Monday, August 07, 2006

Tony Rome

I watched Tony Rome and Lady in Cement recently. Both were directed by Gordon Douglas and star Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome, a Miami detective created by Marvin H. Albert.

I'm in the odd position of not being a fan of Sinatra's music. In much the same way I'm not a fan of having battery acid applied to my scrotum. I'm also not a fan of the so-called "rat pack" movies like Ocean's 11 and Robin and the 7 Hoods.

I have, however, by and large, always been impressed by Sinatra the actor, outside that box, From Here To Eternity and The Manchurian Candidate would seem the obvious examples, and I'll leave it with that.

Here, he's a nearly quintessential private eye. He used to be a police detective. He has a gambling problem. He takes his cases for money and stays detached from everything surrounding them. If anything, he plays this part a little too brilliantly, which I'll get back to.

The first movie begins with him taking on the seemingly simple task of taking a drunken young woman, played by Sue Lyons, home from a hotel that doesn't want any trouble caused by her being there. The fact that she lost a piece of jewelry that night, at the party, at a bar, at a hotel, well, that's the problem.

This is the kind of case and attitude that Jim Rockford would eventually make his stock in trade. Tempted into a web of intrigue more by money than interest or compassion, wisecracking his way through. Occasionally tempted by the arms of a lady, but rarely enough to strip him of his trademark detachment.

Lyons, Jill St. John and Gena Rowlands are all incredibly beautiful as three very different women with three very different agendas. The movie never rises above formula but plays the formula well, drawing us into the elaborate character flaws that lead us to elaborate deceptions.

Lady in Cement follows very much in kind. Borrowing its set-up from Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, it takes it in a much different direction from there. Dan Blocker (or Dan "Bonanza" Blocker) as he touted in the trailer) ably enough plays the thug in search of an old girlfriend, although I suspect the character in the novel must have had an accent and such.

Raquel Welch plays an alchoholic rich woman who has blocked out the party that the missing girl disappeared at or after... or something. I suspect there was some expectation existed that Sinatra and Welch would set the screen on fire together, but they don't. And I'm not going to call it a flaw, either. It ultimately is kept from steaming up by Sinatra's detached performace, already well established by the time these two meet on-screen.

The reviews I've found seem to differ, but I think I enjoyed the second one more. It seemed looser and to enjoy its conventions and play to the wisecracking hero more. I was also oddly pleased with the rather easy hand they play with his making fun of the homosexual characters. He certainly mocks them for their ways, but in the exact way he casually mocks everyone for being big or rich or promiscuous or whatever.

Others may have a different take.

I thought they were both good fun.

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