They take the West… Like it’s never been taken before!
As famous as the Rat Pack were at their height in the early 1960s, the entire pack only appeared together two times on screen. First was 1960’s Ocean’s 11, with the other being 1962’s often overlooked (at times intentionally) pun on the classic Gunga Din, Sergeants 3. Robin and the 7 Hoods and 4 for Texas round out what most consider to the true Rat Pack movies.
And a good way to always tell the original Rat Pack films? Well, they all have numbers in the titles, which are never spelled- the numeral itself is always displayed, and stylishly so if possible. The numbers weren’t random either, as they all play a key role in the game of craps.
After Sergeants 3, Head Rat Frank Sinatra tossed Peter Lawford from the pack and their films. The reason? Well on a California trip, then President Kennedy opted to stay at Bing Crosby’s house rather than Frank Sinatra’s. Since Peter Lawford had married into the Kennedy clan, Frank Sinatra felt he should have had some pull and took it out on him. Most likely Kennedy opted for Bing’s place simply because of Frank’s rumored mafia ties.
The film Sergeants 3 itself was, for a long time after it’s release, shunned- making it quite a rarity until its eventual release on DVD well into the life of that format. There is a tremendous amount of stereotyping in the film, both against African Americans and Native Americans. Surely this accounts for the delay in releasing it.
What really muddies the film is that it really can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it a western in the classic vein or is it a comedy? Unfortunately it tries to be both and succeeds at neither. There are some quite well done action scenes, including a great shoot-em-up involving Dean Martin (primarily, anyway) blowing up marauding Native Americans with dynamite. Scenes like these, however, are interspersed with comic relief.
One thing that can be said is that Sergeants 3 is the best directed of all Rat Pack pictures, being directed by the great John Sturges. And, although there is obvious evidence of the overuse of sets and backdrops, some good panoramic location shots (Utah, most likely) are here as well. Going along with the overall theme of inconsistency are some truly awful shots- particularly when Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. traverse a rope bridge.
It is too bad the soundtrack behind the action/comedy is so lackluster. Billy May (!?) is no Elmer Bernstein. If this is anyone’s picture, it is Dean Martin’s. By this time, he was well ensconced as a regular in westerns and his comfort level is quite noticeable. He also, as you might expect provides much of the humor as well. Frank Sinatra seems rather restrained or perhaps confined as the leader of the group, for whatever reason. The balance of the Pack drops off quite a bit from there.
The plot is a bit disjointed, but definitely mirrors Gunga Din. Frank Sinatra (Sergeant Mike Merry) leads Dean Martin (Sergeant Chip Deal) and Peter Lawford (Sergeant Larry Barrett) on the pursuit of a marauding Native American band after they (the Native Americans) have massacred a small town.
Along the way they come across Sammy Davis Jr. (Jonah Williams) who is a former slave who also plays the trumpet and is a mean tap dancer. Jonah also has time on screen as a stable boy but his dream is to join the cavalry. Overall, Davis’ character is a complete stereotype and is most likely the major reason this film became a rarity for such a long time. Particularly odious is an early scene where he is made to play his trumpet and dance on a bar for a group of drunken cowboys while they shoot at his feet and jeer at him.