Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Broderick Crawford Films
- Celeste Holm Films
- Dan Dailey Films
- Jose Ferrer Films
- Larry Cohen Films
- Political Corruption
- Rip Torn Films
So-called “guerrilla filmmaker” Larry Cohen — best known for directing It’s Alive! (1974) and God Told Me To (1976) — was bold to make this openly critical film about notorious FBI head J. Edgar Hoover at a time when Hoover had only been dead a few years, and politicians were understandably leery about having the skeletons in their closets exposed.
Thanks to ingenuity and grit — as well as former First Lady Betty Ford’s appreciation for Dan Dailey, in what ended up being his final role:
— Cohen managed to direct this movie in many of its original locations, including casting Hoover’s actual barber and waiter:
Unfortunately, the film itself isn’t all that satisfying or comprehensible unless you happen to be an American history buff with knowledge of the various rapid-fire events unfolding between the 1920s and 1970s; as noted by Janet Maslin in her review for the New York Times, the movie “hovers midway between soap opera and expose”, and “mostly barrels along at a flat, uninteresting pace, with no big scenes to give it any structure.”
With that said, I felt much better informed after following up by watching an actual documentary about Hoover, which filled in many gaps, and helped me understood writer-director-producer Larry Cohen’s intent to highlight the rampant corruption (no surprise!) behind just about every political situation and figure in U.S. history — and how Hoover managed to keep his position for decades due to his savvy intelligence. Among many scenes, we see young Hoover (James Wainwright) taking over the FBI just after the Palmer Raids:
… Hoover’s desire to give the FBI both respectability and authentic clout:
… the deep mistrust Hoover held for women (Ronee Blakley, Celeste Holm) who were romantically interested in him at various points in his career:
… the role Hoover’s hovering mother (June Havoc) may have played in his personality and/or sexual orientation:
… Hoover’s frustration at suddenly being the underling of a much-younger RFK (and how he managed to reassert his authority):
… Hoover’s close alliance with Joe McCarthy (George Wallace):
… and Hoover’s lifelong addiction to gambling, which may have led to his avoidance of dealing with the Mafia.
Note: You’ll have to give wide berth to the appearances of the actors playing various Big Names in History here, who look almost nothing like their real-life counterparts (see if you can guess who’s on screen in each of the stills below):
(1. FDR, 2. LBJ, 3. MLK.)
Note: I haven’t (yet) seen Clint Eastwood’s 2011 film J. Edgar, starring Leonardo Di Caprio in the title role, though I’m especially curious now to check it out in comparison.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- A boldly scathing (for the time) look at Hoover’s instrumental role in shaping the FBI
No, though of course it’s worth a look if you’re interested in Hoover and the FBI. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.