A native New Yorker born 81 years ago today packed an amazing amount of activity into his regrettably short life: a velvet-voiced Grammy®-winning singer/composer of songs and chart-topping recording artist in a variety of musical genres, a brainy chess aficionado and masterful mimic romantically linked with many women, a sociopolitical activist engaged in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. But ill health plagued Bobby Darin (1936-1973), whose renditions of Dream Lover, Beyond the Sea and Mack the Knife remain definitive a half-century later, and he reportedly said one time that if given the choice between excelling at singing and acting, he would have preferred the latter. Based on the evidence of the handful of movies he made – Come September (1961, co-starring with the simultaneously rising star who would become his wife of six years, Sandra Dee), Too Late Blues (1961), Pressure Point (1962), Hell Is for Heroes (1962) and his Best Supporting Actor Oscar®-nominated work in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) – he might have gone on to achieve that goal had more opportunities presented themselves. But a couple of Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray titles offer glimpses of a swarthy charm and camera-catching charisma Darin could bring to “ladies man” roles.
In the family-friendly environs of the Cinemascope remake of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fair (1962), Darin plays a somewhat callous smooth operator, a local TV reporter with designs on “going national,” who starts out casually wooing country girl Pamela Tiffin at the Dallas State Fair for a quick fling and finding himself startlingly, unexpectedly seduced by genuine emotion – abetted by the newly added bluesy and atypical Rodgers tune This Isn’t Heaven (“This isn’t heaven, who needs it/This is the earth, and you/You’re not an angel, who wants one/You in the flesh will do.”) that delineates his character’s transformation from calculatingly louche to smitten suitor in succinctly grownup terms. It was too bad that, outside of his ensemble participation in A Grand Night for Singing, Darin was assigned no other solos. Seven years later, there would be no song cues (although composer Michel Legrand’s lyrical melodies flooded the soundtrack) for his short but pivotal turn in writer/director Richard Brooks’ The Happy Ending (1969), the bracingly adult look at a search for purpose and solace of lonely, alcoholic housewife (Jean Simmons) – via time away from her suffocating home life and potential extramarital dalliances. Here he was billed as Robert Darin, playing a sloe-eyed, mustachioed Italian-styled gigolo who makes a move on the vulnerable, willing Simmons at a Bahamas casino, until she lets slip that she’s not rich…and then all bets are off, as “Franco” reveals his true colors as a “passible fake” (“Service with a smile…I’m a hustler from L.A….I used to be a pistol”), underlining the film’s sadly devastating theme that movie-fueled fantasies don’t exist and that getting on with the future requires hard-edged pragmatism and self-reliance. Darin’s death at age 37 from complications following a heart operation came almost precisely four years after the Oscar®-nominated drama’s opening day. The dynamic song stylings and intriguing screen work of our birthday honoree offer pleasant memories of a unique talent, and contribute finger-snapping grace notes to TT’s discs of State Fair (1962) and The Happy Ending, the latter found here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/30727/THE-HAPPY-ENDING-1969/.