Movie review: ‘Assault on a Queen’

Frank Sinatra offered steady performances as the coolest of cool cats when he played a cop or private eye (try “The First Deadly Sin” as a cop or “Tony Rome” as a PI – click here for my review). The same is true for his work in caper films such as “Ocean’s 11” – click here for my review. However, these days he’s kind of a footnote in film (say the trivia behind the remade “Ocean’s Eleven” – click here for my review – with George Clooney) over his legendary status as a singer. Still, you can find some gems in the vault from “Old Blue Eyes,” such as the little-remembered caper flick “Assault on Queen.” It’s pretty good, offers a competent supporting cast with Virna Lisi and Tony Franciosa at the top and is a solid watch because, while technically an adventure film, it is totally character-driven. It’s worth effort for you to go out and find it because of its creative high-seas hijinks.

‘Assault on a Queen’
(1966; 106 minutes; unrated; directed by Jack Donohue and starring Frank Sinatra, Virna Lisi and Anthony Franciosa)

STICK ’EM UP, YOUR HIGHNESS!

(NOTE: I first expanded this review on Dec. 16, 2014, and then again on Aug. 16, 2015. The second expansion also included updating some links and fixing grammar. I reorganized it and added more opinion and trivia and the further updating of links on April 21, 2018.)

Ever think about robbing an ocean liner? No? Well, that’s exactly what Frank Sinatra and his crew did in “Assault on a Queen” in 1966. It’s actually a good and underrated drama, but the “special effects” need quote marks around them (remind yourself the film is nearly 40 years old). So, “Assault on a Queen” is a fun film to spend just over an hour and a half of your time.

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Assault on a Queen” also offers a view at a slice of the 1960s from the neat-casual look of the day; and the much better manners on display in public (hey, they even use the formal title of “Mister” when talking to a stranger).

In the story, a trio of adventurers are looking for sunken treasure and lose their diver in the most permanent way. In seeking a replacement, they come across Sinatra, who plays “Mark Brittain,” and Errol John, who plays Sinatra’s sidekick “Linc Langley.” At first Sinatra is opposed to the idea of working as a diver for the trio, but warms to it as financial need rears an ugly head.

What happens next is only in the movies (what else?). While doing a bit of diving looking for the trio’s treasure, Sinatra comes across a World War II-era German submarine. You probably didn’t have to guess, but one of the trio is a former U-Boat captain. So begins the genesis of a caper that evolves into using it in a robbery of the Queen Mary in mid-ocean (hence the name of the film – yes, the passage of time can change perspective of even a movie title).

Overall, though, it is supporting player Tony Franciosa with his energy and general sleaziness of a thief that carries the film. He is grasping, greedy and looking for any way to make a buck illegally. In the end it’s his greed that starts the caper spinning out of control.

Although “Assault on a Queen” plays out with a pretty conventional ending, the way it gets there is interesting and actually brings all the characters’ personal flaws, strengths and weaknesses into play.

Here’s a look at some of the actors and their work:

  • An Oscar winner also with two honorary Oscars and another nomination, Sinatra plays this one like he did “Ocean’s 11” – a bit detached and completely in control of himself and controlling others. It’s pretty much his trademark in film and he rarely breaks out of it, but I cannot say for his older efforts such as his Oscar winning supporting work in “From Here to Eternity.” He was in a World War II thriller that I truly enjoyed called “Von Ryan’s Express” as well as notching credits with “Cast a Giant Shadow” and another “Rat Pack” effort with “Robin and the 7 Hoods.” He was nominated for best actor for 1955’s “The Man with the Golden Arm” and he got a humanitarian honorary Oscar in 1971 and one in 1945 for a short focusing on religious tolerance called “The House I Live In.” Sinatra died in 1998 at 82 of cancer and heart and kidney disease.
  • An Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner (not for this one), Franciosa usually played suave and sophisticated characters. However, in this one he is fast-talking “Vic Rossiter.” It is a role of an on-the-make creep trying to show sophistication, but all his earnestness does is highlight his overwhelming sleaziness. Good job, Tony! You’ll probably remember him more as “Tony” and he’s billed here as Anthony and had a less than prolific career of 77 acting credits over a 42-year career. He is best recognized for films such as “The Long Hot Summer,” “The Drowning Pool” and “The Pleasure Seekers.” He died at 77 in 2006 of a stroke.
  • John does a competent turn as Sinatra’s buddy. A native of Trinidad, John’s British accent is invaluable in the heist of the Queen Mary – both as an actor and for his character. John’s “Linc” is an alcoholic who owes his life to Sinatra and who will do anything for him. He’s also the film’s philosopher, especially about Sinatra. He was also in films as varied as “PT 109” and “Sheena.” He died at 63 in 1988.
  • Alf Kjellin, a Swedish actor whose name you most likely do not recognize but who has an impressive string of TV credits, is perfect as “Eric Luffnauer,” the ramrod straight, humorless former Nazi sub captain. He tells Sinatra, whose character was an officer on a U.S. submarine during the war in the Pacific, that there are “two sides” to every story (ah, the war!). Check out his extensive resume at the end of this review. Kjellin died at 68 in 1988 of a heart attack.
  • Italian-born Virna Lisi’s character “Rosa Lucchesi” is pretty much wooden and one-dimensional, but she does ultimately turn her sexuality (such as it could be in a 1960s flick) into a wedge between boyfriend Franciosa and Sinatra. Lisi has also been in “How to Murder Your Wife” and her career continued past 2010 over seven decades in the business. She died at 78 in 2014 of lung cancer.
  • Richard Conte, whose most famous role was as “Barzini” in “The Godfather,” was one of Sinatra’s 11 accomplices in “Ocean’s 11” from 1960 and rejoins him here, but as a much different kind of character. He’s calculating and untrustworthy but, like in the other, is also a doomed character here. Conte also played in Sinatra’s “Lady in Cement” from 1968, reprising his role as a police lieutenant from “Tony Rome” the previous year. He died at 65 in 1975 of a heart attack.
  • Another supporting cast member is Val Avery, who plays “Trench” the object of Sinatra’s ire. Avery had a prolific career, with 165 credits notched from 1953 to 2004 (he passed in 2009). Most notable in films were “Papillion” and “The Magnificent Seven,” while others included as “Donnie Brasco” (click here for my review), “Cobra” with Sylvester Stallone, “Easy Money” (click here for my review) with Rodney Dangerfield and “The Wanderers” (click here for my review) where he plays a teacher who helps spark a gang fight. Avery, too, has an extensive TV resume including “The Munsters,” “Kojak” and “The Mod Squad.”

Assault on a Queen” was outside the top 25 films of 1966 with $2.7 million at theaters in North America, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “The Bible: In the Beginning…” with $34.9 million and “Hawaii” was No. 2 with $34.5 million, according to Wiki. The No. 25 film was “Walk, Don’t Run” with Cary Grant at $7.5 million. Here are the films from that year that I’ve reviewed and posted on my blog:

Additional cast and film notes (from IMDb.com):

  • Kjellin’s resume includes what seems like every top-rated TV show from the ’60s and ’70s. From the ’60s it includes “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Mission: Impossible” and “ Kildare,” while from the ’70s he was shows such as “Ironside,” “Mannix,” “Columbo” and “The Waltons.” He even did an episode of “Eight is Enough” (remember that one?), still he didn’t appear on that quite iconic series “The Love Boat” (click here for my look at it).
  • Franciosa cemented his legacy in my mind with a two-part stint on “The Love Boat,” the only major player to have such a wonderful credit. Franciosa was alternately billed as Tony or Anthony throughout his career and there was no one point where one name took over for the other, according to the listing of his credits.
  • Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., did a “Love Boat” episode, but of course his dad was obviously too big of a star to be bothered.
  • Directly from  IMDb.com: “In its entry for this 1966 movie, the 2003 edition of Leonard Maltin‘s ‘Movie and Video Guide’ repeats a popular American terminological inexactitude by referring to the ocean liner as “HMS Queen Mary”, thus implying that it was a warship at the time of the events depicted in the movie. The truth is that its designation has always been ‘RMS,’ traditionally meaning ‘Royal Mail Steamer’ but nowadays sometimes taken to mean ‘Royal Mail Ship.’”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2015, 2018.
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