Byline: Dick Heller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
As an unabashed admirer of Frank Sinatra's music, I would like to be able to say I love the new six-CD box set "Sinatra in Hollywood" and that it's worth every penny of the $119 list price being asked by Rhino Records. But I can't.
The only people liable to spend that kind of money are ardent collectors who would buy the Hoboken telephone directory if Frank set it to music. I'm that kind of collector - to my knowledge, I own every studio recording he ever made - but I found the set disappointing. Chances are, you will, too, if you're a certified Frankophile.
First, a disclaimer. I consider Frank Sinatra the greatest singer of popular songs this nation has ever produced. His voice, his interpretations, his ability to capture nearly every human emotion in his music - these are rare and beautiful qualities whose effect has not been diminished by time or even by his death in May 1998.
Yet it is important to know that Mr. Sinatra, like any artist, turned out his share of dreck; in other words, his judgment was not infallible. When it came to making movies, his modus operandi was significantly different from when he was in the recording studio. In fact, the contrast was startling.
When the studio microphone in front of him said Columbia, Capitol or Reprise, Mr. Sinatra would do a song countless times, if necessary, to get it right. This painstaking procedure resulted in perhaps 20 of the finest thematic albums in creation, from the wildly uninhibited "Come Dance With Me" to the agonizingly sorrowful "Only the Lonely."
On-screen, however, Mr. Sinatra was known as "Charlie One-Take" for his often careless method of working. During the period from 1940 to 1964, when he was making films, Mr. Sinatra always seemed to have something else to do, somewhere else to go, somebody else to see. "Sinatra in Hollywood" reflects this approach, as well as the fact that he often was forced to do mediocre material before he became "chairman of the board" and called his own shots.
The boxed set contains some superb songs, but rarely does Mr. Sinatra perform them as well as on vinyl. Because he never sang a tune exactly the same way twice, collectors may be interested in owning the film versions - though many have been available for years on bootleg CDs.
Almost never do these efforts produce new magic. The exception might be "Ol' Man River" from "Till the Clouds Roll By" in 1946. It's his best version of this American classic and much more moving without seeing the lily-white suit and the pedestal with which the producers burdened him in this otherwise worthless biopic of composer Jerome Kern.
The principal attractions for collectors in any Sinatra product are previously undiscovered or unavailable tunes. "Hollywood" offers its share of these, including "The Last Call for Love" from "Ship Ahoy," "We're on Our Way" from "The [lamentable] Kissing Bandit" …