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Come Blow Your Horn (Blu-ray Review)

9 Apr, 2012 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Frank Sinatra, Tony Bill, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Rush.

There’s not exactly an endless bounty of movies where Frank Sinatra plays a guy who all but cowers in front of his bellowing (and possibly Jewish) father — especially when it’s Frank at 47 playing someone in his later 30s. For this reason alone, we’re looking at one of the more tolerably amusing (and also the first) in a string of anti-cinematic comedies fashioned from plays and original screenplays by Neil Simon, a cottage industry that stretched well into the 1980s. Of course, for those not into the Chairman and those “Mad Men”-ish early ’60s, this horn is going to hit a lot of clinkers.

As a playboy in the final throes of a civilization in which men still wore hats, Sinatra is cast as an older brother who is somehow paying the tab on a Manhattan pad far more elaborate than the one his character used as a fornication mission-central in 1955’s The Tender Trap (a better stage-to-screen adaptation with an even better Cahn-Van Heusen title tune than the decent one he sings out nowhere on a Midtown street here). As the supposed heir apparent whose heart isn’t really in the family artificial fruit business, he has what seem like a million phones, a huge fireplace, a big TV screen for its day and … twin beds? Yeah, that’s the Frank we know and love, for sure. It’s even more of a mind-melter when his 21-year-old kid brother (Tony Bill, then getting a huge career break) breaks away from their smothering folks to become a roommate. You can imagine the two of them talking about sports across from each other every night as they wait for slumber to take over.

Except for Lee J. Cobb and Molly Picon as their parents, the movie is kind of an in-house exercise to provide work for Sinatra old friends or about-to-be’s. Co-star Bill would later show up in Sinatra’s Marriage on the Rocks; Phyllis McGuire, who plays a married but fooling-around Dallas-based girlfriend, was in real life involved with Mob royalty Sam Giancanna (Sinatra had actually introduced them); and Barbara Rush would be back a year later for the Rat Pack’s Robin and the 7 Hoods. Jill St. John (as more romantic competition for Rush in addition to McGuire) would return later in the decade for Sinatra’s Tony Rome — but not before she was prominently featured in Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? opposite Dean Martin, who has a funny walk-on in Horn as a street derelict. His show-up comes not long after the scene where “Bonanza’s” Dan Blocker gives Sinatra a shiner (the surreality keeps-a-comin’).

The family name of the plot-central can is “Baker,” which doesn’t sound particularly Jewish — but with Yiddish superstar Picon playing a mother who keeps trying to shove food down her younger son’s throat, the ethnicity would seem to be clear even if Simon’s name (he adapted his play here with co-writer Norman Lear) weren’t on the script. Still, unless I missed something, it’s never clear, and imagining Frank’s Bar Mitzvah is definitely a form of mental aerobics. Whatever the ethnicity, it’s fun seeing Sinatra in this kind of role, though the few real laughs come from Cobb, an actor not usually identified with comedy. Cobb has a way of bellowing the word “Bum!” (a kind of two-syllable approach) that’s really funny, and for decades I have tried to ape it whenever pitchers for whom I have no use (e.g. Kenny Rogers, Jeff Weaver) appear on the mound.

Horn kicked off the summer-of-’63 movie season in the days before the summer movie season didn’t crowd the calendar around Easter. Aided by Sinatra’s sartorial choices, it definitely captures a time — and as in that same summer’s Donovan’s Reef, the dialogue includes a Kennedy reference that made the movie play a little strangely in second-run theaters or drive-ins by 1964. Frank even does a JFK impression here. Passably.

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