Assault on a Queen


1h 46m 1966
Assault on a Queen

Brief Synopsis

Mercenaries salvage a sunken submarine to rob the Queen Mary at sea.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
Philadelphia opening: 15 Jun 1966
Production Company
Seven Arts Productions; Sinatra Enterprises
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Queen Mary
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Assault on a Queen by Jack Finney (New York, 1959).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

After an unsuccessful attempt to recover a lost treasure off the coast of Florida, five adventurers concoct a wild scheme for highjacking the Queen Mary . The group consists of beautiful Rosa Lucchesi, an Italian who is financing the venture; Mark Brittain and Linc Langley, partners in a debt-ridden charter boat business; Vic Rossiter, an opportunist with designs on Rosa; and Eric Lauffnauer, a former U-boat commander. Utilizing a World War II German submarine they found during the Florida escapade, they bring in a sixth member, Tony Moreno, an expert in repairing submarine engines and equipment. Once their vessel is ready, they intercept the Queen Mary and, by posing as British officers, Mark, Rossiter and Lauffnauer obtain permission to go aboard. Then they warn the ship's captain that unless he turns over the contents of the safe, the Queen Mary will be torpedoed. As the men empty the safe, the Queen Mary signals an SOS to a U. S. Coast Guard cutter in the area. During the getaway, Rossiter is killed; and Mark and Lauffnauer allow the loot to fall over the side while they frantically make their escape. Back on the sub, Eric decides to torpedo the approaching Coast Guard cutter and kills Moreno for opposing him. Mark hurls himself at Eric as he fires, but the torpedoes miss their target. Rosa, Mark, and Linc escape in a rubber raft as the cutter rams the sub. Lauffnauer goes down with the sub, and the three survivors drift in the direction of South America.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
Philadelphia opening: 15 Jun 1966
Production Company
Seven Arts Productions; Sinatra Enterprises
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Queen Mary
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Assault on a Queen by Jack Finney (New York, 1959).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 46m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Assault on a Queen


Frank Sinatra liked his caper films. After robbing Vegas with his Rat Pack buddies in Ocean's 11 (1960) and breaking out of a World War II prison camp in Von Ryan's Express (1965), he was back with an even more improbable plan in Assault on a Queen: robbing the Queen Mary with a salvaged German submarine.

The rather implausible plot is courtesy of a pulp novel by Jack Finney, author of the science fiction classics Time and Again and The Body Snatchers (which was turned into the great Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and adapted for the screen by Rod Serling, but as the film opens it feels more like an updated To Have and Have Not than an Ocean's knock-off. Sinatra is Hemingway-esque World War II vet Mark Brittain, a former submarine commander who now runs a failing charter boat service and deep-sea diving business in the Bahamas with his partner Linc (Errol John), a reformed alcoholic who is completely devoted to Mark. They're hired by a team of fortune hunters--smug ne'er do well Vic (Anthony Franciosa), his wealthy Italian girlfriend Rosa (Virna Lisi), and former German U-boat officer Eric Lauffnauer (Swedish star and filmmaker Alf Kjellan)--with a treasure map that supposedly marks the spot of a sunken Spanish galleon. What they find is a German submarine that was scuttled during the war, a discovery that inspires the fortune hunters to raise the sub so they can play pirate. Their new get-rich-quick scheme is a heist of a luxury liner on the high seas with the help of dummy torpedoes.

Don't sweat the details. The filmmakers certainly didn't. The plot, which involves secretly raising the wreck and completely rehabilitating it after 20 years under the sea, holds water as well as a submarine with a screen door. It's all about the chutzpah of the plan--and really, the whole concept is irresistible--and the tension between the partners in crime. Franciosa specialized in a glib, gladhanding schemers, which makes him a perfect Vic, a would-be adventurer and opportunist with a cold smile, a greedy nature, and an ego that gets put out when Rosa drops him for Mark. It's a big, flamboyant performance, which contrasts well with Sinatra's underplayed war vet Mark. Level-headed and practical, Mark doesn't take charge, he simply offers his two cents and his elbow grease, but Sinatra's easy, unforced authority grounds the plan, and the film, for that matter.

Continental actress Lisi isn't called upon to do much more than play the cool, glamorous beauty but she makes you feel the heat between Rosa and Mark as they exchange glances. Kjellan brings dignity to the role of Eric, whose respect for Mark gives them a shared camaraderie despite once having fought on opposite sides. Richard Conte joins the team as a mechanic recruited to get the engines in working order.

Director Jack Donohue, who started out making Red Skelton comedies before moving to television, is no action filmmaker, but he had history with Sinatra. He directed dozens of episodes of Sinatra's variety show in the 1950s and in 1965 he directed Sinatra in the feature film Marriage on the Rocks, a romantic farce co-starring Deborah Kerr and Dean Martin. His direction is decidedly studio-bound, shooting largely against rear projection and on sets. Shots of the submarine in motion were clearly models in a studio tank but the shipboard sequence was shot on location aboard the actual Queen Mary, which was moored near Los Angeles at the time of shooting.

In a curious bit of production casting against type, the great Duke Ellington scored the film with a swinging score. It gives the film a bounce and suits the personality of Sinatra's Mark, but it doesn't help drive the action or create suspense. It helps turn Assault on a Queen into a variation of a Rat Pack lark with a different cast of not-so-reliable partners in crime executing their dream heist against all odds.

By Sean Axmaker

Sources:
Sinatra: Hollywood His Was, Timothy Knight. Running Press, 2010.
Sinatra In Hollywood, Tom Santopietro. St. Martin's Press, 2008.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
IMDb
Assault On A Queen

Assault on a Queen

Frank Sinatra liked his caper films. After robbing Vegas with his Rat Pack buddies in Ocean's 11 (1960) and breaking out of a World War II prison camp in Von Ryan's Express (1965), he was back with an even more improbable plan in Assault on a Queen: robbing the Queen Mary with a salvaged German submarine. The rather implausible plot is courtesy of a pulp novel by Jack Finney, author of the science fiction classics Time and Again and The Body Snatchers (which was turned into the great Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and adapted for the screen by Rod Serling, but as the film opens it feels more like an updated To Have and Have Not than an Ocean's knock-off. Sinatra is Hemingway-esque World War II vet Mark Brittain, a former submarine commander who now runs a failing charter boat service and deep-sea diving business in the Bahamas with his partner Linc (Errol John), a reformed alcoholic who is completely devoted to Mark. They're hired by a team of fortune hunters--smug ne'er do well Vic (Anthony Franciosa), his wealthy Italian girlfriend Rosa (Virna Lisi), and former German U-boat officer Eric Lauffnauer (Swedish star and filmmaker Alf Kjellan)--with a treasure map that supposedly marks the spot of a sunken Spanish galleon. What they find is a German submarine that was scuttled during the war, a discovery that inspires the fortune hunters to raise the sub so they can play pirate. Their new get-rich-quick scheme is a heist of a luxury liner on the high seas with the help of dummy torpedoes. Don't sweat the details. The filmmakers certainly didn't. The plot, which involves secretly raising the wreck and completely rehabilitating it after 20 years under the sea, holds water as well as a submarine with a screen door. It's all about the chutzpah of the plan--and really, the whole concept is irresistible--and the tension between the partners in crime. Franciosa specialized in a glib, gladhanding schemers, which makes him a perfect Vic, a would-be adventurer and opportunist with a cold smile, a greedy nature, and an ego that gets put out when Rosa drops him for Mark. It's a big, flamboyant performance, which contrasts well with Sinatra's underplayed war vet Mark. Level-headed and practical, Mark doesn't take charge, he simply offers his two cents and his elbow grease, but Sinatra's easy, unforced authority grounds the plan, and the film, for that matter. Continental actress Lisi isn't called upon to do much more than play the cool, glamorous beauty but she makes you feel the heat between Rosa and Mark as they exchange glances. Kjellan brings dignity to the role of Eric, whose respect for Mark gives them a shared camaraderie despite once having fought on opposite sides. Richard Conte joins the team as a mechanic recruited to get the engines in working order. Director Jack Donohue, who started out making Red Skelton comedies before moving to television, is no action filmmaker, but he had history with Sinatra. He directed dozens of episodes of Sinatra's variety show in the 1950s and in 1965 he directed Sinatra in the feature film Marriage on the Rocks, a romantic farce co-starring Deborah Kerr and Dean Martin. His direction is decidedly studio-bound, shooting largely against rear projection and on sets. Shots of the submarine in motion were clearly models in a studio tank but the shipboard sequence was shot on location aboard the actual Queen Mary, which was moored near Los Angeles at the time of shooting. In a curious bit of production casting against type, the great Duke Ellington scored the film with a swinging score. It gives the film a bounce and suits the personality of Sinatra's Mark, but it doesn't help drive the action or create suspense. It helps turn Assault on a Queen into a variation of a Rat Pack lark with a different cast of not-so-reliable partners in crime executing their dream heist against all odds. By Sean Axmaker Sources: Sinatra: Hollywood His Was, Timothy Knight. Running Press, 2010. Sinatra In Hollywood, Tom Santopietro. St. Martin's Press, 2008. AFI Catalog of Feature Films IMDb

Assault on a Queen - ASSAULT ON A QUEEN - Frank Sinatra's 1966 Crime Caper Drama


Based on a long-out-of-print pulp hit by famed sci-fi author Jack Finney, this bizarre and kinda creaky adventure-heist thriller plays today like a lazy hit of nostalgia opiates. Here was a day when the lackadaisical hipster star power of an aging Frank Sinatra was more than enough to anchor audience's ardor, and a day when a pure pulp story told largely without gloss or visual hyperbole, and usually on a double bill, was a Saturday night blissfully spent. There's something to be said for the modest and even generous expectations we used to have for movies - filmgoers wanted stars and stories and moments of electric connection, and certainly didn't need the attention-deficit-disorder editing, ear-bleeding Dolby soundtracks, and relentless digital effects that contemporary movies employ to scream us into submission. Nobody then or now will make a case for Assault on a Queen as an artful masterpiece, or anything more than the third or fourth most unexceptional film Sinatra made during the Rat Pack '60s. But there's a raw pleasure to be had from it that movies do not know of anymore, like the buzz you get from an old, badly recorded rockabilly single in a world of Autotuned pop overproduction and Lady Gaga blitzkriegs.

This was postwar America, where every man seems to have an ambivalent military legacy trailing behind him and working knowledge of submarines. Sinatra and Trinidadian star Errol John are weary sub vets eking out a living and in the Bahamas running a fishing boat, which is all well and good until debts force them to take grinning slickster Tony Franciosa, his unbelievably hot girlfriend Virna Lisi and their German u-boat vet partner Alf Kjellin out to look for galleon treasure. During the trip, deep-sea diving along the ocean floor, Sinatra discovers a sunken German submarine, still intact. Franciosa and Co. decide to do what you or I would naturally do with this news - raise the sub, secretly moor it, spend weeks cleaning it and getting it running, and then concoct an elaborate scheme using the u-boat to rob the Queen Mary in mid-Atlantic.

What? Finney didn't pause for breath, apparently, and neither does Rod Serling's script, just leaping past the hundred plot holes and unlikelihoods inherent in the story. On the other hand, director Jack Donohue, whose career is comprised largely of sitcoms, shot the film as if on vacation, often settling for static two-shots on obvious studio sets. Nothing moves very quickly in this film, whether the scenes are underwater or not - the cleaning of the sub is lengthy and, almost comically, treated by the cast as a run-of-the-mill job, a business start-up. (The vital planning discussions are all lubricated with ubiquitous booze and cigarettes.) Sinatra is preoccupied with a yen for Lisi, and it's hard to blame him - a star in Italy and then internationally in the '60s despite having made a single remarkable film (she supported Jeanne Moreau in Joseph Losey's Eva, in 1962, but that's about it), Lisi was not a power personality but a sleek, cat-like beauty of the kind filmmakers and audiences have never been able to resist. Still, she doesn't stand a chance against Sinatra, whose redoubtable charisma here fits like an old bomber jacket. He makes it look easy, and for him it was - watch him listen to the other actors, and you'll see a born movie star, occupying center stage as if he was born to it. This is both the glory and the weakness of the star system as Hollywood devised it - regardless of material and direction, and often within films we wouldn't see twice if we were paid, someone like Sinatra remains deathlessly watchable, magnetic, a cool, convincing spectacle onto himself.

Assault on a Queen eventually does get around to its heist, and in the tradition of heist films as they were before the new George Clooney Ocean series, you know the plot is doomed. In this case the robbers never anticipated the nearby presence of a Coast Guard ship - why not? - and the agonizingly slow mechanics of deboarding a luxury liner and escaping in a raft make for nail-biting where you thought there'd be none. Sinatra is the glue here, but Franciosa, a generally obnoxious and glib actor, is splendidly obnoxious and glib here as the hopeless jerk you know won't make it out of the story alive, rounding out an Italian-American trifecta variety pack with Richard Conte, showing up midway through as a recalcitrant sub mechanic and looking perilously swollen with drink. (He looked much leaner and sharper six years later, as Don Barzini in The Godfather.) All things told, Assault on a Queen is nothing more or less than an unpretentious yesteryear matinee programmer, an echo of a time when moviegoing was a relaxed lifestyle, not submission to an assault.

For more information about Assault on a Queen, visit Olive Films. To order Assault on a Queen, go to TCM Shopping.

by Michael Atkinson

Assault on a Queen - ASSAULT ON A QUEEN - Frank Sinatra's 1966 Crime Caper Drama

Based on a long-out-of-print pulp hit by famed sci-fi author Jack Finney, this bizarre and kinda creaky adventure-heist thriller plays today like a lazy hit of nostalgia opiates. Here was a day when the lackadaisical hipster star power of an aging Frank Sinatra was more than enough to anchor audience's ardor, and a day when a pure pulp story told largely without gloss or visual hyperbole, and usually on a double bill, was a Saturday night blissfully spent. There's something to be said for the modest and even generous expectations we used to have for movies - filmgoers wanted stars and stories and moments of electric connection, and certainly didn't need the attention-deficit-disorder editing, ear-bleeding Dolby soundtracks, and relentless digital effects that contemporary movies employ to scream us into submission. Nobody then or now will make a case for Assault on a Queen as an artful masterpiece, or anything more than the third or fourth most unexceptional film Sinatra made during the Rat Pack '60s. But there's a raw pleasure to be had from it that movies do not know of anymore, like the buzz you get from an old, badly recorded rockabilly single in a world of Autotuned pop overproduction and Lady Gaga blitzkriegs. This was postwar America, where every man seems to have an ambivalent military legacy trailing behind him and working knowledge of submarines. Sinatra and Trinidadian star Errol John are weary sub vets eking out a living and in the Bahamas running a fishing boat, which is all well and good until debts force them to take grinning slickster Tony Franciosa, his unbelievably hot girlfriend Virna Lisi and their German u-boat vet partner Alf Kjellin out to look for galleon treasure. During the trip, deep-sea diving along the ocean floor, Sinatra discovers a sunken German submarine, still intact. Franciosa and Co. decide to do what you or I would naturally do with this news - raise the sub, secretly moor it, spend weeks cleaning it and getting it running, and then concoct an elaborate scheme using the u-boat to rob the Queen Mary in mid-Atlantic. What? Finney didn't pause for breath, apparently, and neither does Rod Serling's script, just leaping past the hundred plot holes and unlikelihoods inherent in the story. On the other hand, director Jack Donohue, whose career is comprised largely of sitcoms, shot the film as if on vacation, often settling for static two-shots on obvious studio sets. Nothing moves very quickly in this film, whether the scenes are underwater or not - the cleaning of the sub is lengthy and, almost comically, treated by the cast as a run-of-the-mill job, a business start-up. (The vital planning discussions are all lubricated with ubiquitous booze and cigarettes.) Sinatra is preoccupied with a yen for Lisi, and it's hard to blame him - a star in Italy and then internationally in the '60s despite having made a single remarkable film (she supported Jeanne Moreau in Joseph Losey's Eva, in 1962, but that's about it), Lisi was not a power personality but a sleek, cat-like beauty of the kind filmmakers and audiences have never been able to resist. Still, she doesn't stand a chance against Sinatra, whose redoubtable charisma here fits like an old bomber jacket. He makes it look easy, and for him it was - watch him listen to the other actors, and you'll see a born movie star, occupying center stage as if he was born to it. This is both the glory and the weakness of the star system as Hollywood devised it - regardless of material and direction, and often within films we wouldn't see twice if we were paid, someone like Sinatra remains deathlessly watchable, magnetic, a cool, convincing spectacle onto himself. Assault on a Queen eventually does get around to its heist, and in the tradition of heist films as they were before the new George Clooney Ocean series, you know the plot is doomed. In this case the robbers never anticipated the nearby presence of a Coast Guard ship - why not? - and the agonizingly slow mechanics of deboarding a luxury liner and escaping in a raft make for nail-biting where you thought there'd be none. Sinatra is the glue here, but Franciosa, a generally obnoxious and glib actor, is splendidly obnoxious and glib here as the hopeless jerk you know won't make it out of the story alive, rounding out an Italian-American trifecta variety pack with Richard Conte, showing up midway through as a recalcitrant sub mechanic and looking perilously swollen with drink. (He looked much leaner and sharper six years later, as Don Barzini in The Godfather.) All things told, Assault on a Queen is nothing more or less than an unpretentious yesteryear matinee programmer, an echo of a time when moviegoing was a relaxed lifestyle, not submission to an assault. For more information about Assault on a Queen, visit Olive Films. To order Assault on a Queen, go to TCM Shopping. by Michael Atkinson

Quotes

Do you always look this good in the morning?
- Mark Brittain
You will have time to compare; there will be thousands of mornings.
- Rosa Lucchesi
If you're so difficult now, Mr. Brittain, how can we ever become friends?
- Rosa Lucchesi

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed aboard the Queen Mary. Copyright claimants: Paramount Pictures and Park Lane Enterprises.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video June 24, 1992

Released in United States Summer June 15, 1966

Released in United States Summer June 15, 1966

Released in United States on Video June 24, 1992