|Frank Sinatra. (QMI AGENCY files/handout)
I write this column from the Cannes Film Festival, although it is not about Cannes. But this year's 65th anniversary poster for the festival features an iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe blowing out a birthday candle with the most sensuous lips in human history. That got me thinking about whose celebrity survives after death and in what manner.
You could argue Monroe survives only as a morbid tragedy -- and also for her smoldering sexuality that still stirs the imagination from inside the frames of the photographs that helped make her famous. Her films? She contributed several remarkable performances despite her angst, yet that is not her legacy. Modern audiences forget too easily.
From Monroe you jump to other famous faces from the past. I single out Frank Sinatra and John Wayne in this column because each is the focus of a recent box set in the DVD format. Separately, of course, these two had egos and accomplishments too big to be lumped together.
In each case, there are 10 films included. Each set is bluntly named after the actor: Sinatra Film Collection and John Wayne Film Collection. No poetry is necessary. Sinatra's given name is not even on the front of his collection. The titles are all from the vaults of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, although Wayne's personal company, Batjac, contributed two titles, The Alamo and Legend of the Lost. The only DVD debut is Wayne's collaboration with John Huston on The Barbarian and the Geisha, an historical drama from the Far East. The only disappointment is that The Big Trail, Wayne's 1930 breakout western, is presented in the modest 1.33:1 format of most movies of that era. Yet the studio has already restored the experimental widescreen version that William Fox created, and it looks magnificent. But you will have to seek it out elsewhere.
In each case, the cover photo is a penetrating portrait. Sinatra's is enigmatic, with those singular blue eyes sparkling like coloured diamonds. Those are the baby blues that Kim Novak, as she told me recently, melted her down when she first met the man. That was in contrast to the cold, dead look she found in Paul Newman's blue orbs. For Wayne, the look is appropriately grizzled and grim, pilgrim. There are other great portraits and film stills of each man inside the sets and the surprise is one of young Wayne, in a photograph that looks uncannily like Paul Newman at the same age, except tougher.
The titles cover a lot of territory and decades.
Sinatra Film Collection: The Pride and the Passion (1957), Kings Go Forth (1958), A Hole in the Head (1959), Can-Can (1960), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Von Ryan's Express (1965), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968) and Lady in Cement (1968).
John Wayne Collection: The Big Trail (1930), Red River (1948), Legend of the Lost (1957), The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), The Horse Soldiers (1959), The Comancheros (1961), The Alamo (1960), North to Alaska (1960), The Longest Day (1962) and The Undefeated (1969).
Do not bother pointing out that neither sets is comprehensive. In the current home entertainment market, that is impossible because icons such as Sinatra and Wayne worked for multiple studios that rarely pool titles. You also have to make do with cardboard sleeves to hold the discs, which means scratches will appear. All studios should stop being stupid and insert the discs into plastic, or use protective covers before jamming the discs into cardboard holders.
But that is a small quibble. The most important thing is that the past is not forgotten. Not even when Marilyn Monroe blows out the candle.