Private detective Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra) is passing the time on his boat playing cards with a friend when they notice they have reached their destination: near an island of rocks where some Spanish galleons were supposed to have been sunk many years ago. Tony loses the bet as to who goes diving to see if they can find treasure, but as he swims around under the ocean he catches sight of a figure in the seaweed up ahead. She is a young woman, but not a mermaid as she is naked and dead, her feet encased in cement and Tony realises he has a fresh murder investigation to deal with...
Lady in Cement was the second of Frank Sinatra's Tony Rome movies, and the last as it turned out as his film career was beginning to wind down about this time. So what you have here is a mystery that is of its time, the late sixties, and attempting to move forward into a more permissive cinema that would come to fruition in the next decade. What this means is a more "adult" attitude, therefore the violence is more explicit (although the blood we see is unconvincingly bright, like paint) and the presentation of women more, well, sexist frankly, with a couple of gay characters to show how boundary pushing the filmmakers are being - although they are villains.
So maybe not that all progressive, but it was a move in the right direction, of a sort. You don't often think of Sinatra as a pioneer in screen liberation, but here he was mixing with strippers and making near the knuckle quips; in fact, from some angles he could be seen to be setting the cause of movie liberals back even as he progressed into the mire of more social frankness. Of course, that's not really what crosses your mind when you're watching Lady in Cement, no, more likely you'll be pondering on while the first movie looked like a tribute to Philip Marlowe, this one looked more like a sexed up episode of a television series.
Maybe a pilot? You can almost see Sinatra starring in a cross between Mannix and a prototype of Miami Vice (instead of Phil Collins on the soundtrack Frank would croon his own hits, naturally), and you would imagine audiences of the day would lap up a detective series if The Chairman of the Board was beamed into their homes every week. Whether they'd secure the services of a co-star like Raquel Welch is doubtful, mind you, but she's here in this film as one of the glamour girls Tony encounters - he even gets to snog her despite there being a thirty year age gap between them. Could she be a suspect in the murder of the naked lady?
Well, there are no shortage of suspects, one of whom being an actor who you would imagine would have no trouble signing up for the Tony Rome TV show: Dan Blocker, alias Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza (at one point he is seen watching Bonanza on television: post-modernism too! A real trailblazer, is this film). Blocker plays an acquaintance of the dead girl who hires Tony to figure out what exactly happened, even though it turns out at the end he knew more than he was letting on, such are the conventions of these things. Richard Conte returns from the first film as the lieutenant who is either Tony's best friend or wanting to run him in on a trumped up charge (Tony steals his car to getaway from him, this just after he's accepted lunch with the lieutenant's family). Basically, you are offered a morass of shady characters who Sinatra makes his way through until it's all wrapped up with an explanatory monologue, nothing special, but kind of quaint in its efforts to be daring. Music by Hugo Montenegro.