Rated R. Running time: 2 hours 14 min .
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 2; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 4.
Our star rating (0-5): 4
Many proclaim themselves loyal, but who can find one worthy of trust?
This Clint Eastwood-directed film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway play explores the sordid background and the times of singer Francis Stephen Castelluccio, better known as Frankie Valli, lead singer of The Four Seasons, popular back in the 1960s. Hanging out with petty thieves, the young Frankie could have gone to jail but for Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), the ringleader of the little band of robbers that morphed into “The Four Seasons.” When the gang was caught trying to steal a safe (their attempted theft is played for laughs), Tommy tells the judge that the much younger Frankie should be let go, that it was he who lured the boy to accompany them on the robbery.
Ever grateful, Frankie later saves Tommy’s hide when loan sharks are about to show his friend what happens to guys who run up debts without paying them. Thus the story of Frankie’s rise and Tommy’s fall can be seen as a parable of loyalty. Frankie and his pals live in a small town from which the tall towers of Manhattan can be seen. Typical of the New Jersey of the time, a local mobster is involved in Frankie’s career– Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) takes a liking to the boy when he hears him sing. He tells him if he ever needs him, just to call on him, a promise that will prove very important later on when the Four Seasons are being pressured to pay Tommy’s huge gambling debts
The story is told by the four band members, each, Rashomon-like, giving his version of certain events of their difficult rise in the world of pop music. Tommy is convinced that he is the one responsible for the group’s success and is its real leader, even though Frankie is out front as the lead singer. He was the one who, discovering his young friend’s amazing falsetto-tenor voice, invited him into his band back in the 50s. A real operator, Tommy had a duo career, leader of a band and a thief. Tommy especially resents new band member Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), partly because the lad is not from New Jersey, and also because he holds out for a full partnership in the band, refusing Tommy’s offer of hired musician. Gaudio proves worthy of the full partnership, penning such major hits as “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Let’s Hang On,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Even a non-fan of Frankie Valli like myself is familiar with these memorable songs!
Frankie’s private life is perhaps passed over too quickly—before I had barely noticed their marriage he and his wife Mary (Renee Marino) are separating because he is on the road too much trying to raise money to pay off Tommy ‘s debts which he has assumed. Still the brief scenes with his resentful grown daughter Francine (Freya Tingley) are powerful, showing again the tragedy that can result from parental neglect. Had more details of his family life been included, this scene and his wife’s turning to alcohol would have been even more powerful.
The cast and songs make this an enjoyable romp into pop music history, even though I think the director’s Bird is a better film. People of faith can, as indicated earlier, see this as a parable of loyalty, both to a friend and to one’s sense of honor and responsibility. Frankie might have grown up associating with crooks, but he learned some good things that we can all admire. It could be said that due to his grueling campaign that took him into all kinds of venues around the country in order to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed by Tommy to the gambling syndicate the singer sacrificed his own family relationships. He could have told Tommy that it was his debt, and then walked away. He didn’t. How many of us would have done that?