Tony Rome Review

If it doesn’t exactly do anything new with an established genre, Frank Sinatra's first outing as Private Investigator Tony Rome in 1967 at least holds faithful to the traditional template and moral outlook of the classic detective fiction and cinema of the 1930’s and 40’s, and gives Sinatra a leading role that makes good use of his acting abilities and natural charm.

There’s a girl lying drunk and unconscious in a hotel room in Miami and the manager wants rid of her. The girl is his Diana Pines (Sue Lyons), daughter of Rudolph Koserman, a wealthy construction magnate who has reported the girl missing. The hotel would prefer that their name is not brought into the affair so they hire Private Investigator Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra) to take her home. However, the investigator subsequently discovers, courtesy of a couple of hoodlums who make an unfriendly visit to the boat he lives on, that an expensive diamond brooch belonging to Diana has gone missing. What at first seemed like a routine case soon escalates into something bigger – Diana hires Tony to find the pin, her father (Simon Oakland) hires him to keep her out of trouble and her mother Rita, (Gena Rowlands) hires him to not tell the father if he should turn up any trouble that the girl is involved in. When a dead body turns up in his office, the case appears to be about more than a missing piece of jewellery, and there’ll be a few more bodies turning up before the film reaches its conclusion.

Frank Sinatra’s first outing as the Private Investigator Tony Rome is a pretty standard crime investigation, with little more complications than the average Rockford Files plot and all the characters of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. There’s the cynical, womanising PI; the wealthy industrialist with a glamorous, but wayward wife and daughter who need tabs kept on them, there’s the couple of hoodlums who make the PI’s life difficult, constantly trashing his home; there’s the friendly detective in the police force who helps clear up the trail of bodies left behind by our hero; the streetwise informers and the hotel clerks who are always willing to provide information when a few dollar bills are clapped into their hands. It’s all fairly routine, but there’s a lot you can do with such familiar material. Unfortunately though, the plot and characterisation here are pretty thin, the story a little too neat and uncomplicated (a good PI investigation should, in the tradition of The Big Sleep, never make too much sense), but the film moves along purposefully and has other compensations.

The interest in Tony Rome comes not from a complicated plot, fiendish villains or glamorous look at the criminal underground, but from Sinatra’s incarnation of the detective himself, a vehicle for Sinatra’s star power. And Sinatra has it, slipping into a fairly undemanding role with cool facility. Although not totally convincing or youthful enough for such a role, Sinatra slight aging gives him an extra degree of charisma to carry off the world weary cynicism of the character, whose police detective father (we are told over the course of a couple of blatant info-dumps) had a similar unhealthy habit of poking his nose into places that were only going to get him into serious trouble. Most of the film runs on similar contrivances and is lacking in any real originality - Sinatra not being given a lot of running around to do and takes a great deal fewer knocks and bruises than the average screen PI usually picks up. One or two all too infrequent shoot-outs do enliven proceedings considerably and Sinatra cuts a mean pose with his trilby and a gun - but more than criminals knocking on his door, Tony Rome needs to keep his guard up rather more against the scores of women who are all falling over themselves for him. This is something he also unfortunately does a little too well, leaving all the real romantic activities for the newlywed couple in the neighbouring boat, but it fits in well with the character’s cynical outlook.

Although it makes good use of the Miami locations Tony Rome is not quite as racy as it would like to think it is with all its references to hookers, druggies, lesbians and strippers that make up the darker side of the Sunshine State, and the hip dialogue is either very much of its time or just plain embarrassing, particularly one scene in which a lady tries to hire Tony to look for her pussy. Sinatra battles through this gamely however, trading flirtatious quips with Jill St. John as party-girl and serial divorcee Ann Archer, and doing a nice line in barter with a hotel clerk who is as stingy with his information as Tony is with his dollar bills. And from that point of view Tony Rome is not so far removed from the classic Private Investigator films of the 1930’s, retaining a strong moral sensibility not yet corrupted by the bitter cynicism and brutality of the world as in Robert Altman’s 70’s reworking and updating of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. And it’s all the better for that.

Tony Rome is released in the US on a Region 1 encoded DVD by 20th Century Fox. It’s released alongside two other Sinatra Private Investigator film from this period - The Lady In Cement, the sequel to Tony Rome and The Detective.

The lovely 2.35:1 Panavision print is impressively transferred anamorphically to DVD, looking clean, sharp and detailed. The vivid day-glo colours are gorgeous, although faces look a little reddish under this colour process. It looks a little dull in places, although the contrast is generally strong, with nice, clean whites. There are a few barely noticeable specks or dust marks, but it’s mostly free from any significant or even minor damage. There is the occasional flicker in the image, possibly just the aging of the colour tones, but more likely compression artefacts, although these are only really flicker noticeably when the diamond pin is first seen. There is one scene of brightness flare during a scene when Sinatra and St. John talk to the manager of a nightclub. Some minor edge-enhancement is visible and a little bit of blue-edge-bleed. Any issues mentioned here are very minor however, and the overall impression, as the screencaptures should testify, is of a fine, sharp, colourful and striking looking print.

There are two English language audio tracks, both Dolby Digital 2.0, but one of them is supposed to be mono. I couldn’t distinguish any difference between them. Dialogue echoes a little and is on the harsh and indistinct side, with residual background hiss that has been mostly suppressed by noise reduction. Spanish and French mono dubs are also included.

Fox continue their fine policy of including English hard of hearing subtitles on their releases. Spanish subtitles are also included.

There is little in the way of relevant extra features. The Theatrical Trailer (3:04) for Tony Rome plays up all the high points of the film’s action and glamour to Nancy Sinatra’s cheesy title song. Trailers are also included for the sequel, The Lady In Cement, for The Detective and for a number of other films, mostly starring Raquel Welch.

Tony Rome is a fairly standard private investigator film that relies on the charm and star-power of the lead actor to carry it through. Sinatra is more than capable of this and manages as well as the limited, thin plot and uneven scripting allows him to. In spite of those weaknesses and dated references, the film holds up reasonably well, remaining faithful to the pulp roots and moral sensibility of classic private investigator material. Although there is not much in the way of extra features on the DVD, Fox’s fine transfer of the film’s beautiful widescreen cinematography and the low pricing on series, make this an enjoyable outing.

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