On a dive looking for a one of the eleven fabled Spanish galleons sunk off the Miami coast in 1591, Private Investigator Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra) discovers a dead blonde at the bottom of the ocean, her feet encased in cement. Soon after, a big lummox named Waldo Gronsky hires Rome to find a missing dame, Sandra Lomax. He’s got no dough, but he lets the P.I. hock items of personal jewellery to retain his services, and as Tony’s got a bookmaker to keep in a lifestyle he is accustomed to, he accepts. He does a bit of questioning, steps on a few toes and knocks a few noses out of joint, among them starlet Kit Forrester (Raquel Welch) whose party Sandra was last supposed to have attended, and “reformed” racketeer Al Munger (Martin Gabel), who is looking after Kit’s interests. Wading not so carefully through the seedy backgrounds of these characters, Tony thinks he might have a connection between them and the lady in cement at the bottom of the ocean.
Despite the interesting characters and typical private detective plotline, Lady In Cement doesn’t exactly motor along and hardly lives up to its trailer billing as The Action Movie of the Year, but that said it ambles along nicely from situation to situation (i.e. from strip joint to go-go girl bar to massage parlour), with a nice line in snappy dialogue to move it along. And like all the best private detective stories, its the smooth patter can either fit everything into place, blind you to the deficiencies in the plot, or just simply be the entire raison d’ętre of the work. With Lady In Cement, it’s a case of a bit of all of the above. Sinatra, already showing himself effective in this role in the prequel Tony Rome, really finds his feet with the character here, relishing the dialogue, practically every line of which is a wisecrack of one sort or another, although usually at the expense of semi-naked broads and camp, colourful queens.
With the kitsch settings of the colourful strip joints and the likes of an illegal gambling den in a funeral parlour, some knowing dialogue, camp characters (Welch’s big hair almost overshadows the film) and cartoonish humour, the film has its tongue firmly in its cheek. At times however, such as when Gronsky is found sitting in Mabel’s Massage Parlour watching Bonanza on TV (in which the actor Blocker plays “Hoss”), the film threatens to teeter on the brink of self-referential parody, but Sinatra’s presence and grip on the dry cynicism of his character keeps the film grounded. Blocker as well, for all the cartoonishness of his character, fits well into the Moose Malloy type role as not-so-harmless lummox, Gronsky. All the dry sardonic wit and caricature doesn’t so much poke fun at the private detective genre as fit perfectly within its framework and Lady In Cement gets the job done.
Lady In Cement 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 - Tony Rome, the prequel to Lady In Cement and The Detective.
The transfer on Lady In Cement is every bit as good as the excellent transfer on Tony Rome. The 2.35:1 Panavision print is transferred anamorphically and looks clean, sharp and detailed. Colours are warm and vivid, although faces look a little reddish under the DeLuxe colour processing. I noticed less of the specks or dust marks that were rare enough on the Tony Rome DVD, but the image here could be just a little bit softer. There is the occasional flicker in the image, more noticeable in the second half of the film, either through compression artefacts or degradation of the print, but it’s not a serious issue. Some minor edge-enhancement is visible and a little bit of blue-edge-bleed, but the overall transfer is impressively bright, clear, colourful and free of any damage.
There are two English language audio tracks, both Dolby Digital 2.0. One of them contains a mono version of the soundtrack, while the stereo mix makes a little more of Hugo Montenegro’s swinging jazz soundtrack, but little other difference. The audio is generally quite clear and I didn’t notice any real problems other than some indistinct lines of dialogue. 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 (3:07) does its best to make the film look sexy and exciting and it generally succeeds. The Spanish Trailer is almost exactly the same only with Spanish subtitles. An additional TV Spot (0:56) and a TV Spot Cut Down (0:18) are also included. All trailers show an alarmingly zoomed pan and scan of the film. Incidentally, there are a few close-up shots of Raquel Welch coming out of the pool in her bathing costume, so these might be worth looking at. Most of the other trailers are for other Raquel Welch releases on Fox DVD.
There’s not too much action, there’s few shoot-out and a lot less dead bodies littering the set than you might expect for this type of film and the plot is not particularly complicated, but with another fine performance from Sinatra as private detective Tony Rome and a consistently witty script, Lady In Cement gets the balance right and just about avoids slipping over the edge into parody. Fox have produced another nice clear colourful transfer for the film on DVD, much better than could reasonably be expected, and although lacking any substantial extra features, this is a good value budget release.