Welcome to post-Production Code cinema, Frank Sinatra, where nudity, violence, homosexuals and strippers abound. That is essentially what I though when watching 1968′s Lady in Cement in which Sinatra as a private eye gets to search for the killer of a naked woman he found at the bottom of the ocean, her feet in cement. He trolls through a bar run by a gay man where scantily clad but mostly dressed women shake their stuff, meets up with an undercover detective dressed in drag at an actual strip show, and gets to make out with a woman far too young for him.
The movie was released to New York audiences a mere 20 days after the new Motion Picture Association of America rating system was instituted on Nov. 1, 1968, but the Production Code the new ratings replaced had essentially crumbled by that point with many films being released without the MPAA seal of approval before that year.
Sinatra playing Tony Rome follows up on 1967′s flick Tony Rome in which he plays the same character investigating the murder of a wealthy girl. In Lady in Cement he works with the help of a police detective to unravel a complex mystery in which the murders pile up. Rome is summoned to the boat house of a young woman where he is instead greeted by a large man with a gun –Gronsky (Dan Blocker)– who hires him to seek out a missing blonde who might be the same dame as the dead one in the water. Going to the gal’s place of work –that go-go dancing joint– Rome meets the girl’s roommate Maria (Lainie Kazan) who herself next ends up dead with Gronsky seen fleeing the scene.
The information Rome does have points to a party held at the home of a young, wealthy socialite Kit Forrest, played by Raquel Welch in all her bathing-suited glory. Kit says she was too drunk to remember what happened at the party — the place the blonde was last seen. Her neighbor, gangster Al Munger (Martin Gabel), also warns Rome to stay away, but Rome has the hots for Kit, so that won’t be happening. The owner of the go-go joint is the next body on the pile and Rome is looking like the murderer. Fleeing from his police buddy he eventually lands at Kit’s and she reveals that she woke from a drunken stupor with the original girl’s body on her floor. Rome smells a frame up, however, and keeps digging.
Sinatra was 53 when Lady in Cement was released and he was looking his age. I am the last person to denounce the Sinatra allure, but no longer the dashing young thing he used to be, he plays a mature detective well but teeters on the edge of sex appeal. Exacerbating his age, however, is 28-year-old Welch who is utterly unbelievable in her attraction to Rome. Granted, Sinatra had just divorced this same year from 23-year-old Mia Farrow, but I think we all are confused about why the 30-year difference there did not stop their union (she was three years older than Sinatra’s youngest child).
Besides our lead male and female, the cast is essentially unnotable. No one gives a particularly stunning performance, and although the mystery is plenty complex, it is not superbly executed. Several inside jokes are contained within the movie, however. A car with a bumper advertisement for Dean Martin Restaurant & Lounge is seen, a ”You Make Me Feel So Young” instrumental is played in one scene, and Sinatra’s ex-wife Ava Gardner is alluded to when Rome mentions knowing a girl who used to date bullfighters.