In 1959 and 1960, Frank Sinatra was in his coolest guy in the room, Rat Pack-era prime. He was nearing the end of his legendary run at Capitol Records and soon would be running his own label, Reprise. During this time, he also recorded four TV specials featuring a bevy of guest stars and Sinatra cronies. Sponsored by Timex, and long available unofficially, the shows are now available separately as part of the Frank Sinatra Collection as The Timex Shows Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
Volume one features two shows from 1959 -- The Frank Sinatra Timex Show and An Afternoon With Frank Sinatra. Guests on the former include Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Mitzi Gaynor and Jimmy Durante while the latter features Peter Lawford, Hermione Gingold, The Hi-Lo's, Red Norvo's Jazz Quintet, Juliet Prowse and Ella Fitzgerald. The shows mix music, dancing and comedy and are a reminder of a long gone golden age of entertainment.
The Frank Sinatra Timex Show opens with Gaynor, Martin and Crosby performing "High Hopes," with new lyrics to open the show. Sinatra joins in at the end and then delivers a confident, swinging "Day In, Day Out," complete with a wild (for 1959) light show. Sinatra, Martin and Crosby share vocals on "Together, Wherever We Go." The trio of musical giants are clearly enjoying themselves from their confident vocals to their choreographed dance moves.
Sinatra serenades Gaynor with the beautiful ballad "Talk To Me" and then Crosby and Martin take their turn to sing to her with a playful "Cheek To Cheek." Both here and throughout, the mood is lighthearted (Note the Eat at Dino's message written on the bottom of Martin's shoe). The songs are serious, but the point of these shows was entertainment and it is delivered at the highest level.
An Afternoon With Frank Sinatra begins with Lawford standing in what is supposed to be a downpour, announcing the guests. The theme that it was supposed to be an outdoor show and the entertainers had to revamp on the fly continues throughout the performance. As Lawford drives off in his car, we hear Sinatra singing "Spend An Afternoon With Me," providing an appropriately dreamy vocal.
Sinatra performs "I've Got The World On A String" standing on two chairs with no visible band or fancy lights. Even in this sparse setting, he kills it, giving an excellent vocal. We also hear from The Hi-Los, who performs a beautiful version of "The Desert Is Calling" and later join Sinatra for a stunning "I'll Never Smile Again." Lightening up the mood, Gingold and Lawford offer up a charming, fun "Comes Love.
The great Ella Fitzgerald gives a gorgeous, longing vocal on "There's A Lull In My Life" and later joins Sinatra for an amusing "Can't We Be Friends." Sinatra performs two songs with the Red Norvo Quintet, giving a sizzling reading of "Too Marvelous For Words." Whether with a large orchestra or a small combo, Sinatra owned the stage. Sinatra's Can-Can costar (and future flame) Juliet Prowse gets serenaded by The Chairman on "It's All Right With Me" and later delivers a potent dance routine, appropriately titled "Too Darn Hot."
Sinatra's 1960 specials begin with To The Ladies, a show featuring exclusively female performers. Guests include Lena Horne, Mary Costa, Barbara Heller, Prowse and even Eleanor Roosevelt. Horne is showcased heavily on this episode, giving a driving performance and confident vocal on "Ring The Bell" and sharing vocal duties with Sinatra on a Harold Arlen medley including classics such as "As Long As I Live" and "It's Only A Paper Moon." Smiles abound during the medley and why not? These are two greats on top of their game pushing each other musically.
Prowse returns for a fun "Come Cha Cha Cha With Me," complete with a dance routine and over-the-top vocals while Costa delivers the dramatic opera of "Ouvre Ton Coeur." Heller gets very creative with her dress during her entertaining "By Strauss." The show ends with Roosevelt reciting the lyrics to "High Hopes."
Perhaps most famous of Sinatra's Times specials is Welcome Home Elvis. The special reintroduced Elvis Presley to public performances after his time in the Army. The show also includes Nancy Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Lawford. The opening number "It's Nice To Go Traveling" includes Bishop, Davis and Nancy Sinatra. Presley, in his military uniform, comes out toward the end to sing a verse as well.
The theme of the show is to have a time machine to clue Presley in on this things he has missed in the two years he was gone. These included a list of Sinatra's albums released during this time (Including a fantastic performance of "Gone With The Wind"), The Nutty Squirrels (Think the Chipmunks, only jazzier) and Davis doing impressions, among other performances. The main even though is Presley's performances. He looks visibly nervous, but still gives good renditions of his new single "Fame And Fortune" and "Stuck On You," backed by his own crack band. Then, in what could be seen as a symbolic passing of the torch, Presley and Sinatra trade vocals on "Love Me Tender" and "Witchcraft." If the Internet were around in 1960, this would have surely broken it.
Throughout the shows, there are commercials for Timex watches. The watches get subjected to a series of brutal tests such as being attached to a boat engine propeller, placed in an agitator, shot with a bow and arrow or placed on a trained porpoise, all to prove that they did, indeed "take a licking and keep on ticking."
The video is presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio. The quality is good for the era, but these are still kinescope transfers. The audio is in the original mono and, again, is good for the era. For this release, the content far outweighs any audio or video issues.
The Timex Shows represent a long past era of entertainment. It is difficult to imagine many of today's performers having the same impact as these legends did. It's a different world and people have many different entertainment options than in years past. Still, these performers are legends for a reason and these DVDs are must own.