Lady In Cement (1968 USA)

Warning: for the hip-hop/MTV crowd of today – this flick is probably one for you to avoid. It does not contain CGI effects, mindless dance music, jumpy editing, eye-blinding SFX or even a politically correct message thrown in. Good, now that’s out of the way, what do we have here? We’ve got the pride of Italian Americana – ole Blue Eyes himself…we’ve got a Jewish lady with a sumptuous cleavage that puts Raquel Welch to shame… we’ve got very bad 1960s hair days… we’ve even got Hoss Cartwright himself, Dan Blocker… Oh, and we also have the aforementioned Raquel Welch…our basket might be overladen with goodies! Or is it?

While playing tag with a pair of sharks, Frank Sinatra (as Tony Rome) discovers the body of a woman with cement overshoes at the bottom of the ocean. He knows its obvious someone does not want this body to be discovered. Which begins the tale of Sinatra’s second Tony Rome film – Lady In Cement. Tony Rome is still living the good life on his boat and betting whatever he does earn on horses. He still has a good “in” with the Miami Police in the person of Richard Conte as Lieutenant Santini, but the “in” only goes so far as we see Sinatra is framed for a murder and Conte has to go after his good friend. In a long chase sequence toward the end of the film Frank does get the better of Conte and half the Miami PD.

In order to appreciate Lady In Cement and Tony Rome you have to really dig Sinatra’s whole hipster, Rat Pack shtick from this era. If you don’t then both films will leave you cold.  Plot details hardly matter as the whole thing is little more than a vehicle for Frank Sinatra to show his supposed coolness. Other than a handful of really seedy looking locations, it’s a harmless enough way to spend an hour and a half. The Lady in Cement is a veritable course on social anthropology of the late 60’s. The writing, not the acting, is at center stage. This is pure camp! Prepare to be offended if you are female or gay. Broad and dame are standard terms. The gay baiting and bashing are represented for what they were: everyday behaviour in 1968.

One major problem is the film is trying to be a tense detective story and a whimsical comedy at the same time. People get killed and Rome often finds himself in tough situations but then that damn swinging music plays and the story turns into lightweight fluff. Gordon Douglas, a director with little style, simply lets the film proceed, with little or no thought to plot or pictorial continuity. The exterior colour photography embraces everything from the livid clarity of a picture-postcard to the washed-out look of a home movie. The film still has more of the feel of Miami Beach, where people sunbathe and sweat by platoons than any other. In one scene a woman wearing only a strategically placed scarf begs a man painting her to let her use the toilet. After pleading several more times, Sinatra finally tells her to go. That’s classy.

(Here is a brief flash of the ‘sumptuous cleavage’ I mentioned in the opening paragraph.)

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