The Kissing Bandit (1949)
I was ready for this film to be a bit of a chore to get through. Most of the reviews I found of it were not very positive, and the two stars themselves did not have the best things to say about the film either: Frank Sinatra often referred to The Kissing Bandit as the worst film of his career, and reportedly, Kathryn Grayson felt the same.
Despite all this, The Kissing Bandit was still the Grayson film from this week that I was most intrigued by, and most interested in watching. (Probably a combination of the film setting—I love “old time” California, and the fact that the pairing of Ms Grayson with Sinatra is much more appealing to me than that of her with Mario Lanza, her costar in the other films of hers that TCM featured this week.)
And also despite the negative reviews, and the negative opinions of Sinatra and Grayson, I really enjoyed the film! Now there are many reasons why The Kissing Bandit is not a beloved classic today, the uninspired script being a large one, but I really do not understand how a viewer could not enjoy the film!
The Kissing Bandit is set in 19th century California during the rule of the Spaniards. Frank Sinatra plays Ricardo, a young man just returned home after completing hotelier school in Boston, excited at the prospect of turning his deceased father’s California inn into the most magnificent hotel in the state. However, Ricardo’s plans are thwarted when his father’s right hand man, Chico (J. Carrol Naish) informs him that the inn was just a front: Ricardo’s father was actually the notorious “Kissing Bandit,” who robbed and stole with his crew, and kissed each woman at the scene of the crime before departing. Ricardo, an incredibly timid and mild mannered young man, is shocked, but Chico convinces him to carry on in his father’s footsteps.
Again, Sinatra plays against type here, and once again does a superb job! He also delivers even the most insipid lines (remember that weak script I was telling you about?) in such a way that I found myself laughing out loud. Don’t miss this Sinatra line towards the beginning of the film when Chico is explaining to Ricardo his father’s true profession and Ricardo exclaims:
“You mean he kissed women he didn’t even know?! Women he hadn’t been introduced to?!”
Sinatra just nails it, from the innocent, shocked look on his face to the cadence of his voice. Further irony is of course added by the fact that we the audience know that the real life Sinatra probably would not have been shocked by such a man.
To my knowledge, this is the first J. Carrol Naish film I have seen, and I am definitely intrigued by this character actor after watching The Kissing Bandit. He truly does an excellent job as Chico, the comic relief of the film. A lesser actor really could have gone waaay over the top here and done an obnoxious job, but somehow Naish manages to keep this extravagant character grounded. Which of course just makes him all the more funny.
And Grayson! In her first scene in the film, our girl is wearing a beautiful yellow dress with coral pink accents. (The PERFECT shade of yellow!) She is absolutely stunning as she sings (what else?) her goodbye to her friends at school—she is grown up now and ready to find romance and take her place by her father, the governor of California. Remember how I said I thought Anchors Aweigh showed Ms Grayson at her loveliest? Well, I was wrong. The Kissing Bandit shows her at her loveliest. Kathryn is Technicolor perfection in every scene. No doubt the camera loved her. And the beautiful gowns and lush colors she wears throughout only add to the visual enjoyment The Kissing Bandit is from start to finish.
You probably guessed that Grayson and Sinatra meet in the film during a robbery, Ricardo’s first in fact. And Ricardo is so taken by Teresa’s (Grayson) beauty and innocence, he cannot bring himself to kiss her: she is different, too special for a casual, meaningless kiss. The rest of the film centers around the cat and mouse romance, he loves her, she loves him, now she is mad at him, now he must hurry away before her father discovers he is the “Kissing Bandit,” and along the way we get to hear some beautiful voices sing some beautiful songs.
A lot of reviewers seem to be of the opinion that “Love it Where You Find It” is the best song of the film. While it is a beautiful song, the standout song for me was “What’s Wrong with Me.” Grayson and Sinatra each sing this song after they first meet, each expressing disappointment over the missed kiss!
In Kathryn’s rendition of “What’s Wrong with Me,” she sings her heart out, and the viewer really feels for this young girl who, eager for romance, just doesn’t understand why the “Kissing Bandit,” a man who kisses every woman without prejudice, chose not to kiss her. If you are a woman, the feeling behind Grayson’s voice in this song will bring you back to your teenage years when romance and boys could be so confusing! She is just so adorable and innocent and really brings the words in the song to life.
Then Frank sings the song, wondering why he didn’t kiss her. Sinatra’s voice is always gorgeous, every decade of his career, and I find the evolution of his voice and the deepening of it over time fascinating. The Kissing Bandit showcases the “young Sinatra” sound: his voice has not yet developed into the rich, deep iconic sound that I would term “classic Sinatra”. His voice here is lighter, more youthful, and I guess just more innocent sounding, which of course works great with his boyish character in the film. This quality in Sinatra’s voice at this time of his career blends perfectly with “What’s Wrong with Me.” Sinatra’s singing of this song in the film really underscores for me the quality that made him such an idol for the bobbysoxers a few years earlier.
And I cannot close my thoughts on The Kissing Bandit without mentioning one of the best, yet totally random parts of the film, the love triangle “Dance of Fury” between Cyd Charisse and the charismatic Ann Miller over Ricardo Montalban. WOW! This number may be the best part of the film. The pairing of Charisse and Miller, two dance legends, is a real treat, and the energy they bring to this short dance is truly magnificent. In fact, it is reported that this dance was added to the film quite last minute. MGM executives worried that the film would flop, so they had Robert Alton choreograph this number in the hopes that it would add excitement to the film. And boy did it!
I would consider myself a casual fan of Charisse and Montalban, and a mega fan of Miss Miller. (I am sure I will go on about this more in the future, but it absolutely and completely baffles me why this gorgeous, incredibly talented woman never became a super star. Like it bugs me to no end, she was amazing!!!) For me, Ann (as usual) completely steals the show. I literally could not take my eyes off of her. She is just so dang fun to watch, and that raven black hair, which she knows how to use to accent her every move, is so eye catching. Both dancers expertly use their flowing red and yellow gowns to advantage with every step, and the fury in their eyes when Montalban gives his attention to one woman over the other, is just electric. Seriously, if you miss The Kissing Bandit, at least go to Youtube and watch this fun dance number here.
Did any of you catch The Kissing Bandit? What were your thoughts?
And don’t forget to catch Kathryn Grayson next week, her last week as TCM’s Star of the Month, in: