King of Cool (2021)

Iconic Rat Pack crooner and “King of Cool,” Dean Martin‘s life, career, and legacy are documented beautifully in King of Cool (2021). From his Italian-American roots and early years in Ohio, to an arduous though enthralling launch into show business, Martin realized success as a singer in various clubs as well as an acting career in Hollywood. He would also become one-half of the famous Martin-Lewis comedy duo, with his comedy partner being Jerry Lewis.

Behind the scenes, Martin had a respect for his ethnicity and the simplicity of his early years. Those values grounded him throughout his career, as he entertained fans all over the world and remained a present father to his children. Through professional triumphs and deep personal tragedy, Martin’s life, as well as public and private image, was scrutinized constantly.

King of Cool offers a fascinating compilation of video footage and impressive interviews to try and capture the complexity of Martin. Though the footage of his early years and time in Hollywood is interesting, images from his off-screen life were far more intriguing to me. In fact, I felt that the last half-hour of the documentary was the most powerful and riveting–particularly Lewis’s interviews I relation to Martin’s life after a great personal loss. While I am quite familiar with the Martin presented through Hollywood films and Rat Pack ventures, it is the older Martin who was entirely new to me. The stories relating to his later life are quite poignant and are not discussed often.

Like Citizen Kane’s “rosebud,” this documentary serves to explore Martin’s own “rosebud.” Though family and friends were a strong part of his life, at the crux of it all, what made him tick is far different from the celebrity that he would attain. Though Martin cannot speak for himself to answer this question for us, perhaps we can find the answer at the bottom of his favorite dish: pasta fagioli.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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