The last time Frank Sinatra played scapegrace son to disappointed parents was in Frank Capra’s A HOLE IN THE HEAD/’59. That stage-to-screen transfer ‘converted’ its Jews into Italians, but this time everybody stays Jewish. It was the first feature for writing/directing team Bud Yorkin & Norman Lear, adapting Neil Simon's first B’way hit (677 perfs). And while they open the play a bit, and even toss in a brief tour of Manhattan for Frank’s interpolated song number, they never muster a filmic approach to Simon’s reflexive gag-oriented writing. Stagebound as it is, once Sinatra gets his swinging tune out of the way at the end of the first act, the pacing relaxes into a rhythm that lets things start to click. Especially, when the archetypal Jewish parental units, Molly Picon & Lee J. Cobb, set to work. Picon, a legendary star of the Yiddish theater, fits right in with the slightly artificial settings, pulling off an elaborate too-many-phones routine that’s like the weekly vaudeville routines Simon had been penning for Imogene Coca on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS. Meantime, Cobb shows actual restraint, screaming only now & then, and coaxing out glimmers of Simon’s later mature style in a beautifully developed scene with ‘good’ son, Tony Bill. Bill, an acting novice swimming with pros, overemphasizes every sally, but it’s still fun watching him graft on Sinatra's mojo. (If only the ‘broads’ weren’t such a collection of ‘60s sexist horrors.) MAD MEN fanciers should take a look. Even when it ain’t pretty, Frankie's 'ring-a-ding' attitudes are the real thing.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: A top-ten success in its day, the film soon disappeared from view. Released in June of ‘63, it’s possible that a couple of JFK gags kept it off revival lists and soon forgotten. Yet, it holds up better than most of the Simon adaptations not directed by Herbert Ross.
DOUBLE-BILL: Sinatra’s big brother character is based on Neil Simon’s actual big brother, the same guy Walter Matthau played in THE ODD COUPLE/’68.