Tony Rome (1967) Gordon Douglas

TOnyRome23The private detective film made a comeback in the mid to late 60’s thanks to the Paul Newman starring 1966 film Harper. (There were shades of Bogart and a good story line thanks to the source novel The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald). Other films soon followed (P.J., Marlowe) in its successful path including Tony Rome released the following year.

By 1967, Frank Sinatra’s film career was once again on a slide downward, unlike Newman’s who pretty much ruled the screen in the 1960’s. The original Jersey Boy made three mediocre films in a row (Marriage on the Rocks, Assault on a Queen and The Naked Runner). They were films he walked through and he looked as bored as the films were themselves. With Tony Rome, Sinatra, the actor, found his way back with the kind of smart ass, wise guy loner the public always kind of felt the singer/actor was in real life. Sinatra does look a bit too old for the role, he was 51 and looked even older. Just compare a photo of 51 year old Brad Pitt next to Frank, the difference is obvious. However, that hard, tired face and look surely adds to the aura.sue086TonyRome

So how good, or bad, is Tony Rome? Well, it’s actually neither. It’s somewhere in that hazy middle ground of shades of gray. The film is based on a novel called Miami Mayhem by Marvin H. Albert writing under the name Anthony Rome. Miami-PBOAlbert was a prolific writer of crime and western novels. He also paid his bills by writing novelizations, adapting film scripts into paperback novels such as What’s New Pussycat?, The Pink Panther and Goodbye Charlie among others. Albert’s Tony Rome novels, there were three, were tough tales with Rome a hard loving and hard living anti-hero. Sinatra does well, but if you read the books you can see the glossy shine in the movie. One of the film’s most obvious failures is the wardrobe choices Sinatra’s Rome wears. He looks like he came out of a 1950’s film complete with fedora and “ring-a-ding” repartee he is given to pontificate. What was rat pack hip in the late 1950’s and early 60’s was completely old fashion in the psychedelic world of Purple Haze, Surrealistic Pillows and Sgt. Pepper in the late 60’s. Even worst is the wardrobe he wears when he is on the houseboat where he lives. The Captain’s hat and white slacks are cheesy God awful. Albert’s TonyRome3tough guy Rome would not be caught dead wearing such cutie boy attire. It makes him look like a young kid all dressed up by his mommy in a little sailor outfit.

That said, Sinatra handles himself well. He is convincing as the street wise loner. The plot is a bit convoluted, but then what P.I. film isn’t? Rome is asked by his ex-partner to help get a rich, drunk teen out of a Miami hotel without being seen and keeping the hotel’s name out of it. The girl is Diana Pines (Sue Lyons) daughter of rich developer Rudy Kosterman (Simon Oakland). Sounds like an easy job and a quick two hundred bucks for Rome. But it’s never that easy. Dead bodies begin to show up including Rome’s ex-partner’s which brings the police in and on Rome’s tail. Lastly, there are the dames including one bikini clad Jill St. John.

The film is lightweight. There’s no deep probing into the meaning of life or Rome questioning of his own sense of morality. Nor are there the rain soaked darky lit streets many norish shamus roam. The film’s setting here is Miami and it’s all sunshine and heat.

Sinatra is good with the wisecracks; they come quickly, and often. Studio director Gordon Douglas, who directed Frank previously in Robin and the Seven Hoods, and would direct him in two more films (The Detective and Lady in Cement), does a solid if unexceptional job. As a director, Douglas lacked a visual style but he keeps the film moving at a nice pace with plenty of tightly edited shots.

With actors like Richard Conte (Conte appeared with Sinatra in four films beginning in 1960 with Ocean’s 11, followed by Assault on a Queen, Tony Rome and Lady in Cement), one time girl friend Jill St. John, former middleweight/welterweight champion boxer Rocky Graziano, and most obviously daughter Nancy Sinatra singing the title song, the film is a bit of a family affair. Also in the cast is the always superb Gena Rowlands and the previously mentioned Sue Lyons.

Though the critics’ reviews were mixed at the time the film was released, Tony Rome was a large enough success for Twentieth Century Fox to produce a sequel with Sinatra recreating his role in the 1968 film Lady in Cement. The detective genre fit Frank’s persona so well he made four more films where he portrayed a P.I. or a cop. In addition to Lady in Cement there was The Detective, The First Deadly Sin and the TV movie, Contract on Cherry Street. Additionally, he appeared as a guest star on the TV series Magnum where he played a retired police sergeant.

Click on the link below for the upcoming entries in The Build Your Own Blogathon as well those previously posted.


18 comments on “Tony Rome (1967) Gordon Douglas

  1. Rick says:

    John, I’d love to see TONY ROME again. it’s been several years since I last viewed it and its sequel. I adore the easygoing action crime pics of the late 1960s and 1970s. Plus, with Jill St. John, the fabulous Gena Rowlands, and Sue Lyon, how could one go wrong? While no classic, it’s superior to the “serious” Sinatra film THE DETECTIVE. Love your comment about Frank’s unusual wardrobe.


  2. John Greco says:

    Rick, I agree, THE DETECTIVE was a disappointing film. When I saw it, way back in the 60’s, I wanted to like it a lot, for no other reason than I had a thing for the late Lee Remick who I always thought was a classic lady.


  3. le0pard13 says:

    Yeah, Sinatra worked well in this genre. Quite convincing as the “…smart ass, wise guy loner” this kinda demands. Nice look back, John.


  4. david hartzog says:

    Great post on one of my favorites. I thought Frank’s clothes and attitude represented his need to hang on to values and ideas that were fast disappearing in the 60s. I think the same holds true for George Peppard, Craig Stevens, James Garner, Bob Culp and Bill Cosby, and Elliott Gould in their p.i. films, complete with black suits.


    • John Greco says:

      You may be right David. While I enjoyed the film overall, it has and had, even then, a dated feel to it. I liked Garner as Marlowe and the Altman/Gould version takes a revisionist look at the Chandler anti-hero which I remember liking way back in the 70’s. Have not seen it since though I recently recorded on my DVR and want to see it again and refresh my memory after all these years.


  5. The Lady Eve says:

    This is one of those movies I’ll watch every so often when it happens to pop up on TV (I do the same when “The Detective” cycles through). I like Sinatra in detective roles (though didn’t care for “1st Deadly Sin”), I guess. I prefer “The Detective,” mostly because of the story line involving Sinatra and Lee Remick.

    I only wish Gena Rowlands (who was, in her youth, as gorgeous as Remick) had done more mainstream films if only so that her fine talent had reached a larger audience.

    Great pick for BYOB, John. I didn’t known who Gordon Douglas was till now, by the way.


    • John Greco says:

      I have not seen “The First Deadly Sin” but Sinatra is good when he plays a cop or detective. I agree about Rowlands. She was as gorgeous as Remick and a fantastic actress! Both were excellent.

      Gordon Douglas was pretty much a studio director who made some decent films (his best IMHO was “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye) but he never achieved anything near greatness. He began his career making a series of Little Rascal shorts.


  6. Oh gosh, I remember when this film came out and, being a young teen, I was like “Sinatra – that old guy?” I do recall how his ring-a-ding-ding style was so passee by then, but you gotta give it the guy – he hung in there! I also recall how really gam Jill St. John was – and how all those Ring-a-ding-ding guys drooled over her. Thanks for the memories, John!


    • John Greco says:

      Marsha, in my youth I would never admit to liking Sinatra’s music, too busy listening to the Stones, Hendrix, CCR, etc, but I finally had to admit it. His passion always came through in his songs. St. John was amazingly beautiful! Thanks!


  7. I liked your comments about the director maybe not having visual flair, but knew how to keep the story moving. I sometimes get frustrated with movies from this era because some directors are all “Look at my daring camera angles” which detracts from the story.

    This is the second review I’ve read about “Tony Rome” in the past couple of months and both have praised Sinatra’s performance. I like Sinatra as an actor, so this is one I must see. Thanks!


  8. John Greco says:

    Tony Rome is not a great film, but it is enjoyable in a light sort of way. Sinatra fits his part (except for his age which I mentioned). At this point in his career he was coasting as an actor and the films he made reflect it.


  9. I don’t believe I’ve ever sat down and watched this movie. I’ve had it on in the background while I got other things done, but actually pour myself an iced tea and put my feet up – hasn’t happened. Maybe I should do that one of these days. Maybe not. Maybe it’s better “my way”.


    • John Greco says:

      Patricia, it is the kind of film you can keep in the background while doing other stuff and feel like you are not missing much. Light weight entertainment.


  10. Ha! I just rewatched this recently, and it was a total hoot. This was my first of Sinatra’s turn as a detective—I feel like I’ll have to check out the others now!


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