A private eye is hired by a millionaire to find the reasons for his daughter's odd behavior. Soon the detective finds himself embroiled in a dangerous scheme and pursues the case with the aid of a beautiful woman. Featured in this suspense-mystery are performances by Frank Sinatra, Jill St. John, Simon Oakland, Gena Rowlands and Bob Wilkes among others.
It's interesting to watch a movie where the lead star is a character unto themselves. The film in question can often feel like a bit of a vanity project designed to wax the particular star's ego and maintain their celebrity status. Whether or not the film is any good is irrelevant, it's all about the star. So whenever I go into any movie starring The Chairman of the Board Mr. Frank Sinatra, I tend to have guarded expectations. For every great turn he made in films like 'The Manchurian Candidate' or 'From Here to Eternity,' there were dozens of other movies like 'A Hole in the Head.' Then we get the one-two punch of 1967's 'Tony Rome' and 'Lady In Cement.' A pair of grizzled noir detective yarns brought to the 60s contemporary screen by the legendary Gordon Douglas. While the playful-yet-gritty stylings of the films may be a bit odd at times, the films turn out to be surprisingly effective, entertaining and show Sinatra doing what he does best - being himself.
Being an ex-cop is tough. Being an ex-cop turned private detective is even tougher. Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra) just wants to live on his boat, go fishing, put down a couple of beers and be left alone. But a man's got to make a living somehow and Tony's way is by taking on the dirty jobs no honest cop - or former cop - would do. When Ralph (Robert Wilke), Tony's former partner, asks him to take a drunk and passed out heiress named Diana Pines (Sue Lyon) home, a simple clean up job turns into a bigger mess when it's discovered that the girl was robbed of a diamond brooch. Hired to find the missing jewelry, Tony is tasked by the girl's father with learning why she has been acting so strangely. The answers to these questions could put Tony in a boatload of trouble with the law and with whoever has been stealing high-end jewels. At his hip is the seductive Jill St. John (Ann Archer) offering sound advice about women's fashions while also dropping a few clues of her own.
Lady In Cement
Tony Rome is at it again. While diving off the Miami coast looking for a sunken Spanish Galleon that according to legend is loaded with gold, Tony ends up finding a new case. Deep at the bottom of the ocean is a beautiful nude blonde woman, her feet encased in a block of cement. Rome isn't too concerned about things until he's hired by someone else to find the dead woman he accidentally already located. With his curiosity in high gear, Tony finds his way to a local night club and the beautiful Kit Forrester (Raquel Welch). Since she's backed by a former mob man Al Mungar (Martin Gabel), this new case could end up being Tony's last.
Gritty updated Neo-Noir detective flicks can be kind of tough to take in. On one hand, they're playing to classic gumshoe tropes with the jaded anti-hero who doesn't want to have anything to do with a case but takes it anyway because he's a good guy. On the other hand, the film can play things almost too modern and the clashing styles can skew the tone of the film. In this way, Director Gordon Douglas is a master of genre-smashing. He could pull off western/thrillers like 'Barquero.' He could do silly spy movies like the sequel 'Our Man Flint.' He could even to the straight and dark detective thriller like 'The Detective' also starring Sinatra. It's that versatility that makes these Tony Rome adventures so bizarrely entertaining. The cases are interesting, the characters are colorful, the dialogue has a snappy tongue to it, but at the same time, they're almost too "swinging 60s" for their own good. Should we be laughing? Should we be feeling tension about the situation Rome is in? Both at the same time? It's a bit of a mood swing overload, and yet, you can't take your eyes off them!
The heart of these films is Sinatra. Say what you will about his acting abilities, his crooning, or his supposed ties to organized crime - the man had screen presence. He's the perfect fast-talking smart-ass detective for this sort of movie. It's almost as if the movies themselves are sly jokes and he's the straight man who has to play off them in a dark and serious way. That isn't to say his Rome isn't a hoot, he is, but he feels like a character that Fred MacMurray or Bogart would have played twenty years earlier. Sinatra gives his Tony the presence of a man who is always thinking ten moves ahead. Even when if checkmate could lead to his own death, he's determined to see every case through to the end. It's fun watching him get into trouble either with some hood or the police and then think and talk his way out of it. As I said at the outset, I wasn't much of a Sinatra movie fan, but he held my interest through both Tony Rome adventures as he's such a fun character and Frank is the perfect actor for the part. One part confident, two parts arrogant, with a dash of honesty and dedication tossed in for flavor and you have a heck of a leading character.
As fun as the main character is, and I would have liked to see Sinatra play Rome more than these two appearances, the sequel is a case of diminishing returns. 'Lady In Cement' was still a decent little flick, but it also feels like Gordon Douglas and Sinatra were compensating for their hard-boiled 'The Detective' that was shot in between the two Rome films. 'Lady In Cement' is almost too silly and that score by Hugo Montenegro is entirely too jaunty. When you see a dead girl at the bottom of the ocean, go-go music really just doesn't feel appropriate. This movie struggles with the tone it naturally found with 'Tony Rome.' It wants to be playful but not too playful. It tries to be serious but isn't nearly serious enough. At the end of the day, I found 'Lady In Cement' had more in common with the woeful 'Catalina Caper' than it did with 'Tony Rome.' Toss in Tommy Kirk in some distressingly tiny shorts and a few appearances by Little Richard and you'd practically have the same movie.
Taken as a whole, the Tony Rome adventures are a good way to spend an evening. Both 'Tony Rome' and 'Lady in Cement' move at nice brisk paces and don't overstay they're welcome. Sinatra is in his sly prime and the man can deliver a one-liner like nobody else. While the quality and consistency may not have held up through two films, the fun is still there and even the most cynical viewer will have a hard time denying the entertainment value in either film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Both 'Tony Rome' and 'Lady In Cement' arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time. Both films are pressed onto a single Region Free BD50 disc and this set is limited to a run of 3000 units. The disc is housed in a standard clear Blu-ray case with a booklet containing an essay by historian Julie Kirgo. The disc loads directly to a static image opening menu that allows you to choose which film you would like to view. From there, you're taken to that film's main menu with traditional navigation options.
"As good as can be, but still pretty darn good" should be the theme of both of the 2.35:1 1080p transfers provided for 'Tony Rome' and 'Lady In Cement.' They may not be sterling restorations, and they probably would have looked better if they'd been given their own disc to occupy, but that said, both films have their strong points and a couple weak ones too. 'Tony Rome' seems to have been given the better treatment between the two films. Film grain is intact throughout and provides some nice detail levels. Colors are bright and vibrant with that almost garish 60s quality to them. Flesh tones tend to look a bit too tan at times but are otherwise natural appearing. Black levels can be a bit soft in some darker scenes and can lose depth, but daylight sequences look amazing without any contrast blooms to speak of. The print is in relatively great shape with only some mild sporadic speckling to report. 4/5
'Lady In Cement' has a lot of the same qualities as those presented in 'Tony Rome' with a few of its own issues. Similarly, grain is present and offers up some great details. I would say colors are a bit sharper and more natural looking, they felt more vivid here than in 'Tony Rome.' Black levels also look a bit better balanced. However, there are several baked-in softness issues. At times the image can almost look as if the focus puller didn't stick the mark as characters in middle shots can appear just a tad too soft. There are also a few scenes, especially the underwater sequences that appear almost too bright as if contrast was kicked up a notch to compensate for filming conditions. Similarly, there is some speckling and a small scratch or two, but nothing that would amount to a deal-breaker. Like the first film, 'Lady In Cement' looks pretty great, not amazing, but still very good. 3.5/5
Both 'Tony Rome' and 'Lady In Cement' arrive with rock solid English DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono tracks. I appreciate it when the mono track isn't artificially transformed into a stereo mix by simply playing the same track through both channels, there feels to be a natural presence to this presentation. While imaging is obviously limited, there is still an organic sense of space and dimension to the mix. Dialogue comes through loud and clear, which is essential because of the snappy dialogue. This isn't a bad thing but you're going to want to reverse the movies every now and again to hear those zingers, they pop up out of nowhere. Sound effects and scoring are cleanly and clearly rendered, even if I felt like the score for 'Lady In Cement' was a bit too jaunty, it at least doesn't overpower the mix. Levels are just fine, some of the softer, quieter conversational moments may require a bump in volume, but nothing too severe. All around both films enjoy some fine audio mixes that serve the respective natures of the films well.
'Tony Rome' Audio Commentary: Film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Anthony Latino, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo provide a pretty fun and informative track for this film. They keep the conversation moving nicely talking about all aspects of the film from casting to Sinatra's film career at that time to some interesting stuff about director Gordon Douglas.
'Tony Rome' Trailer: (HD 3:05)
Lady In Cement' Trailer: (HD 3:12)
'Tony Rome' and 'Lady In Cement' may not be the greatest Neo-Noir films to come out over the years, but they are an entertaining duo, to say the least. If you can give yourself over to both film's playful natures, you should have a great time with these little Sinatra adventures. Twilight Time brings both films to Blu-ray in a nice single-disc double feature package with solid A/V presentations. Extras may be a bit slim, but I'm glad that disc space was reserved for the films' presentations and not mundane bonus content. If you're a Sinatra completionist, you're going to want to pick this one up. If you're new to Sinatra's fast-talking private detective, take a look-see for yourself. At the very least both films are worth the time you put into them. Worth a look.