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The Kissing Bandit

The Kissing Bandit(1949)

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teaser The Kissing Bandit (1949)

Frank Sinatra's premiere Technicolor starring vehicle, The Kissing Bandit (1948) has achieved a notorious reputation as the actor/singer's worst movie (not unlike Jack Benny's bogus drubbing of the hilarious The Horn Blows at Midnight, 1945). Of course, much of the negative feedback was provided by Sinatra himself, who mercilessly kidded the picture - a comedic period piece casting the crooner in a Zorro-type role - throughout his decades as a superstar.

At the time it was made, Sinatra had not yet established himself as a major movie star at MGM and was eager to take on any roles he was offered. According to author Michael Freedland in All the Way: A Biography of Frank Sinatra, the film was "a story of a young businessman in the nineteenth century who is a little too conscious of his family responsibilities: his father had a reputation both as a criminal and a great lover. It was his duty to try to emulate the old man. As the dancer Ann Miller described the film: "It was just horrendous." Freeland also wrote that "Kathryn Grayson remembers that they all knew how bad it was while they were making the movie. 'We used to joke, "What are we going to do for the sequel"?

But some good came out of the experience. According to Freedland, "Sinatra bumped into a producer named Howard Koch. 'I'd like to work with you one day,' Frank told him. Before long, they would work together and Mr. Koch would play a very important part indeed in the Sinatra story, when he became his 'resident' film producer." Also fortuitous was MGM's decision to follow The Kissing Bandit with two much more highly regarded musicals pairing Sinatra with Gene Kelly - Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) and On the Town (1949).

All things considered, The Kissing Bandit is far from being the downtrodden outcast it's unfairly remembered for. In fact, the movie, while admittedly not a screen masterpiece, is certainly quite enjoyable, and in addition to the lead's considerable candle power, has much going for it. Anchors Aweigh (1945) co-star Kathryn Grayson works well with Frank, and the opulent Joe Pasternak production is nicely peppered by an array of beloved scene stealers like J. Carrol Naish, Billy Gilbert and Byron Foulger, as well as surprise guest stars Ann Miller, Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse.

The lively Nacio Herb Brown songs keep things moving along in this Western parody breezily directed by Laszlo Benedek. Ironically, it is at "lowly" Columbia, not MGM, that Sinatra and Benedek would, within a few short years, both achieve legendary status - Frank with his landmark portrayal in From Here to Eternity (1953) and Benedek helming the iconic Marlon Brando Fifties epic, The Wild One (1954).

Director: Laszlo Benedek
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Screenplay: John Briard Harding, Isobel Lennart
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: Adrienne Fazan
Music: Earl K. Brent, Nacio Herb Brown, Edward Heyman
Cast: Frank Sinatra (Ricardo), Kathryn Grayson (Teresa), J. Carrol Naish (Chico), Mildred Natwick (Isabella), Mikhail Rasumny (Don Jose), Billy Gilbert (General Toro).
C-101m. Closed captioning.

by Mel Neuhaus

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