July 21, 2008

Sinatra in Cannonball Run II

It's nearly worth sitting through Cannonball Run II to see Frank Sinatra's three minutes on screen. I saw Cannonball Run II when it was released in 1984, and I have a clear memory of the "vibe" in the theater abruptly changing when Sinatra came onscreen. I also recall how it seemed like Sinatra's lines were filmed on a different film set, on a different day, without Burt Reynolds and the other actors being in the same room (although they were). I think all of this was attributable to Sinatra's charisma and heavy screen presence, apparent even to a teenager whose knowledge of the singer was primarily "Theme from New York, New York."

Seeing it again today, I'm almost embarrassed for him. But I think I've read somewhere Sinatra wanted to do more of the kind of cameos and appearances in movies and TV shows his pallies Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin often did, because he thought it looked like they were having fun. Perhaps he wanted to lighten up his image a bit. Around this time, he was being portrayed in the media with things like the biography His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra and the daily comic strip "Doonesbury" as a bullying, mafioso thug. Either way, I doubt he did it for the money.

He does manage to "leave the film" with his dignity pretty much intact, unlike Sammy and Dean. They look so pitiful and pathetic much of the time. I think Dean (who had spent his entire post-Martin & Lewis career pretending to be a lush) was really drinking at this point. But the film does have this historic value going for it -- writer/director Hal Needham managed to reunite the three of them on screen. And with appearances by both Shirley Maclaine and Henry Silva, Cannonball Run II feels at times a little bit like a bad Rat Pack film (4 for Texas, not Ocean's 11).

Henry Silva, Shirley Maclaine

According to Sinatra: Behind the Legend:

The hope was to recapture some of the madness from the Rat Pack's sixties adventures. Burt Reynolds was along for the ride because of his box-office drawing power.

"It was a disgrace, of course," Shirley Maclaine said of the film, and even she is mystified as to why she took a role in this silly movie after brilliant Academy Award performance in Terms of Endearment. "Frank only worked half a day, and that was too long for him. He did one take
(in true Sinatra style!) and left. It looked like he had never been there at all.

"Dean had deteriorated. He seemed withered, drawn, with a graying pallor. I noticed he put five spoons of sugar in each cup of coffee. I chided him for it and said he'd better quit. The next day, he emptied a five-pound bag of sugar inside my trailer."

Dean after several cups of coffee, each having five spoonfuls of sugar?

This video is comprised of the three scenes (the "Oval Office scene" and two separate car scenes) in which Sinatra appeared. On a trivial note, the guy at the beginning is Sinatra's right-hand man, Jilly Rizzo.


And I just can't end this post without mentioning that the bouncy, synth-heavy tune heard in the car scenes is "Como Cannonball (Like a Cannonball)," from Menudo:


Would/could you be proud of this if you were one of them now?

7 comments:

Michael Suzich said...

Hello Chris,

Frank seemed to really enjoy the "Chairman" personna, and the boys do a great job of playing his subordinates. They had a lot of practise, of course, with the whole act based on "It's Frank's world..." Ah, the Medudo song and video! I'll be finishing my patio deck this afternoon, and can you guess what I'll be singing all afternoon while I work? "Tan fuerte como Cannonball, como Cannonball, COMO CANNONBALL"! :)

Chris said...

Ha! Yes, I worked on this post on and off during the weekend, and the whole time I was singing variations -- first Spanish, then English, made up words, etc. It's as catchy as the Black Plague or "I Kissed a Girl"......mmmmmm, cherry chapstick....

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Chris, thanks for all the great Dinopixs from CB2. Certainly this is no classic film, but gotta say that I loves the campy Dinostyle with the Sam even more in CB2 then CB1....Dino does such a cool job of playin' his Dinoself....never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool...oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth...

Chris said...

No prob, dino!

I agree - Sammy and Dean had bigger parts and were better in Cannonball II. And if it weren't for their being in it, I doubt the the Chairman (as michael so accurately described him) would have been involved.

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Chris, yeah I remember hearin' how the frankie was beggin' to get in on the CB action after Dino and the Sam scored in numbero uno...loves the dry martini scene where the Sam comes to take him away from the chick...and our Dino as talent agent is way funny....

Chris said...

I think I may have to watch The Cannonball Run again!

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Chris, great idea dude....Dino's the man and we are his ever Dinodevoted fans...