Frank Sinatra was one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling singers of all time, won an Academy Award as a supporting actor, and drew big audiences with his TV specials and his concerts. His life off the stage was even more compelling, and together they are presented in Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Sinatra: All or Nothing At All, available on Blu-ray and DVD.
In 1971, Sinatra held a farewell concert to announce his (what would be short-lived) retirement at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theater. He picked 11 milestone songs from his career to perform that night. Gibney used those same songs to form the chapters of this biography. Through archival interviews, Sinatra assists in the telling of his story, the successes and the failures. Aside from the great musical performances, my favorite segment was hearing Sinatra’s angry response to the U.S. government not letting him do USO shows during the Korean War because they thought he was a communist.
Sinatra grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, during the Depression, and it’s evident growing up under those conditions had a profound effect on him. Throughout his life, Sinatra used his great success to benefit many less fortunate than himself, from starring in the Oscar-winning short “The House I Live” about antisemitism and prejudice to charity work around the world. He worked hard to bring equal rights to African Americans, but he wasn’t a saint, as evidenced by the racist jokes towards Sammy Davis Jr. during their Rat Pack stage act.
Inspired by crooner Bing Crosby, Sinatra became a pop sensation in the 1940s, drawing screaming teenage girls the way Elvis would in the ‘50s, the Beatles would in the ‘60s, and other acts have ever since. He sang with bandleaders Harry James and then Tommy Dorsey before going out on his own. Breaking away from the latter did not prove easy and rumor of the mob’s involvement is mentioned, but dismissed by some.
His connection with the mob was a recurring subject throughout his life and is dealt with, from their alleged help in getting him the role in From Here to Eternity, a story immortalized in The Godfather, to playing in nightclubs and Las Vegas, and using his friendship with the notorious Sam Giancana to get union help in electing President John F. Kennedy.
The bigger Sinatra’s fame got the more newspapers and magazines wanted to cover him, so his personal life became gossip fodder. The film presents wives, lovers, insiders, and his children, each offering their perspective. It may not all be accurate, and some way blunt the harsh truth, but together they reveal a compelling figure of the man they knew away from the spotlight.
After seeing a career resurgence in the ’50s, he was no longer cool by the late ’60s. The kids wanted rock and roll, which he detested. His sales were poor and supporting Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon was certainly not the way to appeal to young people. The “retirement” concert made sense, but he returned in two years to a public that missed him. Before the decade ended, he added one last great classic to his songbook, “New York, New York.”
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at various aspect ratios. The material comes from a variety of film and video sources, some of which aged better than others. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track deals with similar fluctuations of quality. There are six Deleted Scenes (HD, 14 min) featuring stories that easily could have been included. Jerry Lewis, in his only appearance, tells a great one about some charity work he did with Frank.
Sinatra: All or Nothing At All tells a very compelling story, and even at four hours, it leaves the viewer curious to learn more about Sinatra and to re-explore his work.