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Dean Martin: King of Cool (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 18, 2023


Featuring Frankie Avalon, Jerry Blavat, Josh Homme, Alec Baldwin, RZA, Jon Hamm, George Schlatter, Michael Gregory, Norman Lear, Barbara Rush, Florence Henderson, Lainie Kazan, Deana Martin, Angie Dickinson, Tommy Tune, Peter Bogdanovich, Dick Cavett, Regis Philbin, Bob Newhart, Henry Jaglom, Bill Hinsche, Todd Fisher, Barry Levinson, Carol Burnett, James Woods and archival footage of Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

Directed by Tom Donahue.

Distributed by Turner Classic Movies. 107 minutes. Not Rated.

King of Cool. It’s a hard nickname to live up to, and yet Dean Martin was the epitome of suave for decades. He was the kind of guy that even superstars like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra could be starstruck over and flummoxed by. He was a star of stage, screen, nightclubs, and recording.

And yet probably the most surprising thing about Dean Martin – as this documentary exposes (not that it hasn’t been discussed before) – was that at heart, no matter how glamorous his life may have looked from the outside, he was a devoted family man and homebody who would be in bed early.

Even though his shtick – for at least for part of his career – was playing a happy drunk, it was generally an act. He was a natural entertainer and perhaps the most accomplished straight man of his age. He may have seemed to be playing second banana to Jerry Lewis when they took nightclubs and Hollywood by storm, but despite the fact that Lewis was a more flashy and eccentric talent, many of their peers (and later fans) recognize that it was mostly Martin that made their act work.

Even though he knew some of the most famous, powerful people in the world – and was considered a friend and a peer – he always felt a little out of place. He was a small-town kid from Steubenville, Ohio. Even though he was widely recognized as an extremely smart man, he was not an educated man and always felt a little intimidated. This was a feeling going back to his young schoolboy days when he went to school unable to speak English. (In his first six years at home, he only spoke Italian.)

King of Cool reminds us what a truly, effortlessly charismatic man Martin was. Not only that, he was a man of strong principals and would always do anything he could for a friend. He was a loving family man. (The son of his former comedy partner Jerry Lewis acknowledged here that he was always a bit envious of Martin’s kids because they had such a loving dad.)

And he also had some demons that followed him through life. He was something of an enigma, even to those closest to him.

There are some unexpected talking heads discussing Dino’s effect on the world – Wu Tang Clan leader RZA is surprisingly well-versed on Martin’s career and cultural impact.

However, the greatest part of King of Cool is just the footage of Dean being Dean – at least as much of Dean as he would allow the world to see. He was a beautiful enigma and a natural star.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: November 17, 2021.


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