The critics had it wrong. Frank Sinatra the actor did care — to the point of breaking down in tears on at least one occasion. He didn’t insist on one take because he was distracted or lazy, as rumor has it; he sped things along because he knew he would get progressively worse as the day wore on.
”It’s important to know that Frank Sinatra was a man who was really better on the first take,” says director John Frankenheimer on MGM’s just released DVD of ”The Manchurian Candidate,” the 1962 Cold War thriller recalled in many obits last week as Sinatra’s best film.
To illustrate, Frankenheimer walks us through the seven minute sequence in which Major Marco (Sinatra) assures the programmed to kill Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey): ”We’re busting up the joint. We’re tearing out all the wires. All the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men will never put old Raymond together again.”
True to form, Sinatra, who was anxious about the scene, was ”brilliant” on the first take. Only problem: In reviewing the rushes the next day, Frankenheimer discovered his star was out of focus.
”I was absolutely devastated,” Frankenheimer said. ”It was the longest walk I have ever taken, from that projection room to Sinatra’s dressing room to tell him. He was in tears because he knew how good he’d been in the scene.”
The decision was made to reshoot the scene. Anxiety turned to laryngitis on the next take; the third take was unusable. So, too, were takes four through 12.
Finally, Frankenheimer told his editor, ”To hell with it — put the out of focus shot in.”
Critics applauded Frankenheimer’s technical virtuosity: The hazy footage was obviously meant to impart Shaw’s blurry, brainwashed p.o.v.
Another revelation on the DVD: Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball for the manipulative mother role that eventually earned Angela Lansbury an Oscar nomination. Frankenheimer showed Sinatra ”All Fall Down,” his earlier film with Lansbury (as Warren Beatty’s suffocating mother), and Sinatra ”very graciously” acceded to the director’s wishes.
TV’s wackiest redhead as filmdom’s cruelest mother? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If Sinatra had gotten his way – and it had worked – we’d now be discussing the gutsiest image makeover of all time.