|First Deadly Sin, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 18 May 1999|
‘The First Deadly Sin’ is a police procedural thriller that is notable mainly as Frank Sinatra’s last big-screen starring vehicle (his appearance in ‘Cannonball Run II’ doesn’t really count). Based on a best-seller by Lawrence Sanders, it’s not hard to see how the material could be gripping in literary form. However, director Brian Hutton and screenwriter Mann Rubin don’t quite manage to make three-dimensional figures of either Sinatra’s anguished NYPD Sgt. Edward X. Delaney or his nemesis, David Dukes’ crafty Daniel Blank.
Chapter 1 opens with striking contrasts between bloody murder and equally gory lifesaving techniques, as serial killer Blank does in his latest victim while Delaney’s beloved wife (Faye Dunaway) undergoes surgery. Since we are privy to Blank’s identity from the beginning, ‘Sin’ is not a whodunit but rather a suspense piece in which the mystery lies in how and if the killer will be caught. Although Delaney has only days to go before turning in his badge, he is diligent in his pursuit. As a counterpoint to the investigation, we follow Delaney as he visits the hospital where his wife’s condition worsens daily.
‘Sin’ clearly aspires to be a character study as much as it wants to pique our interest with the hero’s investigative techniques. However, Delaney comes across as an angrily stoic saint. He has no quirks beyond abject adoration of his bride. The hospital subplot is meant to provide motivation and contrast -- a death Delaney can foresee but not prevent that propels him to ever-greater efforts on the street -- but it is so obvious in its presentation that the effect is muted. Individually, the scenes are performed and crafted with sincerity and intensity, but apart from the occasionally salty language (tame by 1999 standards), this could be a middle-of-the-road TV movie, an impression reinforced by the DVD’s 1:3:3 aspect ratio.
Director Hutton makes good use of luminous, colorful light against velvety blackness, with especially attractive contrasts in Chapters 30 and 34. The sound quality varies throughout the film, but this appears to be a problem that originated with the theatrical release rather than the DVD. For example, in Chapter 11, good, eerie, subtly heightened sounds from work-out machines are mixed with indecisive thunderstorm effects. In Chapter 8, dialogue between Delaney and a museum curator seems to change ambience depending on who’s talking: the curator’s words echo and resonate, while Sinatra’s lines are steady and intimate.
Fans of Sinatra the actor should appreciate his work here. Otherwise, ‘The First Deadly Sin’ is decently made and watchable, but it doesn’t have the style or the substance to be truly involving.