Ten years ago Clint Eastwood made two films about World War 2, showing the Japanese and American viewpoint of the Battle for Iwo Jima in the South Pacific. They were both lauded, except by one critic who had to remind today’s cinematic flibbertigibbets that it had already been done forty years earlier by none other than Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
Sinatra directed None But the Brave (Mon, BBC2, 12.10) about squads of Japanese and US soldiers who have to share a little island and make compromises rather than needlessly slaughter each other.
It may be a bit hokey now. But as it was made in 1965, it does show that Sinatra’s only directorial effort has some idiosyncratic guts to it. You didn’t make anti-war films very successfully in the US in those days. Vietnam was just starting to split the States, J Edgar Hoover ran the country, America was seen as the staunch defender against Communism and anything less than flag-waving monomania was considered, in many parts, to be simply traitorous.
It may have been the singer’s last hurrah as a liberal (he backed JFK and civil rights) before getting all irascible and nasty and his blue eyes seemingly turning red in the night as he began to snarl. But whatever the merits of the movie, there are some nice backstories to None But The Brave.
Sinatra, (for some reason) plays a military pharmacist who crash lands with his buddies on this island where a group of Japanese enemy are trying to built a boat to escape. With him are a funny crew: Clint Walker, Brad Dexter, Tommy Sands and Rafer Johnson. Each has an off-cam quirky story to tell.
Brad Dexter will always be remembered as The `Magnificent Seven that time forgot. In other roles, he was always around as a mid-table bad guy in dozens of B movie horse soaps. And, yes, he was married to Peggy Lee for a while. He was a tough guy. During the None But The Brave shoot on Hawaii, he saved the life of Sinatra and another person by diving into a raging surf and plucking them from drowning. Sinatra idolised him for that. But when Dexter warned the singer years later not to marry Mia Farrow, Sinatra iced him out and never talked to Dexter again. Ouch.
Another support actor was Tommy Sands . who was originally signed by Elvis’s manager Tom Parker for his country voice straight out of Louisiana. He stumbled around as a late fifties singer til…whamoo..he married Frankie’s daughter Nancy (she of the walking boots). That landed him this role. But when he divorced Nancy and those boots, Sinatra ensured his career was ruined. Ouch.
Former Olympic decathalon star Rafer Johnson is another member of the US crew. A black role model, liberal Sinatra made sure he was in the cast. Johnson was an all-American hero: sports star, civil rights spokesmen, articulate. He also was at both JFK’s and RFK’s assassination and held Robert Kennedy’s murderer under arrest til cops took the killer away. A mega-hero. Maybe there is a movie treatment to sell about Rafer Johnson yet.
Another sidekick is Tony Bill who payed juvenile roles until he worked his way back of camera and ended up producing one of Hollywood’s biggest hits, The Sting. he is a bigwig still in LA.
Then there is Clint Walker (see left), better known as 6’6” Brodie from TVland’s Cheyenne, with other macho roles in The Dirty Dozen and The Ten Commandments. This bruiser, who quietly wrote in his spare time, grew up as a crewman on a riverboat, a nightclub bouncer and a wartime mariner. He was also a country singer.
And finally to round out Herr Direktor Sinatra’s backing cast is Richard Sinatra. Does his last name ring a bell? He was Francis’s cousin’s son and appeared in Hogan’s Heroes and some of the Ratpack movies such as Ocean’s 11. He died young, with the name of Sinatra either helping him or killing a career stone dead.
Film editor was Sam O’Steen, who had quite a life in the cutting room; he chopped, among others, Chinatown, Catch-22, The Graduate and more recently A Dry White Season.
And, finally, taking writing credits is a name to be reckoned with: John Twist. His scribbling career began in silent Hollywood in 1927 and his tough guy movies such as FBI Story were all hard boiled noir. This movie was his last. Maybe Sinatra had something to so with that too when None But The Brave flatlined.
So, a film to see for a range of reasons: a stab at an anti war movie during the Vietnam fiasco, a cute cast of oddballs and some well known Japanese faces if you know your Kurosawa from your Yojimbo.
Sinatra never directed another film. Maybe it was casting himself as a military pharmacist that did the trick.