Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Film Review: Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)

Frank, Dean, and Sammy share the stage with Bing Crosby,
who steals the show in my favorite Rat Pack picture.
If you're a fan of the Rat Pack, it's impossible to dislike this movie. Frank, Dean, and Sammy sing, and the supporting cast includes Bing Crosby--who nearly steals the show--and Peter Falk (of Columbo fame). Not only that, but the theme of this movie is unique and twistedly appropriate for the stars: a re-telling of Robin Hood set in 1920s Chicago. I hope that piqued your interest, because it's all up from there.

The movie opens with Chicago's current crime boss, Big Jim, being taken out by Guy Guisborne's hit-men. Afterwards we learn that Guisborne (Peter Falk) has cut a deal with the sheriff to get his protection for all the illegal activities in the city, but Guisborne is going to make all the other gangs in the city pay through the nose for this protection. The only one brave enough to stand up to Guisborne is Robbo (Frank Sinatra), the owner of a speakeasy and casino. With the help of his friends Will Scarlet (Sammy Davis, Jr.) and Little John (Dean Martin), Robbo hopes to break up Guisborne's cartel by being the only place in town who can bypass his "protection."

Unfortunately there's an X-factor in this equation in the form of Big Jim's daughter Marian (Barbara Rush), who is not only looking to avenge her father's death but also to take over his empire. When she pays Robbo blood money for a hit he didn't make, he offhandedly tells his men to give it to charity, unaware that this act could have any consequences for him. An itinerant clerk at the charity, however, seizes this opportunity to declare Robbo a modern Robin Hood for giving his ill-gotten gains to the poor. This turns out to be a huge gain for Robbo because as long as he's a public benefactor, Guisborne's mob can't touch him. The trick, therefore, becomes finding a way to blacken Robbo's name.

Apart from having an entertaining plot, this movie succeeds because it has some fabulous musical numbers. Sinatra gets one of his signature songs, "My Kind of Town," Dean Martin croons about loving his mother while playing a mind-bogglingly skilled game of pool, Sammy Davis, Jr. sings and dances with  a couple of machine guns, and Bing Crosby gets one of the most memorable numbers in the show with "Mr. Booze." Atop of all those great performances, though, is "Style" in which Frank and Dean succeed in modernizing Bing's wardrobe, and then the three of them sing together in their tuxes and boaters. I can't say that the number is musically perfect, but just seeing three giants of the recording industry singing a fun tune together is enough to get me any time.

Although this was made to be a Rat Pack vehicle, Bing Crosby is self-deprecatingly hilarious as the dorky Allen A. Dale. Classic Bing cliches pop up such as his inability to dance and the fact that he always gets the girl in the end, and he is also wonderful at being endearingly awkward.

Despite all these pluses, the movie seems to drag at times, especially when Guisborne and Marian are plotting. It's not necessarily that these scenes are bad in themselves, but they're not entertaining enough to merit the time that they take to watch on the screen. Also the opening "All for One" number along with a few others scattered about the show are underwhelming, especially given the high talent level of the performers.

Still in all this movie is a lot of fun, and I would rate it a 7.5 out of 10 for Rat Pack fans at least.

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