Director and cinematographer Leo Zahn thinks Frank Sinatra is the cat's pajamas. So, he found every living person he could to say so into a camera, then interspersed the "interviews" with archival footage, some stunning black-and-white photos and slow, panoramic sweeps of Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, California—the desert oases where, for the better part of four decades, Sinatra could be Sinatra without the attendant interferences of his outsized celebrity.
The aptly titled Sinatra in Palm Springs is Zahn's second ode to the haughty, unaffordable area, following 2016's Desert Maverick, which is about William Francis Cody, the Coachella Valley's favorite modernist architect.
Restauranteurs gush about how Old Blue Eyes would come into their joints and get hammered with mobsters and the rest of his crew. Tom Dreesen, the 92-minute film's most insufferable voice, recants an evening cruise through the desert, presumably after many Jack Daniels on the rocks, during which he traded verses of "Strangers in the Night" with Sinatra, with whom the comedian toured many times. Meanwhile, Barbara Sinatra, the last of the late crooner's four wives, provides a steady, believable narrative for why the Southern California desert tickled her husband of 22 years so, and Harpo Marx's son growls about how cool it was to kick it with the Chairman of the Board as a kid.
The film contains no revelations: Sinatra drank, had a temper, got pissed off when John F Kennedy didn't stay in one of his bungalows, gave anonymously to charities, played lots of golf with the likes of Richard Nixon and Bob Hope, and helped found a country club that accepted Jewish members. But Zahn dug up some great old photos, including one of Sinatra and his then-wife Ava Gardner from the early 1950s in which she's holding a button attempting to draft Adlai Stevenson into running for president. And as a cinematographer, Zahn nails the desert—this is, we think fittingly, a pretty film to watch from the camera's perspective.
If you're the type who catches Rat Pack cover band shows, this little doc is for you; same if you don't know the story of Sinatra holing up in Palm Springs steakhouses. If not, just hit the Sinatra section of the iTunes store.
+Big camera work; leather-backed restaurant booths
-A celebration of white wealth, now?
Sinatra in Palm Springs
The Screen, NR, 92 min.