This is my entry for the Sinatra Centennial Blogathon hosted by Emily of The Vintage Cameo and Judy of Movie Classics. As a film noir fan, I wanted to cover The Manchurian Candidate (1962) where Frank Sinatra delivers what many consider his greatest performance. Alas, Frank’s better known movies were already booked. Perhaps, it was a blessing since it forced me out of my comfort zone
to consider one less well-regarded, Come Blow Your Horn (1963).
Adapted from a Neil Simon play by Norman Lear and directed by Bud Yorkin, there’s a stage bound quality inherent to many play adaptations. Most of the “action” takes place indoors in the “bachelor pad” of Alan Baker (Sinatra). Though the situations are mature for the times, the look and feel of the production seems as much influenced by television as anything. Lear and Yorkin would, of course, go on to enormous success with shows like All in the Family so that makes sense.
Filmed by veteran cinematographer William H. Daniels, there is a strong visual component. Daniels won an Academy Award for Naked City (1949) and lensed twenty-one movies for Greta Garbo including two versions of Anna Christie (1930, 1931). Filming in black-and-white for most of his career, he uses color effectively here.
The film captures the era of American style that existed shortly before the Beatles arrived and changed everything. Alan tutors his younger brother Buddy (Tony Bill) on how to dress and behave like a winner, especially with the fairer sex. Sinatra plays his own lovable self, the ring-a-ding swinger with a heart, and has fun with it. Actor and director Bill, who teamed up again with Sinatra in Marriage on the Rocks (1965), is also surprisingly good as the naïve and eager Buddy.
Watch the montage sequence above where the movie finally opens up as Alan takes Buddy around town for his makeover. In mid-stride, Sinatra breaks into the title song written by perennials Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn set to Nelson Riddle’s orchestration. Watching the scene, one can’t help being reminded of Jon Hamm’s Don Draper and Mad Men, the show that brought all things Mid Century back to the forefront.
It’s no secret that Buddy wants to be Alan and he succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. There are echoes of the Pygmalion story revisited in My Fair Lady (1964), The Apartment (1960) and a gentler take on All About Eve (1950). A softly lit Buddy groomed to perfection is reminiscent of Kim Novak’s transformation in Vertigo (1958).
What about the women? I was getting to that. While the Hickey-Freeman company outfits the gentlemen, the ladies have Edith Head to thank for their costumes. I give Barbara Rush as Connie, pictured above in hot pink, the award for best dressed in a tough field. Connie is a singer and the long-term go to gal Alan can’t commit to. Dad Harry (Lee J. Cobb) calls him a “bum” for staying single past the age of thirty-five. Alan’s very Jewish mother Sophie, Yiddish star Molly Picon, thinks likewise. Her greatest fear is that Buddy will turn out the same.
Known to have a genius level IQ, Jill St. John [Diamonds Are Forever (1971)] plays Peggy, a ditzy Marilyn Monroe knockoff. St. John does as much as she can with a limited role. Her best scenes are the sweetly comic ones with Bill.
Actress and singer Phyllis McGuire also plays for laughs as Mrs Eckman, the wife of a Texas businessman (Dan Blocker). McGuire was a girlfriend of mobster Sam Giancana, reputedly a Sinatra sponsor who shared a girlfriend with JFK. The McGuire Sisters were one of the most popular female vocal groups of the 1950s and 60s with hits like “Sugartime.” Decked out in a signature leopard coat, Phyllis seems to delight in playing off her “bad girl” image.
Although tedious in spots and further weighted down with ethnic and gender stereotypes that were likely getting old even in 1963, Come Blow Your Horn is redeemed by sharp acting, Head’s costuming, Academy nominated production design and a title song that showcases Frank at his finger snapping best.