Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Lady in Cement (1968)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Frank Sinatra returns as detective Tony Rome in this sequel to the eponymous 1967 hit film. This time around, while on a diving expedition off the coast of Florida, he finds a naked woman underwater with her feet literally encased in cement. He then meets a very large and mysterious man by the name of Gronski (Dan Blocker) who hires him to find the girl’s killer, but he is not so sure that Gronski himself doesn’t have something to do with the crime.

One of the things I really liked about this film, as well as the first one, is the very cynical, world-weary, streetwise nature of the detective character. It seems to be a part that Sinatra was born to play and he does it well. I don’t think it is too far off from Sinatra’s real personality, which is why it works. I loved the cryptic dialogue and snappy one-liners. The banter is fun and intoxicating. It was the best thing about the first film and that’s still the case in this one. If anything it is the one thing that really carries the movie.

On the other hand, the case itself is dull. In the first film, the mystery was more intriguing and complex. Here it seems mechanical and uninspired. It gets played out in a formulaic way with the standard suspects that seem borrowed from other, better stories. The twists and turns aren’t exciting or surprising. The movie seems more concerned with being amusing and filled with hip banter and at times the case seems almost forgotten and the story does not move forward. Yes, the bickering is fun, but there still needs to be a plot to match it and that was not the case here. The suspense is lacking with a final denouement that is nothing special. The climatic fight sequence is particularly clichéd and forced.

The opening bit where Tony finds the dead woman underwater is poor as well. It happens right away with no build-up even though I felt that was needed. I would think if a dead person had been trapped underwater for any period of time there would be some discoloration and decay. Instead the woman looks gorgeous, wearing a provocative expression one would find on an erotic model. Her skin is completely unblemished and she even still has her lipstick and make-up on, which was unrealistic and pretty much ruins the story’s validity before it even gets going.

The presence of actor Dan Blocker is a major asset and helps the film’s appeal. Blocker was probably better known for playing the character Hoss in the hit TV series Bonanza. He was a very large man and the fight sequences that he is in are amusing because he can simply throw the other men around like they are toys and seems unstoppable in the process. Like in the TV series he exudes a lot of charm and is very engaging. There is even a brief in-joke where he is sitting in his room watching an episode of Bonanza. He and Sinatra make an unlikely, but interesting pair although when shown together he does make Frankie look rather puny, out of shape, and even a bit washed-up by comparison.

One of the biggest issues I had with the first film was that there were a lot of loopholes. Particularly one scene where Tony kills a man and then he glibly tells the police that it was “clearly self-defense” and he is never arrested or even brought in for questioning. That just didn’t jibe with me as there are many cases where a person kills someone in self-defense, but the case still ends up being brought to trial. Tony is very good friends with the police chief (Richard Conte), but I still didn’t think that would make him untouchable. At least here when Tony gets framed for a murder the police tell him they are going to have to take him in, which seems more plausible. This culminates in an extended car chase sequence, which due to the long edits, slow speeds, bird’s eye view camera shots, and laid-back music make it one of the least riveting and most uninteresting car chases you’ll ever see.

The production values are high and I have no real complaint from the technical standpoint. Everything is slickly handled despite the weak story. There are some strong homophobic undertones, which may offend some, but I felt it fit the era. If you like Sinatra then you will find this passable, but if you enjoy a good mystery then don’t bother because in that area this movie falls flat.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

**********

Last Time on Rewind: The Landlord (1970)
Coming Up Next: Eating Raoul (1982)

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s