METAPHORICALLY, at least, Dean Martin was no slouch as an actor. Indeed, the crooner’s film career shows glimmers of a real gift — from his early comic antics with sidekick Jerry Lewis to a serious side in later roles. Below, some of Martin’s screen highlights available on video:
ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955, Paramount) The Martin/Lewis movie team peaked with this ambitious romp, starring Martin as a struggling artist and Lewis as a struggling writer. When Martin turns Lewis’ dreams into comic-strip ideas, the two hit the big time — launching a surreal chain of events involving foreign spies, fanciful production numbers, and females from Shirley MacLaine to Anita Ekberg.
THE YOUNG LIONS (1958, FoxVideo) Martin’s post-Lewis career was going nowhere until he made his serious acting debut — as a reluctant GI — n this World War II epic. Holding his own with costars Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, Martin began what could have been a brilliant career. But in years to come he’d only rarely tap the talent he showed here.
RIO BRAVO (1959, Warner) Martin played drunken deputy to John Wayne’s stalwart sheriff in this Howard Hawks Western. The two stars defend a jailhouse with help from Walter Brennan, Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson. Dino’s vocal duet with teen idol Rick was the offbeat highlight, an anachronistic sagebrush ballad that bridged generations and genres.
ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS (1964, Warner) The last of the Rat Pack movies is by far the most fun — probably because it’s the only musical. Set in 1920s Chicago, this Robin Hood tale teams Martin with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. as singing gangsters with hearts of gold. To watch them light up Chicago (”My Kind of Town”) is to wonder why their other collaborative efforts were such dreary affairs.