Lady in Cement (1968)

 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tony solves the case.

Frank Sinatra returns as detective Tony Rome in this sequel to the 1967 hit. Here, while going on a diving expedition off the coast of Florida, he finds a naked woman underwater with her feet encased in cement.  He then meets a 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 may have something to do with it.

            One of the things I really liked about the film as well as in 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 was 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 continues to be the case in this one. If anything it is the one thing that really carries it.

            The mystery itself is dull.  In the first film the case 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 is more concerned with being amusing and filled with hip banter making the case itself seem like a side-light and not allowing the story to 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 denouncement 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 one 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 unblemished and she even still has her lipstick and make-up on, which I thought 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’. 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 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 brought in for questioning, or arrested. 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 into 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 on it from a technical stand point.  Everything is slickly handled despite a 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 thing falls flat.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Director: Gordon Douglas

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

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