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Marriage on the Rocks

Marriage on the Rocks(1965)

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teaser Marriage on the Rocks (1965)

Watching a film like Marriage on the Rocks (1965) can make the viewer wistful for another time. Not the blind nostalgia of a more 'innocent' era the 1960s certainly had its share of wars and tragedies and economic upheaval but a sense of loss for a time when we didn't take ourselves so seriously. The cast of Marriage on the Rocks enjoyed making the film for that very reason. It wasn't the greatest movie ever made but it wasn't meant to be. It wasn't a 'message' film, and it didn't need to be a showcase for the cast. They had too much self-confidence in their own talent for that. This self-confidence (of which Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were masters) is all there on the screen. They were there to have some fun and to make a film that the audience could have fun with, too, and that was all. Even their co-star, Deborah Kerr (an actress with a capital "A") enjoyed herself enormously.

The plot was reminiscent of the wacky comedies of the 1930s: Sinatra and Kerr star as a couple married nearly 20 years, who go to Mexico to enliven their marriage and end up getting divorced, thanks to the machinations of a Mexican quickie-divorce lawyer, played by Cesar Romero. Before she knows it, Kerr finds herself accidentally married to her husband's best friend (played by Martin), who has harbored a crush on her for years.

Eric Braun wrote in his biography of Kerr, Deborah Kerr, that while vacationing with her husband, the writer Peter Viertel, Kerr received "a script, Community Property from her old friend, Frank Sinatra. There was a delay before filming could start and she had second thoughts about making the movie. Then Kerr asked advice from another long-time friend, David Niven. At this point in her career, she decided to be more selective about the roles she accepted but Niven advised her strongly to take the offer. Then Sinatra called her on the phone again and said: 'Come on: let's do this picture together. Why not? Let's have fun.' And they did, with Dean Martin and a cast which included the indestructibly handsome and funny Cesar Romero, the West End's unique comedy character actress Hermione Baddeley and Frank's daughter, Nancy Sinatra.

'We had a ball' says Deborah: 'it was so much fun a joke and all quite ludicrous. Frank would come in one morning and say "We don't need this scene!" and just tear it out of the script and throw it away. Then Dino, perfectly happy and absolutely relaxed, would murmur: "What a great way to earn a living; what other business is there where you can come in every morning and meet lots of people that you absolutely adore, do something you like doing and get paid for it?"

Kerr, at 5'6" in her stocking feet was taller than most actresses of her time. She spent most of the film wearing a green chiffon dress designed by Walter Plunkett and later remembered, "When they [Sinatra and Martin] saw me in this dress they called me 'The Jolly Green Giant', after the popular brand of peas. Whenever I came on the set it was: 'Ah here comes the Jolly Green Giant!' The movie was a laugh to make from beginning to end, and not to be taken seriously by anybody'.

This was a film made with the collaboration of old friends like director Jack Donohue (who had been a choreographer on Sinatra's film Anchors Aweigh (1945) and directed episodes of Sinatra's own television program in the 1950s and later Martin's show in the 1960s), long-time Sinatra collaborator Nelson Riddle, who served as musical director, Cesar Romero, Sinatra and Martin's co-star in Ocean's Eleven (1960), Tony Bill, who had made his film debut as Sinatra's younger brother in Come Blow Your Horn (1963) and, of course, Sinatra's daughter Nancy, who he would later record a hit single with in 1967 - "Something Stupid" - as well as appear on her NBC TV special, "Movin' With Nancy" the same year. Among the supporting cast is DeForest Kelley who would become famous a year later as Dr. McCoy on Star Trek.

The critical reaction to Marriage on the Rocks was lukewarm at best, with most of the complaints centering on the plot, which was thought to be too "old-fashioned" for 1965. Today, that is one of the things that give the film its charm. In 2008, judging from the massive success of modern singers covering standards, and Sinatra's and Martin's albums' popularity with people who weren't even born when the film was released, "old-fashioned" is hot. And Marriage on the Rocks is still fun.

Producer: William H. Daniels
Director: Jack Donohue
Screenplay: Cy Howard (screenplay and story "Community Property")
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Art Direction: LeRoy Deane
Music: Nelson Riddle
Film Editing: Sam O'Steen
Cast: Frank Sinatra (Dan Edwards), Deborah Kerr (Valerie Edwards), Dean Martin (Ernie Brewer), Cesar Romero (Miguel Santos), Hermione Baddeley (Jeannie MacPherson), Tony Bill (Jim Blake), John McGiver (Shad Nathan), Nancy Sinatra (Tracy Edwards), Davey Davison (Lisa Sterling), Michael Petit (David Edwards), Trini Lopez
C-109m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Lorraine LoBianco

Sources:
The Films of Frank Sinatra by Gene Ringgold and Clifford McCarty
Deborah Kerr by Eric Braun
The Rat Pack: Neon Nights with the Kings of Cool by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell

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