Talk about burning the candle at both ends! The members of the Summit would awaken in the late afternoon, walk through a few scenes for their abused director (don't ask Sinatra for a second take!), Lewis Milestone, grab a steam in the Sands steam room (to sweat out various toxins), and then head for the stage in the Copa Room. After their performance, they'd stay up until the wee small hours of the morning, finally go to bed, sleep until late afternoon, and repeat it all over again. While all of this was occurring, Sinatra (and Sam Giancana) even managed to help John F. Kennedy get elected to the presidency of the United States. These are the events portrayed in The Rat Pack.
As the opening credits roll, the backstage routine of a much older Frank Sinatra is depicted:
And during the performance (of "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die"), we are transported back to 1958, when Sinatra was in many ways the sun around which much of the entertainment industry orbited:
Liotta is good as Sinatra, but I never for one moment believed he was Sinatra. I suppose he was cast due to his being Italian, and the volatility he displayed through characters he has portrayed, such as Ray Sinclair or Henry Hill. I guess the film's makers wanted to emphasize the menacing component to Sinatra's personality.
A montage of newspaper headlines make it seem as if the formation of the Summit was inevitable:
"SINATRA HAS VOCAL HEMHORRAGE; COULD END CAREER" and "SINATRA DIVORCES NANCY BARBATO; MARRIES TEMPTRESS AVA GARDNER"
"SINATRA, GARDNER HIT SPLITSVILLE"
"SINATRA BACK ON TOP WITH 'ETERNITY' OSCAR"
"ACTOR PETER LAWFORD MARRIES PATRICIA KENNEDY"
"NEGRO ENTERTAINER SAMMY DAVIS LOSES EYE IN CAR CRASH"
"Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin Call It Quits" and "CHICAGO CRIME BOSS 'MOMO' GIANCANA DODGES CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE"
"JOHN F. KENNEDY RE-ELECTED TO SENATE"
"SINATRA STRADDLES SHOWBIZ LIKE COLOSSUS"
Joe Mantegna makes his first appearance in the "role" of Dean Martin. At certain angles, he does in fact resemble Dino. I think he may even be doing his own singing in some scenes.
The following scene provides a glimpse of what it might have been like to enter Sinatra's inner sanctum, as Sinatra calls Dean in order to convince him to make Some Came Running (1958 - sort of the first Rat Pack film):
Don Cheadle portrays the "merry negro," Sammy Davis, Jr. Cheadle may have had the most work to do preparing for his role, in that he had to learn to sing, tap dance, play drums, play trumpet and twirl six-shooter pistols like Davis did.
Angus Macfadyen does a great Peter Lawford imitation. The film depicts Sinatra and Lawford burying the hatchet at a high society party hosted by Patricia Kennedy-Lawford. In real life, Lawford and Sinatra appeared in It Happened in Brooklyn in 1947, and they were acquaintances until rumors of a Lawford - Ava Gardner affair in the late '40s put him on Sinatra's sh*t list and possibly jeopardized his very existence.
This scene shows the members of the Summit/Clan (only reporters called Sinatra's group "The Rat Pack"; to Sinatra, the actual Rat Pack was the group of friends organized around Humphrey Bogart, which included Sinatra) committing to Ocean's 11 while having dinner at a favorite Sinatra haunt. Sinatra spots a reporter who said something about him he didn't like, and a scene repeated several times in reality unfolds:
Senator/presidential candidate John F. Kennedy (William L. Petersen) is in attendance for a Summit performance. Kennedy is rumored to have said that the only person in the world he would want to change places with was Frank Sinatra.
And so, the Clan falls together and is unleashed upon the Las Vegas of the late '50s, early '60s. A generation of older Americans goes along for the ride. I would argue it is exactly this aesthetic and lifestyle the counterculture would rebel against some five years later. What seemed so unimaginably cool to Tiki-culture audiences of the early '60s would seem painfully square and corny after the arrival of The Beatles in North America on February 6, 1964. But while it lasted, those guys were on top of the world (WARNING: video contains explicit conduct; may be NSFW):
What is interesting about that montage of Rat Pack dalliances is obviously Dean's scene. I think that scenario is pretty accurate, and it demonstrates the complexity and contradictictions of Dean Martin. There is a great biography that dives into that complexity, called Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams. It's a fascinating read I highly recommend, and I believe the depiction of Dean Martin in The Rat Pack is based upon its interpretation of Martin's life.
With the election of Kennedy to the presidency, Sinatra was riding high. It is around this time that the love of his life, Ava Gardner, even made a reappearance. But as was reportedly the norm with Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, as soon as the lovemaking ended, they were fighting with the same levels and depth of passion. The actress portraying her does a much better imitation of Gardner than did Kate Beckinsale (she was no doubt cast because her beauty rivals Gardner's) in The Aviator.
The film does a good job of portraying the dismantling of the Clan, which fell apart as personal issues and personality conflicts floated to the surface (for one thing, Sinatra blamed Lawford after Kennedy decided to stay with Bing Crosby, a Republican(!), instead of Sinatra during a visit to California; Sinatra had an entire wing added on to his Palm Springs estate for Kennedy and his entourage, including a helipad for the presidential helicopter). And just in general, the times, they were a-changin'. The Rat Pack's act was beginning to seem stale. As it was done at the beginning of the film, the filmmakers rely on a newspaper headline montage (set to someone imitating Sinatra singing his ultimate saloon song, "One For My Baby," from his "suicide album" Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely):
"Marilyn Monroe Dead at 36"
"Barbituates Suspected in Apparent Suicide"
"DIMAGGIO BANS KENNEDY BROTHERS AND RAT PACK FROM FUNERAL"
"RFK Deports Mob Boss Carlos Marcello"