The First Deadly Sin (1980)
Frank Sinatra returned to cinema screens for the first time since 1970 in a role he was comfortable with. That of a police detective. He had played one previously in 1968’s The Detective and as a private eye in a pair of late 60’s Tony Rome films. The difference this time out is Deadly Sin has a very Giallo like feel to it and one has to wonder what may have transpired if it had been directed by Argento or Polanski who at one point was attached.
Attempting some fancy editing, director Brian G. Hutton opens the film cutting a murder scene in with an operation. The blood flows freely but only in the operating room. The killing is done with a clawed tool of some sort by striking an innocent man’s head. The weapon will become the main clue as to just how Sinatra will locate his man.
Frank is playing the straight laced detective just weeks away from retirement. He’s called to the crime scene for one last case. Joining him is the perfectly cast James Whitmore as a coroner. He’s gruff on the outside but all heart on the inside. He’ll join Frank in the clues and exhuming bodies to identify the weapon and get their man.
Adding to the dramatic side of the script, Sinatra’s wife played by Faye Dunaway was our apparent operating victim to open the movie. She’s been bedridden at a local hospital and appearing rather gaunt, is nearing death’s door. Her state adds to Sinatra’s low key playing of his role as that of the down beaten detective whose career and marriage may be coming to an end at once. Might I add “Ol’ Blue Eyes” is very effective throughout.
Like any police procedural, we’re treated to a real s.o.b. of a precinct captain. The casting director found a perfect candidate in Anthony Zerbe. I love it when this guy plays a real ———. I’ll let you choose a suitable word. I have mine. Brenda Vaccaro plays the part of the victim’s wife who Frank will enlist along the way for some help in cracking the case.
It’s Martin Gabel that adds some fun to the proceedings as an antique arms expert who when approached by Sinatra for some ideas on the weapon, takes up the challenge and thoroughly enjoys the hunt. His scene at a sporting goods store looking for a suitable weapon for murder is amusing to say the least.
Along the way, Frank’s to encounter red tape, careless detectives and more murders before settling on just how to nail his man before handing in his walking papers.
This slow moving detective yarn was adapted from a Lawrence Sanders novel that also allowed Frank an executive producer credit. For me Frank makes it work despite the usual backdrop of some questionable characters in the Barney Miller styled offices at the precinct. It’s the camera work surrounding our killer that gives it a flourish of a Giallo like flavor.
The music on the film was composed by Gordon Jenkins who had a history with Frank. He had been the music director on some of Sinatra’s 60’s TV specials. While I didn’t spot him, Bruce Willis apparently made his screen debut here as an extra and yes, that sleazy doorman is Joe Spinell from Rocky and a couple of nasty horror titles that have gained a cult notoriety.
While Faye has little to do in a rather thankless role, Frank makes the whole case worth while watching. So join him and old pros, Whitmore and Gabel in solving the crimes.