Release Date(s)1958 (December 8, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: N/A
As film scholar Julie Kirgo notes in her terrific liner notes accompanying this release, Frank Sinatra occupies a peculiar position in American film history, at once a hugely famous actor and a criminally underrated one. It’s probably due to a combination of his larger than life presence in the American culture and the relative casualness of some of his most famous performances, most notably in the fun but slight rat pack classic Ocean’s 11 in 1960. Yet it only takes the most cursory glance at his filmography to see that Sinatra was one of the greats – who can rival his anguished contributions to The Manchurian Candidate, Some Came Running, and From Here to Eternity, among many others? In his best roles, Sinatra embodied a kind of postwar malaise of American men in crisis; when the material and director were up to his level, the emotional effects could be devastating.
This is certainly the case in one of his best and most inexplicably overlooked films, the 1958 war melodrama Kings Go Forth. Expertly directed by old pro Delmer Daves (3:10 to Yuma, A Summer Place) from Merle Miller’s outstanding script, the film tells the story of Sam Loggins (Sinatra), a Lieutenant stationed in the South of France in the final months of World War II. Sam is a serious man from the working class, which makes him the polar opposite of his friend Britt Harris (Tony Curtis), a new arrival who is privileged and frivolous. Just how frivolous won’t become obvious until he and Sam begin vying for the affections of the same young woman, Monique Blair (Natalie Wood), who unfortunately develops feelings for the careless Britt over rock solid Sam. With exquisite care, Daves, Miller, and their actors depict the steadily escalating emotional complications that ensue as a result of the various characters’ moral positions (or lack thereof), expertly weaving the melodrama in and out of some potent, visceral war action.
It makes for a movie that’s both a great relationship story and a killer combat film, though the action is relatively minimal in terms of screen time. It’s a testament to Daves’s skill and that of his cameraman Daniel L. Fapp (The Great Escape, West Side Story) that scenes told with a maximum of narrative and visual economy linger in the mind long after viewing, and take on added grandeur and impact. Fapp’s stark black-and-white photography provides the perfect visual corollary to Sam’s point of view as he remembers (via pitch-perfect voiceover narration by Sinatra) a truly tragic time in his life, and it’s flawlessly preserved on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray. While there are occasional flaws in the source material, they’re minor and the transfer itself is beyond reproach – rich in detail, particularly in the many extremely dark night exteriors and in the climactic battle sequence. The DTS-HD mono sound mix is excellent as well, perfectly balancing the film’s dialogue, effects, and score with clarity and power. That score, by the legendary Elmer Bernstein, is yet another of the movie’s superlative achievements, and it’s featured on the disc as an isolated track. There are no additional supplements beyond a theatrical trailer.
- Jim Hemphill