Following the release of the less than memorable, Dirty Dingus Magee, in 1970, Frank Sinatra, retired from the big screen and wouldn’t return until the release of the cop thriller, The First Deadly Sin, ten years later. However, that didn’t stop him from appearing in a television movie event in November of 1977. And no it wasn’t in a disease of the week three tissue special but as a hardened cop much like the one he had played in 1968’s The Detective.
The film will see Frank as an aging police veteran in New York City running a crew designed specifically to take down a pair of Mafia families that run the streets. Now here’s the surprise. This 145 minute procedural co-stars Martin Balsam, Michael Nouri, Harry Guardino AND Henry Silva. Would you believe that not a single one of them are playing a Mafioso. No sir! They’re playing Sinatra’s crew which to be honest makes this an entertaining TV movie if you’re a fan of these long time players who score plenty of screen time alongside Ol’ Blue Eyes. Truthfully I’ve always thought you’d find Silva’s picture in Webster’s dictionary next to the words mafia, hitman or assassin.
With very few options left at bringing down the Manzaro family whose activities include drug and prostitute operations, Sinatra, and his crew turn their attentions on the car thefts and chop shops the “family” is supposedly behind. When Frank and the boys prevent a transport truck from being hijacked, the end result will be that the truck driver is shot and killed and Frank held accountable by the man’s widow. Sinatra isn’t happy and alongside Balsam hits his favorite watering hole to drink away his worries. With the Brass pressuring Frank for results, Balsam, hints that maybe they ought to trigger a war between the Manzano and Waldman families. All they’d have to do is pull the trigger on the elderly Manzano and not so subtly point the finger at the opposing mob family and let the “hits” begin at which point they can move in and make some arrests.
Frank is having none of it and wants to play by the book but when a bust goes wrong at a local chop shop and Balsam takes a fatal bullet, the wrath of Sinatra is upon both a small time hood played by Johnny Barnes and the whole Manzaro family. He has little trouble at enlisting Silva, Guardino and Nouri to set up a hit on the elder statesman of the Manzaro family. They successfully hit the aging Don though they miss the number one body guard played by James Luisi. You may recall Luisi from a stint on The Rockford Files among other character parts.
Nearing the half way point of this telefilm I couldn’t help but wonder where I recognized some of those musical cues from and I’m wracking my brain to come up with a title or two the score may have been lifted from. It wasn’t until the end of the film and the music credit went to Jerry Goldsmith that it all came together. I think they may have just borrowed any number of his musical notes to keep the pace moving along.
So of course the Manzano family wants their pound of flesh and the Waldman’s led by Martin Gabel are denying any involvement in the killing. That won’t stop a couple of hotheads in the employ of the Manzano family from taking out Waldman’s top consigliere. If you think you recognize one of those hotheads it’s a very young Robert Davi who would go on to a long career playing the heavy including a Bond villain. Better still, Davi, who shares a couple of key scenes with Sinatra, would go on to emulate the crooner in song on stage in tribute concerts.
While Sinatra and his crew may have gotten what they’ve wished for they’ve crossed a line they shouldn’t have. Rather than allow a junked up stoolie to blackmail them after figuring out it’s the foursome that have started this war between the families, one of our leading players is going to find killing has become far to easy and will become a mad dog on the streets that Frank is going to have to deal with before the final fadeout.
Once again Frank Sinatra delivers a performance that’s finely tuned. For someone who was supposedly only interested in one take and not much more than that, he again delivers a polished performance in this William A. Graham directed effort. Graham worked primarily in television from the 1950’s till the turn of the century. You’ll see his name on shows ranging from Dr. Kildare and The Fugitive to The X Files or even telefilms like the superior 21 Hours at Munich.
Nice to see Henry Silva reunited one more time with Sinatra. In case you’ve forgotten, Silva, was a member of the original Oceans 11 crew. Not only did he appear in another Rat Pack title, Sergeants Three, but he’d also go toe to toe with Frank in the now classic, The Manchurian Candidate. Both he and Frank would even turn up in the star studded romp, Cannonball Run II.
Harry Gaurdino is an actor I’ve always enjoyed watching wherever he turned up. Usually in supporting roles in films ranging from Houseboat and Madigan to a pair of Dirty Harry titles. Martin Balsam was a class act for years and won a Supporting Actor Oscar back in ’65 for A Thousand Clowns. Some may know him best for his role in Psycho and meeting Norman’s Mother at the top of the staircase. As for Michael Nouri, he’s much younger than his counterparts with Cherry Street just his 5th acting credit. It’s the things we see as a youngster that always stay with us and for me Nouri will always be associated with Dracula thanks to playing the vampire King in a TV series from 1979 titled Cliffhangers.
For Sinatra fans this is a must have to complete your collection I suppose and it’s worthwhile hunting down for both Frank and this wonderful cast of actors gathered around him in this crime caper with a Yojimbo twist. Thankfully it’s available on DVD as a made on demand product via Sony.