Release Date(s)1967-1968 (August 16, 2016)
Studio(s)Arcola Pictures/20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
For a guy who didn’t much care for making movies, Frank Sinatra sure was on a streak in 1967 and 1968, two years that saw the release of four Sinatra vehicles. The first of these, Sidney J. Furie’s The Naked Runner, was an unhappy experience for all involved, so for his next film Sinatra reunited with old friend Gordon Douglas, the sturdy craftsman who helmed Sinatra’s Robin and the Seven Hoods, and stuck with him for two more back-to-back detective movies. The middle picture, 1968’s The Detective, is the most serious – and probably the best – of the trio, but it’s bracketed by a pair of extremely entertaining escapist crime flicks that riff on Chandler and Hammett. It might be stretching it to call Tony Rome and Lady in Cement great movies, but they’re great times at the movies – slick, stylish, funny romps that perfectly embody their era and their star (for better as well as worse).
Sinatra plays Miami Beach private eye Tony Rome in both Tony Rome and Lady in Cement; the middle movie, The Detective, is based on different source material and follows a different character, in spite of several superficial similarities. Both films are strongly modeled on Humphrey Bogart movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, but the significant differences between Bogart and Sinatra’s screen personas (and between 1940s Hollywood and 1960s Hollywood) make Tony Rome and Lady in Cement both sillier and nastier than their inspirations. There’s no real moral weight to the cases Tony Rome takes on, and no consequences to the whirlwind of crime and sex that whips around him; Sinatra casually strides through his adventures with a supreme sense of cool detachment that feels less existential and bitter than Bogart’s. There’s no weariness in him, even in scenes like the one in Tony Rome where he’s kidnapped and forced to inhale chloroform – he dishes out and takes punishment with no palpable sense of danger or angst.
Yet there is a strange dark side to both movies, partly thanks to their dated social attitudes – they’re unabashedly sexist and homophobic (as is The Detective). There’s a leering unpleasantness to the pictures; I don’t know if it was there for audiences at the time of the films’ releases, but in 2016 it’s both a little disturbing and an undeniable source of fascination. Another element of the films that’s dated – albeit in a much more purely enjoyable way – is the visual design: Douglas and his team pack the frames with swinging 60s colors, fashions, and architecture in a manner that makes the most of the Panavision frame. The dazzling palette is a revelation on Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray transfer, which beautifully preserves the deep blues (of both Sinatra’s eyes and the sandy Florida beaches) and vibrant contrasts of the vivid widescreen cinematography. The uncompressed monaural soundtracks on both films are impeccably presented as well, and each movie has an isolated score and effects track. Aside from a pair of theatrical trailers, there’s only one special feature, but it’s an enjoyable one: a lively commentary track by Sinatra scholars Eddy Friedfeld, Anthony Latino, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo, who provide a wealth of fascinating tidbits about the making of the movie and Sinatra’s career overall. Twilight Time also released The Detective not too long ago, and taken together that Blu-ray and this double-feature package offer a wonderful opportunity to study one of the greatest entertainers whoever lived, just before he virtually gave up acting altogether.
- Jim Hemphill