Frank Sinatra and Jill St. John in 1967's "Tony Rome".

Tony Rome July 18, 2015

Frank Sinatra is never the guy most think of when picturing the quintessential private dick, so I suppose we just have to go along with his Philip Marlowe mimicry in Tony Rome, even if he isn’t so quick to sneak in a one-liner and isn’t the usual young guy looking for justice aged quicker due to pessimism and gin.

 

In Tony Rome, Sinatra’s titular portrayal is put to good use as he investigates the bizarre behavior of a millionaire’s daughter (Sue Lyon).  Middle-aged, tired, and living on a houseboat, Rome has lived the life of a detective for decades, only succumbing to the tirelessness of it all in recent years.  He’s an ace at what he does — just don’t expect him to get very involved with his clients.  Because here, he has three: the daughter, who wants his help in solving her many predicaments, her father (Simon Oakland), and his chic wife (Gena Rowlands), who happens to be her distanced stepmother.  Also involved in the story is Ann Archer (Jill St. John), a sultry divorcee with little purpose besides serving as love interest fodder.

 

Set in Miami Beach, Tony Rome has a feeling of boundless sexy heat, Rome’s job always seeming romantically dangerous, as the thugs are always shady characters instead of people and the women are decorations made to disappear as soon as a potential sequel is announced.  The film is nothing more than studio fluff meant to modernize the private detective noir era, with a bona fide star leading the way no less — but it’s enjoyable.  Sinatra suits the role, St. John providing him with a presence at once seductive and self-aware.

 

Tony Rome is much less imaginative than the darkened crime thrillers it so desperately tries to emulate, but it’s agreeable and well acted — a cut above many films of the late-‘60s, which was, no doubt, a shaky era.  So I’m not just glad Nancy Sinatra sings the title tune like the star isn’t her father; I’m also glad Frankie gets to put his blue-eyed appeal to good use.  B