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Frank Sinatra's 'Brave' Directorial Bow

We look back at Frank Sinatra's sole directorial outing.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

“What I really want to do is direct,” goes the old line. At some point in their careers, movie stars often decide to step behind the camera. Some, like Clint Eastwood and Richard Attenborough, make the transition so smoothly that they eventually become recognised as much for their directorial work as for their acting. For most actors, however, it’s a brief flirtation with the megaphone and director’s chair. This was the case for Frank Sinatra.
Starting with Johnny Concho in 1956, Sinatra had taken to producing some of his pictures, but it wasn’t until 1965 that he made his directorial debut with None but the Brave.
From a screenplay by Japanese writers Kikumaru Okuda and Katsuya Susaki, and veteran American writer John Twist, the movie tells the story of a platoon of U.S marines who crash land on what they initially believe to be a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. They soon discover they have company – a platoon of Japanese soldiers has also been left stranded on the small island. Both groups of soldiers are keen to wipe out the enemy, but the respective leaders - American Captain Bourke (Clint Walker) and Japanese Lieutenant Kuroki (Tatsuya Mihashi) - are keen to find a non-violent compromise. After initial skirmishes, which result in the destruction of a boat the Japanese men had constructed, the two groups agree to work together to survive, believing themselves permanently stranded. Both platoons have something the other needs; in the Marines’ case, it’s a medic (played by Frank Sinatra in a minor role), while the Japanese have a highly skilled fisherman (Ryucho Shunputei). The truce goes well at first, but soon mutual distrust sets in, leading to a tragic ending.
Though it’s largely forgotten now, the movie was quite revolutionary, and highly controversial, at the time. It was the first Japanese-American co-production, teaming Warner Bros. with Toho Studios, home of Godzilla. The Japanese characters are all played by Japanese actors, with their dialogue spoken in their native tongue, and it’s almost 15 minutes into the film before the first word of English is heard. To alienate American audiences even further, the Japanese dialogue isn’t subtitled! Only a star as powerful as Sinatra could have convinced Warner Bros. to release the movie in this manner.
Most controversial at the time was the positive portrayal of the Japanese soldiers. While the Americans are seen to be an undisciplined bunch of bumbling, trigger-happy fools, the Japanese come across as noble, regimented, and frankly more likable than their Western counterparts. A mere 20 years after the end of the war, this didn’t play well with American audiences, especially those veterans who had experienced the brutality of the Japanese military.
The movie is full of heavy-handed anti-war messages, ending with the words “Nobody ever wins,” and while arguments can be made against many conflicts, it seems incredibly naive to apply this to the reality of World War II.
Sinatra’s contribution as director shows his lack of experience in the field. He wastes the widescreen format by framing his actors all too often in routine close-ups, and the action scenes are bland at best, spatially confusing at worst. Sinatra gave a key role to his then son-in-law, singer Tommy Sands, whose performance is embarrassingly bad and somehow manages to be at once wooden and over the top.
Sinatra would never direct again, and quickly returned to where he belongs – on the screen and in the spotlight.

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