While his buddy Dean Martin was raking in the bucks doing a series of Matt Helm spy spoofs (and earning a spot in the top ten box-office stars for two straight years), Frank Sinatra tried a traditional detective mystery series with two films as Tony Rome, Marvin H. Albert’s private gumshoe from a trio of mystery novels.
The Production: 3/5
While his buddy Dean Martin was raking in the bucks doing a series of Matt Helm spy spoofs (and earning a spot in the top ten box-office stars for two straight years), Frank Sinatra tried a traditional detective mystery series with two films as Tony Rome, Marvin H. Albert’s private gumshoe from a trio of mystery novels. The two films Tony Rome and Lady in Cement did respectable box-office (especially the first one), but Sinatra’s enthusiasm for filmmaking was practically finished by this period in his career. Still, it’s nice to have these mystery movies, one quite good and one quite poor, in almost pristine shape to see again an era in filmmaking that has long since vanished from the cinematic scene.
Tony Rome – 4/5
Asked to find the whereabouts of a missing diamond pin lifted from young heiress Diana Pines (Sue Lyon) during a drunken spree, private detective Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra) soon becomes entangled in a convoluted plot that involves two unhappy families: the wealthy construction magnate Rudy Kosterman (Simon Oakland) and his wife Rita (Gena Rowlands) and Diana’s alcoholic mother Lorna (Jeanne Cooper) and her current husband Adam (Jeffrey Lynn). There are also plenty of murders afoot when Tony’s ex-police partner Ralph Turpin (Robert J. Wilke) ends up dead in Tony’s office while several fences for the stolen jewel also wind up either murdered or shot by Tony as he defends himself from their attack. Clearly there is more going on here than one missing $5,000 pin.
Based on Marvin H. Albert’s novel Miami Mayhem, the screenplay for the movie was penned by Richard L. Breen who does a very good job hiding the real mystery that Tony is attempting to solve by keeping that McGuffin the diamond pin foremost in everyone’s thoughts. The film is crammed full of characters who seemingly have little in common (this includes a raft of strippers, junkies, pushers, and other low-lifes and also the voluptuous Jill St. John as Ann Archer who actually has no real role in the mystery but serves as tantalizing eye candy for the audience and for Tony himself who’s too embroiled in the case to act on his attraction), but as the film winds its way toward its final passages, things do become crystal clear as to motives, and everyone’s lies come to the fore to provide a very satisfactory solution to the mystery. Frank Sinatra is very at home with his houseboat-dwelling private eye, and great character actors like Richard Conte as his police department pal, Shecky Greene as a limping thug, Lloyd Bochner as an effeminate pusher, and Gena Rowlands as a glamorous wife contribute greatly to the film’s effectiveness. So does terrific location filming in Miami Beach and no-nonsense direction by Gordon Douglas who delivers a taut crime drama without undue muss or fuss.
Lady in Cement – 2/5
After finding an unknown blonde weighed down in the ocean by a block of cement off the Florida coast, private detective Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra) is curious to learn her identity but becomes preoccupied pretty quickly by another case, finding the missing Sandra Lomax (Christine Todd) by her ex-boy friend, the hulking Waldo Gronsky (Dan Blocker). Rome’s investigation leads him to the last person to see her alive, millionairess Kit Forrest (Raquel Welch). But Kit’s memory is foggy since she was drunk at her house party which Sandra was attending, and a group of mobsters including Al Mungar (Martin Gabel) and a strip joint manager Danny Yale (Frank Raiter) don’t make Rome’s snooping around any easier, particularly when Sandra’s roommate Maria Baretto (Lanie Kazan) turns up dead with Rome’s knife sticking in her.
As cleverly constructed as the script was for Tony Rome, that’s how inept the screenplay by Marvin H. Albert and Jack Guss is for this follow-up caper based on the second novel in the series by Mr. Albert. The mystery is pretty unexciting (even with some liberal borrowings from Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely), and the movie is trying so hard to be jokey and hip that it forgets to show real people with real emotions. As forward thinking as Sinatra’s title character was about gay people in The Detective (made prior to this film) and in Tony Rome, too, where he treats a dysfunctional lesbian couple with respect, that’s how supercilious and demeaning he is toward them here, flipping a limp wrist, talking in a lispy high-pitched voice, and making short work of them despite their superior size and strength. Despite this film being twenty minutes shorter than Tony Rome, it seems longer due to the plodding plotting and the execution by director Gordon Douglas who is simply uninspired here (the discovery of the dead woman in the ocean teeming with sharks which opens the film is by far its best sequence). Sinatra seems merely going through the motions and doesn’t even seem all that invested in the brief love scene with Raquel Welch who is otherwise gorgeous but pretty wooden throughout. Dan Blocker brings his husky, pleasing (but potentially malevolent) presence to the movie in fine fashion. Richard Conte offers strong support once again as Rome’s police pal, and Richard Deacon has a one scene cameo that’s the best performance of any of the supporting performers. Lainie Kazan has a nice moment in a form-fitting mirror dress in the early going, too.
3D Rating: NA
The films are both offered in their Panavision aspect ratios of 2.35:1 and are presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Apart from very infrequent little digs and blips (especially in Tony Rome), the images are clear and sharp and quite detailed, and the DeLuxe color is lush without ever going overboard. Skin tones may just occasionally veer toward rosy red, but only sporadically. Black levels are really excellent. Each movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
Both films offer DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtracks. They are very much of their era: clear dialogue, music (by Billy May in Tony Rome and Hugo Montenegro in Lady in Cement) mixed with surety with the atmospheric effects and never overwhelming to the conversations. No age-related problems with hiss, crackle, or hum are present.
Special Features: 3/5
Audio Commentary: Tony Rome offers a commentary by film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Anthony Latino, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo who know quite a bit about Sinatra’s career in music and movies and also give a history lesson about the locations used in the movie which are no longer there. Fans of the film won’t want to miss this even if some of the prominent supporting actors like Jeanne Cooper and Jeffrey Lynn don’t even rate a mention.
Isolated Score and Effects Tracks: both are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Theatrical Trailer for Tony Rome (3:05, SD)
Theatrical Trailer for Lady in Cement (3:12, SD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains a few stills, original poster art for both movies on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enjoyable essay on the two movies’ similarities and differences.
Both films in this set, Tony Rome and Lady in Cement, present Frank Sinatra in a signature role though only the former is really up to snuff. The transfers of these films, however, are beautiful and worth seeing in high definition. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.