reads this awful text in a voice so lethargic, he seems to be on meds. Dunaway remains utterly inert through this scene, at the end of which Sinatra realises she's dead. Of boredom, most likely. Fade out.
I sat through this rubbish only because I know two people who worked on the tech crew. I'll rate 'The First Deadly Sin' just one point in ten.