Two Tony Thriller Cruises
Among the last handful of the 50+ movies in his four-decade acting career, Frank Sinatra, preeminent saloon singer and national treasure, found a home playing hardened, sometimes tortured, always cynical law enforcers or private eyes. Critics may have been skeptical but audiences didn’t mind, especially when bursts of gritty action or sexual sparring with lovely ladies were part of the mix. For two of these form-fitting vehicles, he turned to the books of author Marvin H. Albert, who specialized in Westerns (the source novels for The Law and Jake Wade, Duel at Diablo and Rough Night in Jericho) and crime thrillers, two of the latter becoming the Miami-set mysteries Tony Rome (1967) and Lady in Cement (1968), each involving a colorful coterie of characters swirling around the search for a murderer and missing jewelry in the first and a killer and a missing woman in the second. Attempting to establish private investigator Rome as an updated Sam Spade who gets knocked around and dishes out the tough in equal measure, Sinatra hits the bull’s-eye with time-honed wisecracking, dogged professionalism and worldly swagger. Not incidentally, while filming Tony Rome, he also performed on stage at the Fontainebleau Miami Hotel at night, leaving the soundtrack performance of the Lee Hazelwood-penned title tune to daughter Nancy and the laughs to his opening-act buddy Shecky Greene, who plays a small part in the film and had a helluva time keeping pace with the busy crooner, as this jokey behind-the-scenes vignette shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-AS1OT-aQA. Among this final “lawman” quintet of movies, The Detective (1968, available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray), Contract on Cherry Street (1977) and The First Deadly Sin (1980) were darker and more serious in tone, while Tony Rome and Lady in Cement were more jocular and brawny, obviously influenced by the sun-and-fun Florida atmosphere and the occasions for romantic intrigue suggested by the presence of Jill St. John, Gena Rowlands and Sue Lyon in the first and Raquel Welch and Lainie Kazan in the second. Lady in Cement moviegoers also got a kick out of Bonanza’s beloved Hoss Cartwright, Dan Blocker, playing the Mike Mazurki-styled strongman who hires the detective and keeps close watch on his sleuthing activities. Frequent Sinatra collaborator Gordon Douglas directed both outings (as well as The Detective and Sinatra’s earlier Young at Heart and Robin and the 7 Hoods), Richard Conte co-stars in each as the shamus’s exasperated police pal Lt. Dave Santini, and their flavorful ’60s pop/jazz fusion scores are provided by musical heavyweights Billy May (Tony Rome) and Hugo Montenegro (Lady in Cement). In the manner of the cool breeze and chill relaxation of a summer’s day excursion on Rome’s combination powerboat/home/office the Straight Pass, Tony Rome and Lady in Cement combine for a pleasantly punchy double-feature TT hi-def Blu-ray disc cruising your way August 16. Preorders open July 27.