[5 December 2005]
Frank Sinatra never made his mark on television. He tended to blame the medium and “those guys in grey flannel suits”, the network executives: “My blood boils when I see the mediocrities sitting on top of the TV networks.” But the networks and the critics blamed the tuxedoed Sinatra, and even his own director Jack Donahue concurred: “There are quite a few performers who have no business on television each week, and Sinatra is one of them.”
In 1952, Sinatra signed the biggest deal in television history with CBS, and his show was cancelled after a year with snake belly ratings. Nonetheless in 1957, with his records selling in the millions and his movies doing great business at the box office, Sinatra signed another record-setting TV deal, this time with the ABC network: a three year contract for 36 half-hour filmed (as opposed to live) shows. ABC got the biggest name in entertainment, Sinatra got three million upfront in cash plus a 60% share in the profits and residuals. Surprising no-one except ABC, the new Frank Sinatra Show was cancelled after 26 weeks, and in an attempt to recoup their investment, the network ran four one-hour specials the following year sponsored by Timex.
High Hopes is remastered from the archive tape of the Timex special that was originally recorded on October 19, 1958. For a show that brought together three of the biggest names of any era, it disappoints hugely and offers little more than curiosity value.
Watch Sinatra and Martin sleepwalk their way through an hour of missed lines and self-indulgence. Watch Dino upstage Frank with his dance steps. Watch Dino plug his own restaurant with a message scrawled on the sole of his shoe. Watch Bing Crosby shrug off the embarrassment and show the younger men how a professional works—although he alone is denied a solo spot.
Watch, and wonder how on earth Frank Sinatra could go from movies as strong as The Man With The Golden Arm (1955), High Society (1956) and Some Came Running (1958) to something quite this disturbingly bad. Listen, and wonder how the man who made Songs For Swinging Lovers (1957) and Come Fly With Me (1958) could perform this poorly.
The original Timex Promotional Segments that are included on High Hopes would probably qualify as the most entertaining thing on this DVD, if it wasn’t for Dean Martin’s Jimmy Durante impersonation and a cameo performance from Durante himself. It’s only when Sinatra takes the microphone at the head of a Nelson Riddle band that we get anything approaching the real deal. “It Was Just One Of These Things”, “Angel Eyes” and “The Lady Is A Tramp” are still second-rate and perfunctory, but at least they hint at Sinatra’s greatness. Everything else on High Hopes merely underlines his lack of respect for television and his audience.