Frank Sinatra is too old to be caught dead saying things like, "I'm not one to give advice, but let me try just this once. If you ever get your own band and you really want to wail, find yourself a great Cole Porter song, have Neal Hefti do the arrangement, and then, baby, just let it all hang out."
Ol' Blue Eyes could let it all hang out when there wasn't quite so much of it. But on "Frank Sinatra, the Man and His Music," a one-man NBC special at 10 p.m. Sunday on Channel 4, the Chairman seems hoarse and tired and a little sad, like Muhammad Ali giving it one ill-advised last shot in the ring (although comparing Sinatra to a heavyweight champeen is a tired gambit itself). The creepiest thing is that in long shots, if you squint just a little at the plump-faced, Brylcreemed, tuxedoed croonster standing there with the mike in his hand, you'd swear it was not Sinatra but Jerry Lewis.
Maybe the two of them are merging into the same wearily pugnacious show-biz bully -- The Thing That Ate Las Vegas. Or The Thing Las Vegas Ate.
Sinatra purists, who presumably will overlook wobbled notes, a scratchy throat, and the usual quirkily amended lyrics (on George Harrison's "Something": "You hang around, Jack, it might show . . .") may revel in this display, but more than once others may think they're looking at something out of Madame Tussaud's. No one wants to suggest that Sinatra hang up the old cummerbund -- that would be like puting aluminum siding on the White House, or something -- but he begs the question when he appears in such a self-conscious, man-against-the-world, I-still-do-it-my-way TV show as this.
It's just Sinatra, and an orchestra, and an occasional assist from Count Basie. Frankie-baby sings 14 songs, ranging from "Pennies From Heaven" to the inevitable "New York, New York," on tape from a Burbank TV studio. There's no audience, but at the end of the concert, the musicians stand and applaud, or slap their strings with their bows. It looks about as spontaneous as a coronation.
The opener, "Nice 'n' Easy," is introduced by Sinatra as epitomizing "the way it's been all the time between us -- you know what I mean." Not exactly; it may be wishful thinking, the kind of thing a sheaf of press clips would handily refute. On some of the numbers, the old dazzle springs back to invigorating life -- especially "The Best Is Yet to Come," which brings out a huge, unforced smile, and Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" (with the Sinatra-garbled lyric, "Some dig the cocaine from Spain." They do?).
And then there are such embarrassments as Gordon Jenkins' "I Loved Her," which seems to have been written for Sinatra and includes such lyrics as "She was Boston, I was Vegas; she was cre pes suzettes, I was pie" and, "She was polo, I was racetrack; she was museums, I was TV." Implicit in the song and some of Sinatra's remarks is that implicit old New York Thug Chic bit, the most tiresome thing about him.
By the conclusion, though, Sinatra goes humble. He introduces new lyrics to "Thanks for the Memory" by saying, "The title of the song suggests what's in my heart for all of you, and the wonderful life you've given me in my business." It's like reading "We Appreciate Your Patronage" as you leave a grocery store. Maybe the hour -- unimaginatively produced by Paul W. Keyes and unexcitingly directed by Clark Jones -- works as a poignant toast to happier times, and to warped affairs that Sinatra's intimately commiserating voice helped see us through. And yet, that doesn't completely offset the impression that he was Dom Perignon, but now he's Bud.