Tony Rome (1967)
Starring Frank Sinatra, Jill St. John, Richard Conte, Sue Lyon, Simon Oakland, Gena Rowlands, Jeanne Cooper, Shecky Greene, Rocky Graziano, Joan Shawlee, Joe E. Ross, Jilly Rizzo, Michael Romanoff, Tiffany Bolling and Deanna Lund. Directed by Gordon Douglas. From 20th Century-Fox.
Tony Rome (Sinatra) is living the life. The former cop is now a private investigator and lives on his boat, the Straight Pass, in Miami. He’s a betting man and his infrequent paydays are barely keeping him afloat. Hanging out at the gym watching the fights one day, Tony gets a call from his old partner, a real rat named Ralph Turpin (Robert J. Wilke). Ralph’s in a jam and needs Tony’s help. Tony cruises in his convertible 1961 Ford Galaxie Sunliner to the Corsair Hotel where Ralph is the house dick. Seems a beauty has checked in and promptly passed out, dead drunk. There’s a missing persons report out for this girl who’s name is Diana Pines (Lyon) and her father, construction czar Rudolph Kosterman (Oakland) is a heavy hitter in the state. Tony agrees to take Diana home so that the hotel is not implicated.
Home is the huge Kosterman estate and there Rudy questions Tony about Diana’s condition. Tony truthfully says he knows nothing about her as Rudy’s second wife, Rita (Rowlands), takes Diana to bed and family friend, Ann Archer (St. John), asks Tony for a lift back to her hotel, The Fontainebleau. After some banter with Ann, Tony heads back to the Straight Pass only to be met by a couple of hoods looking for a diamond pin. Again, Tony confesses his ignorance and gets slipped a mickey while the hoods search his boat.
Next morning, Diana shows up at Tony’s looking for her pin. “Everybody needs a pin!”, Tony exclaims incredulously. He says he knows nothing about it but will look for it for 10% of its value. Tony assumes Turpin took the pin when Diana was stoned at the Corsair and he goes to see him. There, Rome runs into another pair of hoods, gives chase but loses them. Later, Turpin winds up dead in Rome’s office, Diana’s pin is discovered to have had the real stones replaced with phonies and Tony tries to stay one step ahead of his good buddy, Lt. Dave Santini (Conte), a cop who likes Tony for Turpin’s slaying.
Tony follows Diana to the home of her real mother (Cooper), a hopeless drunk, and work keeps getting in the way of him starting a romance with Ann. Tony runs into shady jewellers, strippers, drug addicts and pushers and tries to unravel why Rita needs so much money – and doesn’t want her husband to know.
Here’s an excellent, warm weather movie from Frank Sinatra, who puts in a unique portrayal in a film that stands out somewhat in his filmography. There are films that use the beach or a tropical locale as part of the plot and part of the themes present in the story – take beach party movies, for example. Others simply take place some place warm – think the original Hawaii Five-O TV series – and these I love to watch in the spring. Tony Rome takes place in Miami Beach and the movie is fun to watch even just for the practical locations and because I find it enjoyable to watch people live their lives in a sunny place by the water.
Our story originates with novelist Marvin H. Albert (1924-1996), yet another player in the Vintage Leisure universe to hail from Philly. I find in Albert a kindred spirit of sorts as he wrote in a variety of genres under a variety of pseudonyms, much like the variety you get here at SoulRide. Albert was perhaps most prolific as a writer of westerns; four of his western novels were made into films. Four other westerns he wrote under the name Al Conroy, one of which was filmed as Rough Night in Jericho (1967), the only film in which Dean Martin plays the villain. Interesting to note that in Quentin Tarantino’s novel version of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, western actor Rick Dalton is reading a fictional western book on the set of the Lancer pilot, as he is in the film. In the novel version, QT notes that the book is written by Marvin Albert.
Marvin Albert also wrote detective fiction, mafia fiction and the Stone Angel series featuring his character Pete Sawyer. That ain’t all; Albert also had a day job of sorts novelizing films – a couple dozen over 30 years – and even wrote books about Henry VIII and Ernest Shackleton. Marvin Albert also wrote three books featuring private detective Tony Rome, books that Albert wrote using the pen name Anthony Rome. The film Tony Rome was based on the first, Miami Mayhem (1960), a book I’m pleased to own. There followed Lady in Cement, filmed starring Francis under the same name and the character wrapped in 1962 with My Kind of Game.
Our screenwriter Richard L. Breen brings up a few interesting points. The first is that he had won an Oscar for his script for 1953’s Titanic. Secondly, Breen scripted the 1966 film A Man Could Get Killed, a film who’s soundtrack is the origin of “Strangers in the Night”. Thirdly, Richard Breen passed away at the young age of 48 on February 1, 1967; 9 months before Tony Rome debuted in theatres.
I’m thrilled to get another chance to talk about director Gordon Douglas, quickly becoming my favourite director. Douglas – one of only two men to direct both Sinatra and Presley – has directed some of my favourite movies from The Falcon in Hollywood in ’44 to Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off from 1973. Gordon directed Francis in all of Frank’s neo-noir detective films from this time; Tony Rome, it’s sequel, Lady in Cement and The Detective, the film in which Frank plays Joe Leland, a character who showed up in another work that was eventually made into the film Die Hard. See? There really are 8,000 stories in the Vintage Leisure universe.
One of the best things about this Frank Sinatra movie is Frank Sinatra. We all love Frank in his movies because he is generally Frank in his movies; he will often play himself in his films. But his characterization of Anthony Rome is a little different. Rome is a man devoted to gambling. He even tells Ann Archer early on that the reason he’s not married is that he loves to gamble “and that wouldn’t be a nice life for a lady”. Also he lives on a boat and he likes it. He has a lifestyle and it leaves no room for a woman. Cute, too, that by the end of the film, Ann gets it. She says there’s no future for them because Tony is liable to lose her in a card game one day.
So, Rome, then, is a swinger with a string of girls? You’d think so but the cool thing here is that Rome is no ladykiller. He makes jokes about how he is so engrossed in this Kosterman business that he has had to turn down offers for dalliances. It is played as something of a joke that he is not fooling around with the ladies. This is a refreshing change from Sinatra the Lover that we see so often. There is one fair-sized kiss with Ann – accompanied by an overly-romantic, swelling orchestra – but that’s it.
And Frank looks great in this era. As Rome, he wears sharp but basic suits, a great fedora and, when he’s on his boat, a captain’s hat and mock turtleneck. He plays Tony gently comically and with just enough world-weariness. But he’s having fun with his life and its fun for the viewer to watch him navigate. He’s not without scruples and is dedicated to helping his clients. He’s created a charming character here. While this film is considered a neo-noir, Tony Rome is not desolate nor are his circumstances desperate. If anything, you’d love to have his life. I know I would.
Jill St. John was still something of a minor actress when she made Tony Rome with Frank; with whom she had appeared some years earlier in Come Blow Your Horn (1963). She had played a moll of the Riddler’s on television’s Batman and was soon to gain much and lasting visibility with her portrayal of Tiffany Case in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the last go-’round for Connery. If you look at her credits, she really didn’t do much and perhaps is much better known today for the Bond film, her outrageous figure and for marrying Robert Wagner in 1990 (she had been briefly married to my man Jack Jones in the late Sixties). Interesting to note that, as a child, Jill was part of the Children’s Ballet Company and her little classmates included Natalie Wood and Stefanie Powers, two other women with connections to RJ. Jill is given some pretty lame lines to deliver as Ann Archer and I think this neuters any chance of real fire between her and Tony. I don’t feel like the viewer ever thinks they’re going to get together. She seems more like a libidinous partner for Tony to flirt with. After all, they’re never on an actual date. Ann begins to joke that any place Tony takes her he does so as part of the case.
Richard Conte – the boys called him “Nick” – gets points in most of our books because he was part of Danny Ocean’s crew. Not only that, but he would go on to feature in The Godfather as Don Barzini. Add in his appearances in films noir and Conte had a notable career. Discovered by Elia Kazan and John Garfield, Nick started on the stage before going to Hollywood where he was seen in war films like Guadalcanal Diary (1943) and A Walk in the Sun (1945). He then became a familiar face in a string of notable noir films, Cry of the City (1948), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Highway Dragnet (1954) and The Big Combo (1955) among them. After Ocean’s 11 (1960), he again joined Frank in Assault on a Queen (1966) and would reprise his role as Santini in the Tony Rome sequel, Lady in Cement. Richard Conte spent the 1970s playing Mafia-types. He was still working when he suffered a massive heart attack and died in 1975, aged 65.
One of my favourite actresses, little Sue Lyon was 20 when she made our film. Susie had entered the movie biz with a splash with her portrayal of Dolores “Lolita” Haze in Kubrick’s Lolita, a film in which she played the 14-year-old that so captivated James Mason. Afterwards she played a similar role opposite Richard Burton in Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana. She then was cast in John Ford’s odd yet compelling 7 Women before, in 1967, she appeared in The Flim-Flam Man. As Diana Pines in Tony Rome, Sue doesn’t really have much to do but her unique beauty and effervescence is displayed nicely.
Sue Lyon deserves her own post. She would go on to appear in not one single thing of any note but her personal life proved controversial. She was married five times. The first was to Hampton Fancher, a small-time actor (I caught him guest starring on Adam-12) who’s biggest claim to fame is writing the screenplay for Blade Runner (1982). She received death threats for marrying her second husband, African-American football coach and photographer, Roland Harrison. From this union came Sue’s only child, daughter, Nona.
Months after divorcing Harrison, she married Cotton Adamson who was at the time in Colorado State Prison; they divorced when he promptly returned to his life of crime after his release. Edward Weathers lasted 10 months as husband number 4. Sue Lyon spent a total of 42 months married to these four men. She may have found something resembling the real thing with her fifth husband, radio engineer Richard Rudman. They were married from 1985 until 2002. Little Susie Lyon passed away in 2019 in Los Angeles. She was 73.
Simon Oakland is one of those actors you’ve seen in any number of things. Previously a concert violinist, Oakland amassed upwards of 160 screen credits. I’ve seen him often in Follow That Dream, the Elvis Presley film that was directed by Tony Rome‘s director, Gordon Douglas. I also know him as the psychiatrist at the end of Psycho (1960) and from Bullitt (1968). Oakland does really well in our film, portraying self-made Rudy Kosterman with the right amount of power and domination of will. Rudy is a realist and speaks plainly with Tony – both men are of the street – and he also delivers the many good lines he’s given quite well. Dig when Tony asks Rudy if his son-in-law plays around; “He can barely farm his own land”. What was his son-in-law when his daughter met him? “An assistant tennis pro. He wasn’t even the pro. An assistant.”. Oakland is sneaky good and makes Kosterman’s character really shine through.
By 1967, Gena Rowlands had scores of TV credits under her belt and had made two of the ten films she would make with her husband, filmmaker John Cassavetes. Working with John, Gena earned two Oscar nominations and has also appeared in four films directed by her son, Nick Cassavetes (including 2004’s The Notebook) and one by her daughter, Zoe Cassavetes. You can add these notable films to her CV; Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Night on Earth (1991) and Hope Floats (1998) with Harry Connick.
Worth noting that Jeanne Cooper has a small role in our film. Cooper was married to Harry Bernsen who produced my favourite blaxploitation film, 1974’s Three the Hard Way. That film featured the couple’s son, Corbin Bernsen, in a small role. Cooper spent years playing Katherine Chancellor on The Young and the Restless. My wife saw her once in a casino in Gulfport, Mississippi playing the slots. Comedian Shecky Greene has fun playing the humorously-named small-time hood Catleg and Francis put the champ Rocky Graziano in this film as a down-and-out ex-pug who sells ties out of a suitcase. The Champ sells his ties outside a restaurant that employs Michael Romanoff as the maitre d’. The Hollywood con man and restauranteur is also credited as Assistant to the Producer. Is this another case of Francis throwing an old crony a bone and getting him some work?
Joan Shawlee worked the switchboard in The Apartment (1960 – “Thursday?! That’s The Untouchables with Bob Stack!”) and appeared in one of King’s better films Live a Little, Love a Little (1968). If you look closely you can spot her in From Here to Eternity (1953), A Star is Born (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959), AIP’s The Wild Angels (1966) and her final film, the excellent period comedy starring Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds and Richard Roundtree, City Heat (1984). Tony Rome makes like a hophead in his scene with Joan; “Yeah, crazy, baby!” Bug-eyed Joe E. Ross (Car 54, Where Are You?) has two minutes as a pop-eyed bartender and Jilly Rizzo takes money from Tony at the gym at the beginning of the film.
OK, settle in and dig this. Tiffany Bolling. 18-year-old Miss Bolling plays the photographer at the Flora Dora Club, who gets belted by the owner. Sinatra – 51 at the time – dated Tiffany for awhile until she actually broke it off when she fell in love with an out-of-work actor her own age. Bolling later said she regretted severing ties with the Chairman as he could have done much for her career. Tiffany made a go of it, though, appearing in a little over a dozen films (Kingdom of the Spiders with Bill Shatner?) and released an LP that would be amazing to find. Released in 1970 on Canyon Records, Tiffany is surprisingly filled with original songs – after the opener “Let It Be”. Tiffany surrounded herself with unknown writers and producers of her own choosing as opposed to hired guns. The album spiralled off into obscurity and dishy Tiffany spent the Seventies making racy B movies.
Gorgeous Deanna Lund plays lesbian stripper Georgia McKay. Lund is actually quite compelling in her one scene. She provides Tony with much needed information while she wearily undresses after a long night of work. Being a stripper, she thinks nothing of disrobing in front of him. Lund manages to come across as flint-hard and cynical in a minimum of screen time. She was so embarrassed by her performance though that she asked for her name to be removed from the credits. The character of Georgia McKay may be the most noir element of this neo-noir. She also appears as the bather with the rear end that Tony admires during the opening credits. Lund grew up partly in Daytona Beach and dropped out of Rollins College to get hitched. She can be seen in the Presley movies Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) and Spinout (1966) but she became popular through her role on television’s Land of the Giants (1968-1970). That’s her supine on the bed in many of the posters for Tony Rome. Lund passed in 2018. She was 81.
The title track is nothing less than one of Nancy Sinatra’s finest recordings. Written by her producer Lee Hazlewood, “Tony Rome” signals the beginning of the film with a nice pulsating marimba sound and on-screen we see Francis on his boat on Biscayne Bay. The lyrics may be a little lame but it’s a great tune. Billy May provides the incidental music and co-writes two songs with Randy Newman. “Something Here Inside Me” is the theme for Tony’s newlywed neighbours. Poor Malcolm. All hours of the day and night, Malcolm’s young bride calls him back to bed and this little bit of innuendo plays; “Something here inside me, something warm and real…”. Tony can’t believe it. He’s a swingin’ bachelor but he’s suffering through a celibate phase. In a comical moment, Malcolm is finally able to stagger out on deck. Tony greets him, saying it’s nice to see him up and around. Malcolm can’t stay to chat though as the missus calls yet again.
The real charm of Tony Rome may lie in the wonderful location shoot. My regular readers know that I love it when a movie or a song will “take me somewhere” and this film does that in spades. Beautiful Miami Beach circa 1967 is on display here. The scenery and the buildings are spectacular and it plays like a tour of the area and the era. Speaking of tours, let’s take one now.
The exterior of the Kosterman mansion is actually the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the former estate of businessman John Deering. Located at 3251 S. Miami Ave., it is now owned by Miami-Dade County and is open to the public. You gotta see the pool. Frank Sinatra was performing at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami while he was shooting Tony Rome. The legendary Miami landmark located on Collins Ave. has played host to many stars and has been seen in many films, one of the most notable being 1963’s Goldfinger. Somewhat less glamourously, we see Nick Conte briefly outside Mount Sinai Medical Center, located at 4300 Alton Road. Muhammad Ali welcomed a daughter into the world at the facility and Maurice Gibb, Vic Damone and Nelson Eddy all sadly breathed their last at Mount Sinai.
When the case takes Tony down to the Florida Keys we see some great footage of Marathon, a city spread over several islands in the middle of the Florida Keys. This is personally pleasing to me as I once spent part of a holiday in Marathon. We get a great aerial shot of the Vaca Cut Hotel. I believe it no longer exists as we see it in the film.
Ocean Drive features in Tony Rome as we see both the beach parking lot at 1 Ocean Drive, assumedly where Tony parks his Sunliner to get to his boat or perhaps the lot he drives through at the beginning of the film. This is now the location of Nikki Beach Miami, one of an international chain of luxury beach clubs founded by entrepreneur Jack Penrod and named after his daughter who was killed in a wreck. And we also see the fabulous Corsair Hotel which could once upon a time be found at 101 Ocean. Today it looks to be the Hilton Bentley where a room can be had for $500 USD a night but apparently guests are warned that they could be kept up all night by the noise coming from Nikki Beach. This little piece of info serves to confirm that much of Tony Rome‘s street scenes were shot in this tight little area though much has changed over the years.
At the beginning of the film, Tony is hanging out at the 5th Street Gym watching the fights with Jilly. Angelo Dundee was the original trainer there and his work at the gym with Muhammad Ali made the place world famous. Many celebs would stop by the gym that is still in operation today. Scenes were also shot at the famous Wreck Bar in the Castaways Hotel. The Castaways was a resort complex that opened in 1958 with an Asian-Polynesian theme. Sadly, it was demolished in 1981 to make way for some condos; much nicer than the cool Castaways, I’m sure. And Dave Santini’s house is to die. Homes on the north side of Keystone Blvd. back onto Little Arch Creek. We get a glimpse of the street as Tony walks into the yard and greets Dave’s family. Then Gordon Douglas decides to shoot from a low angle affording us a great view of the Santini back room (often referred to as a “Florida room”) and it’s lovely louvred windows. Dave pushes an old school manual lawn mower with a bag attached. When he and Tony enjoy a beer at the patio table, we get a great impression of the view from Dave’s back yard; the waterway and the charming neighbouring homes.
There are a couple of other outdoor scenes I really enjoy. Tony waits outside in the middle of the night at the Star Crest trailer park for Georgia McKay to get home. Later, Tony goes to the house of small-time hood and jeweller Jules Langley (blacklisted Lloyd Gough, later to be seen in The Sweet Ride). In both night time scenes, you can smell the fragrance of the night air and feel the warmth of the breeze. Many other locations add to the realism and the outdoorsy feel of this film.
Tony Rome brings Miami Beach in the 60s to life. Tony’s boat, the Fontainebleau, the Corsair Hotel, Dave Santini’s house, the street scenes, and the night scenes with the Florida breezes blowing. Add to this a handsome, mature Sinatra and his characterization, a great cast including some beautiful women and the depiction of a casual life a lot of us would love to live and there’s lots to recommend Tony Rome.