A workmanlike "true story" about the affair between mobster Sam Giancana and singer Phyllis McGuire, SUGARTIME (which was first shown on HBO in 1995) pushes all the gangster-movie buttons, but lacks zest.
1960. Testifying before the US Senate Subcommittee on Organized Crime, Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana (John Turturro) takes the Fifth, refusing to answer Attorney General Bobby Kennedy's questions. Afterwards, in Las Vegas, he spots Phyllis McGuire (Mary-Louise Parker), lead singer of the McGuire
Sisters trio. The act is cute and wholesome, in a calculated way. Sam is smitten with Phyllis, and the "class" she apparently represents. He begins a boorish wooing process, filling her dressing room with flowers and cajoling the reluctant Phyllis on a date, supposedly to meet Frank Sinatra.
They end up in a Nevada motel, where Phyllis plays hard to get. A local cowgirl, Doris (Kelly Bodanis), explains the uses of men with money, and when Sam gives Phyllis a new Thunderbird, she relents.
Despite Sam's high-level connections (he supposedly helped finance JFK's campaign, the CIA wants him to eliminate Castro), his affair with Phyllis causes headaches for both. Printed rumors poison her career: His associates don't appreciate the publicity. Time spent with Phyllis makes him neglect
his "business" (an excuse for several nasty executions). When he builds her the "Villa Venice" club in Chicago, complete with artificial lake and singing gondolier, only his sterling gangster credentials prevent mob retribution.
Phyllis is subpoenaed to testify against the mob, but she stonewalls. Sam is granted full immunity, but when he refuses to testify, he is jailed for contempt and extradited to Mexico.
Seven years later, Sam returns to testify at Congressional hearings, a broken man. Butch Blasi (Elias Koteas), his one-time lieutenant, greets him at the airport, feeds him a sumptuous meal, and, after Sam refuses to drop Phyllis, kills him.
Titles state no one was convicted of the murder, and Phyllis continues to live alone in a Las Vegas mansion.
SUGARTIME (the name of a McGuire Sisters tune) is based on ex-federal agent William F. Roemer, Jr.'s book Man Against The Mob (Roemer has a cameo role as a CIA agent.) In what is ostensibly a love story, Sam and Phyllis lack chemistry as lovers, and Parker's Phyllis is too passive to be a
convincing golddigger. Turturro is believable as Sam the weasel, not as a lovestruck wiseguy. The leads' failure to strike sparks makes SUGARTIME's lavish production numbers, gangster talk, and Tarantino-style violence almost superfluous.
The script frequently refers to Sam's jealousy, but he never acts on it. Apparently, Phyllis reduces Sam the tough guy to a little boy begging for candy. In one scene, he dangles jewelry in her face as they make love. Phyllis seems incapable of passion even then.
Like many docudramas, SUGARTIME is caught on the horns of a dilemma. It's not convincing enough for "real life" and not exciting enough for fiction. But, despite its shortcomings, SUGARTIME's detailed period recreations, campy showtunes, and the occasional mob "hit" make for entertaining viewing.
(Violence, profanity, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1995
- Rating: R
- Review: A workmanlike "true story" about the affair between mobster Sam Giancana and singer Phyllis McGuire, SUGARTIME (which was first shown on HBO in 1995) pushes all the gangster-movie buttons, but lacks zest. 1960. Testifying before the US Senate Subcommittee… (more)