Friday, May 28, 2010

Robin and the 7 Hoods

Let me preface my review by saying that this isn't a great movie. But it is a movie with great moments and a unique history. I believe that those moments and the film's unique history make it worth a viewing. Plus, as a youngster, this was the only musical that I would watch. It holds a special place in my cinema heart.

Robin and the 7 Hoods tells the story of Robin Hood, but moves the setting to prohibition-era Chicago. Frank Sinatra plays Robbo, the leader of one of the "criminal" gangs. With Dean Martin as Little John and Sammy Davis, Jr. as Will at his side, Sinatra is attempting to keep his criminal enterprises going in the face of pressures from the Sheriff, played by Victor Buono, and opposing gang leader Guy Gisborne. Gisborne is portrayed with very over-the-top glee by Peter Falk. Soon Bing Crosby shows up as a pedantic orphan who has benefited from Robbo's charity. He spreads the word of this "munificent perspicacity" of giving to the press and all of Chicago loves the new Robin Hood.

As I said, the film isn't great, but some of the moments are fantastic. This is the film in which Sinatra debuts 'My Kind of Town'. This homage to the city of Chicago is now legendary, but many think it is from the musical 'Chicago'. No, it is from Robin and the 7 Hoods. Also wonderful is a tap/song number from Sammy Davis, Jr. entitled 'Bang! Bang!'. He sings and tap dances his way through the shooting up of a rivals illegal casino. Is there anything more entertaining than a great tap number combined with pistols and a tommy gun? I didn't think so. Most impressive is Bing Crosby. His portrayal of a depression revival minister singing about the evils of alcohol is the show stopper. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not come away singing about the evils of 'Mr. Booze'.

The film's history is also a key part to my interest in Robin and the 7 Hoods. This is the last musical made by Bing Crosby. It is also the last time that the lead elements of the "Rat Pack" get together for a film. Those two facts make it necessary viewing from a cinema history perspective. The fact that you get a couple of great song and dance numbers just adds to the fun. The film also has a darker side to its history. This film was plagued by issues outside of the studio. They filmed a scene involving a kidnapping, but when Frank Sinatra's child was actually kidnapped the producers cut that scene from the film. Also, there is a scene, early in the movie, where the principals attend a funeral. This was being filmed at the same time as the assassination of President Kennedy. Sinatra and Kennedy had been close and this cast a large pall over the cast and crew. Things were so bad that, later, actor Victor Buono said that it was a "minor miracle" that the film was finished at all.

So keep in mind the history while you watch this movie. Feel free to enjoy the songs while you wince at some of the dialogue. But most of all have fun. I know I do whenever I watch Robin and the 7 Hoods.

Filmed in 1963, directed by Gordon Douglas, written by David R. Schwartz, songs by Sammy Cahn and James van Heusen, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby and Peter Falk.

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