Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra) used to be a cop until he got disillusioned with the force, and now makes his living as a private detective, but even that is barely covering his gambling debts. Today he wakes up on the boat he lives on in a Miami port and gets a message from his old partner: he wants Tony to help with some trouble at the hotel he works at as a detective. Tony is reluctant at first, but then hears there's money in it for him and heads over to find an unconscious young woman, Diana (Sue Lyon), in one of the rooms. She is the daughter of construction millionaire Rudy Kosterberg (Simon Oakland), and by agreeing to drive her home, Tony is about to get into a whole mess of trouble...
This film begins with Nancy Sinatra singing a Lee Hazlewood number dedicated to the crimefighter of the title, an opening sequence which ends on a crash zoom into a young woman's behind. Funnily enough, it ends with a crash zoom onto a young woman's behind as well, but if in between you're expecting scene after scene of wacky swinging sixties craziness, then you quickly discover that this introduction is not representative. Tony Rome was more of a tribute to those Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett private eye mysteries of the thirties and forties, and as such Sinatra gets to act wary in the face of a selection of shady characters.
During this decade, if you were a male star and didn't much fancy replicating the antics of James Bond in your big screen excursions, the next best thing was to become a detective. Sinatra could not have got away with the louche stylings of his friend Dean Martin in those Matt Helm movies, and he was no James Coburn therefore a Derek Flint imitation was out, so instead he tried his hand at detective work, and this was a big enough hit that a sequel, Lady in Cement, was rushed out the next year. In truth, if you compare this to the classic private eye movies it wants to be mentioned in the same breath as, Tony Rome only goes so far before looking like a fair copy: not terrible, but you can see where its inspirations lie.
Tony gets to visit a big mansion when he takes Diana home, meeting her extended family who have been worrying about her, an extended family in that there have been a few breakups and exes floating about, including one woman who catches his notice, Ann Archer (Jill St. John) when Diana calls her a "slut" and amused, she asks him to take her home. Not before Tony has made an impression and is soon being contacted by family members to sort things out for them, something which bemuses him but he isn't about to turn down cash: unless it goes against his ethics, that is. Tony comes across as the sole person to trust amidst these schemers, and we latch onto him with a faith that he will explain all by the end.
In the meantime, in true Philip Marlowe fashion he gets beaten up, but also hands out his fair share of beatings, as you can't envisage Sinatra wanting to lose in a fight onscreen in these circumstances, and meets various members of the low and high lives, offering bits of comedic business (as when he anticipates Are You Being Served? with an American Mrs Slocombe and talk of her "pussy"). The role seems tailor made for the star, as it probably was, he carries it off with cynical aplomb, but after a while the list of lurid characters begins to weary the viewer and one hankers for a solution. As with its predecessors, the explanations here may well drift from the mind a few minutes after you've watched it, but at least you can see it again without worrying you'll guess the ending, mostly because you'll have forgotten it. We do find out how to drink a lot without getting drunk: do as Tony does and never drain your glass. Music by Billy May.