Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 16, 2017)
Back in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Frank Sinatra headlined four TV specials that aired on ABC. With The Timex Shows Volume 1, we get the first two of these programs.
The Frank Sinatra Timex Show (59:15) ran October 19, 1959. This show matches Sinatra with guests Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante and Mitzi Gaynor.
An Afternoon With Frank Sinatra (59:15) aired December 13, 1959. This program connects Sinatra with guests Ella Fitzgerald, Juliet Prowse, the Red Norvo Quintet, the Hi-Lo’s, Hermoine Gingold and Peter Lawford.
As one might assume due to the guests, “Timex” revolves almost entirely around musical performances. Sinatra and the others chat a little between songs, but for the most part, the show consists of one tune after another.
For the most part, “Afternoon” offers the same framework, but it expands a little – not surprising given its guests. While music still dominates, we get dance performances as well, and we find more chat/comedy.
“Afternoon” also offers a more ambitious set-up. With “Timex”, there’s no real theme: it’s just Frank and pals as they sing.
On the other hand, “Afternoon” comes with the notion that Frank wanted to do an outdoor show that gets rained out by an unlikely Palm Springs storm. This influences other aspects of the special, as we see the continued theme – in a minor way, at least, as performances remain the focus.
Though “Afternoon” comes across as smoother and better executed, “Timex” offers the more appealing of the two programs solely due to nature of the guests. Let’s face it: “Afternoon” really suffers on the “star power” front, as beyond Sinatra, it includes few names still remembered in 2017.
I’m too young to have experienced these shows first-run, but obviously I know most of the participants of “Timex” pretty well. Crosby and Martin remain legends, and Durante is close to that level. Gaynor has gotten lost to the ages to a degree, but at least I maintain some memory of her via a slew of TV appearances in the 1970s.
As for the crew of “Afternoon”, Ella Fitzgerald stands as the sole true legend. Like Gaynor, I know Prowse via some 1970s TV work, but she was already a “fading star” by that time, and Gingold is in the same category, though her work in a few notable films like Gigi keeps her name alive.
Lawford was known mainly as the lesser member of the Rat Pack – and also as JFK’s brother-in-law - but that still makes him more famous than the Hi-Lo’s or the Red Norvo Quintet. Both seem to be completely forgotten these days.
It’s too bad Sinatra used up the big-name guests for “Timex”, as otherwise, “Afternoon” works much better. As I mentioned, it seems more polished and coherent, so it may well be the more entertaining of the show, as it just seems like a more mature, sophisticated package.
And yet I still find it tough to pick “Afternoon” over “Timex” due to the star power. I admit that I don’t care much for the musical artists of the pre-rock generation, so while I respect Sinatra and his peers, their music simply doesn’t do a lot for me.
Nonetheless, I recognize the talent on display, so the sight of legends Sinatra, Martin and Crosby together on one stage maintains power. Throw in some sex appeal from Gaynor and a quick bit from the irrepressible Durante and “Timex” overcomes its unsteady production values with magnetic celebrities.
If you don’t care about star power, though, “Afternoon” becomes the more enjoyable show. Sure, it sags at times – the Hi-lo’s! – but it maintains a generally good pace and blends together well.
As I mentioned, the Sinatra specials aren’t really up my alley, but I enjoyed my time with them. They’re entertaining snapshots of a bygone era.