2 November 2008 | BruceCorneil
Sinatra's best effort on the small screen
Unquestionably one of the finest TV music specials ever produced, this top shelf presentation marked the beginning of what could be called the "Third Age" of Sinatra's career.
The two previous stages had been followed by extended periods of inactivity. The first, in the early 1950s, was due to a sudden and dramatic decline in his popularity - the inevitable fall out, perhaps, of extreme over exposure (along with other factors). But the second break, some twenty years later,was very much a self imposed 'retirement',all be it a fairly brief one as it turned out.
The story of Sinatra's phoenix-like rise from the ashes is now a celebrated part of show business history.
After surviving the collapse of his career, major personal and health problems, he went on to make a spectacular comeback with his Oscar-winning performance in the war movie "From Here to Eternity" (1954?). With that success, his status was restored almost overnight and his career rapidly soared to stratospheric new heights. Throughout the '60s and beyond, he reigned supreme as the world's leading concert performer, most accomplished recording artist and Hollywood power broker. The pace was frenetic.
In 1971, however, he decided to retire, saying that he needed time to reflect upon his life in general. He played golf and prepared lots of home-cooked meals for members of his inner-circle. But the fans grew restless. And some of those admirers were not without influence.
In 1973, U.S. President Richard Nixon put a call through to Sinatra's Palm Springs compound. Nixon was about to play host to Italy's Presient, Mr Andreotti, and both heads of state were hoping that the world's most famous Italian American could be cajoled into singing a few songs at the official banquet.
It seems that Frankie needed very little persuading. His private show at the White House had the small but very select audience pounding their well manicured hands red raw with enthusiasm. Sinatra's chums in the media ran glowing reports of his triumphant 'return' and, later in the same year, Reprise issued "Ol' Blue Eyes is Back", the album that marked the official end of his retirement.
Although a somewhat uneven collection of ballads, it was a generally impressive release. The mood was low key but the album contained some fine songs such as "Let me Try Again", "You Will be my Music" and the inspirational "Winners". But the standout track was Sinatra's extraordinary version of "Send in the Clowns", the show-stopper from the smash Broadway production "A Little Night Music".
Conceived as a dual purpose promotional vehicle to launch both the album of the same name and the "Third Age" of Sinatra's career, the TV special "Ol Blues Eyes is Back" was based around a theme of 'yesterday and today'.
The first part of the show featured the star taking a musical 'look back' at some of his choice cuts from the golden years. Turning on a massive revolving stage, and working with obvious relish to a packed house of Hollywood celebrities and other special guests, Sinatra punches his way through such favorites as "I Get a Kick out of You", "I've Got the World on a String" and "Street of Dreams".
A change of pace then finds him alone in a sprawling bar room set where he presents the wistful ballads "Last Night when We Young" and "Violets for your Fur". The segment also reveals the first signs of rust being scraped away from the famous 'reed' with the usually seamless flow of sound momentarily cracking up in a minor way.
Back with the audience, Sinatra shares some decidedly tongue in cheek memories of the high and low points of his "other" career in the movies. After introducing a brief montage of film clips featuring himself and Gene Kelly in such classics as "Anchors Aweigh" and "Take me out to the Ball Game", the pair are reunited in the studio to do a couple of outstanding songs together. One in particular, "You Can't do that Anymore" brings the house down.
The hour concludes with Sinatra working before the orchestra (led alternatively throughout the program by Nelson Riddle and Don Costa) showcasing a selection of songs from his new album.
All in all, the show was a huge success. Well conceived and presented, it was tight, entertaining and attractively staged.
Although television was never Sinatra's strong point, he really seemed to enjoy doing this one. A fine production, it will probably be remembered as his best effort on the small screen.
Oh, how I miss '70s TV !