The Detective (Bilingual) [Import]
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Police detective Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra) investigates the murder of a homosexual man. While investigating, he discovers links to official corruption in New York City in this drama that delves into a world of sex and drugs. Based on the Roderick Thorpe novel.
Frank Sinatra's 1968 film The Detective was a serious attempt at a social statement sandwiched between the chairman's two lighthearted detective films Tony Rome and Lady in Cement. Directed by Gordon Douglas (who also directed the Tony Rome films), the plot centers around Detective Joe Leland (Sinatra) and his investigation of the murder of a prominent businessman's gay son. The film was notable at the time for openly depicting the gay community; however, it still falls back on the same tired stereotypes. Rounding out the cast is Lee Remick as Sinatra's nympho-wife, Robert Duvall as a violent homophobic cop, and Jack "the Klugster" Klugman as Sinatra's only honest ally on the force. Off screen, the film was notable for causing the irreparable rift between Sinatra and then-bride Mia Farrow, when she opted to star in Rosemary's Baby instead of this film. Obviously a wise choice, but The Detective is still a solid effort, with a great Jerry Goldsmith score and solid performances from all involved. Interestingly, this film could be considered the unofficial prequel to Die Hard. Both films were based on the same series of detective novels by Roderick Thorpe. --Kristian St. Clair --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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THE DETECTIVE is a well-acted 1968 film that broke new ground---sometimes shattered it. Frank Sinatra is Joe Leland, a veteran NYPD Detective, who is assigned to investigate the brutal mutilation murder of the gay son of the richest real estate developer in New York City.
THE DETECTIVE tries to address its subject sympathetically. In the course of doing so, however, it taps into every gay stereotype. It actually taps into almost every stereotype, and yet, overall, it works. Impossibly dated now, THE DETECTIVE is a fly in the amber. Men are still wearing hats and women white gloves.
From the outset, THE DETECTIVE throws us off balance. Sinatra, tough-talking out of the side of his mouth, plays Joe Leland like a liberal Joe Friday, stolid, fair, and "square." His opening gambit, "Penis cut off...fingers shredded" was absolutely shocking for the time, and put THE DETECTIVE into the realm of film noir right from the beginning. Leland's investigation carries us through a nether world where (as the script describes them) "closet queens" have secret dalliances with other men.
THE DETECTIVE relies on Havelock Ellis' groundbreaking but inaccurate early 20th Century research into human sexuality to explain sexual orientation: "There are no bisexuals," proclaims the film's noted psychiatrist, "only homosexuals with no sense of commitment to their creed." Gay men as portrayed in this film are all grotesquely "swish." The film is an outsider, looking in on a world it presupposes exists in a certain way. Still, THE DETECTIVE tries to make a serious social statement.
The script is full of words never heard before onscreen. Scenes of men mouth kissing stunned 1968 audiences. The gay subculture is portrayed as uniformly smarmy (more as a result of being driven underground than anything intrinsic).
The Cop Universe around Joe Leland is both anachronistic and brutal. Jack Klugman plays the Bill Gannon role, as Dave, Joe's thoughtful sometime partner. Most of the cops in Leland's NYPD are on the take. This was still a world where the boys in blue gave suspects the Third Degree. A suspected child molester is interrogated naked in the Station House. "Breaks 'em down," the token Black cop (played by Sugar Ray Robinson) explains. "I saw it in a newsreel on German Concentration Camps(!)."
The police routinely brutalize the gay men they find lurking in dark alleyways. Robert Duvall plays a particularly relentless homophobic cop, to whom the word "fag" is practically an honorific. He specializes in unprovoked beatings of his "queer" arrestees. The Department ME says, "Twenty years on The Job and those people still make me sick," to which Leland responds, "They don't bother me. I got my own bag."
Joe Leland's bag is his wife Karen, played by the strikingly beautiful Lee Remick. Ms. Remick has a class and ease onscreen that current-day actresses simply cannot match. Karen, who grew up in orphanages, yearns toward Joe (and he toward her), but cannot overcome a deep-rooted self-destructive psychological compulsive need to seduce other men. Although Joe and Karen are separated, it makes little difference. They clearly love one another and spend much, frustrating, time together.
Joe is a decent man and a good cop, but even he isn't immune to his environment. He coerces a spurious confession from a "psycho" gay muscleman (Tony Musante in his first role) who goes to The Chair for the murder even though Joe knows he's innocent.
Joe is promoted for closing the case. Not long after, Joe is visited by Jacqueline Bisset, whose husband has mysteriously committed suicide. Joe then discovers that he committed the murder, which is tied into a high-level real estate scam involving the Mayor.
Joe's sense of justice is outraged. "Those people up in the ghetto are tired of living in garbage cans! It's our job to sit on the lid of those garbage cans! And when the lid blows off, brother, we are going to be in for it!"
The sincere Liberalism of THE DETECTIVE is what makes it work, despite its repeated references to "those people." Gifted screenwriter Abby Mann takes a subject which was absolutely forbidden and brings it into the light with the best of intentions. Although THE DETECTIVE tends to be ham-handed, Sinatra plays it well, without parodying himself. It is instructive to remember that this film was the first of its kind. It tried to humanize its characters and subject. If it did a flawed job, it still set our feet on the right path.
The film broke a certain amount of new ground at the time as it depicted somewhat graphically the mutilation murder of a homosexual.....one of Sinatra's first lines of dialouge as New York detective Joe Leland is "penis cut off....fingers shredded....."
Despite the first time utterances of screen obscenities and its dabbling in the worlds of homosexuality and nyphomania, the "Detective" felt somewhat square and retro even at the time of its initial release--could be all those New York cops in snap brim hats running around calling homosexuals "fags" and the Jerry Goldmsith score with that lonely trumpet right out of 40's film-noir--one has to remember this was also the film era of "Easy Rider" and "The Graduate"
Screenwriter Abby Mann puts so many liberal platitudes in Sinatra's mouth, there are times in the film when he sounds more like a crusading social worker than a tough cop--"there are things to fight for, and I can't fight for them while I'm here.."
In any case "The Detective" provided Sinatra with one of his better roles in the 60's although that trademark fedora made him look older than his 52 years at the time, and the supporting cast (especially Lee Remick as Leland's nymphomaniac wife) is fine.
It might also be worth noting that "The Detective" played a part in the breakup of Sinatra's marriage to Mia Farrow.
Farrow was originally scheduled to play the part of Norma Mc Iver but scheduling problems with "Rosemary's Baby" led to the role going to the beautiful Jacqueline Bissett (sporting a Mia-type short hairdo)and to Mia being served with separation papers on the "Rosemary" set.
There are no special features to speak of on the new Fox DVD except for some trailers for "Tony Rome" and "Lady In Cement,"
the lightweight prviate eye films Frank made before and after shooting "The Detective"
This is based on the novel by Roderick Thorp. An automobile stops, Joe Leland arrives at a murder scene. A dead man lies on the living room floor; he is mutilated. The ME arrives. Where are the missing body parts? Detective Leland looks around. [No dusting for fingerprints?] "It takes all kinds." Another tenant is questioned about the deceased. Leland doesn't allow one man to intrude on the crime scene (he has connections). Joe meets Karen Widener at a social event. They meet again. Karen speaks her mind. Being a cop is the most useful thing he can do. Karen was an orphan. Joe talks to her. They become friendly. [This explains their past.] They watch a football game. There is hearing on a police shooting, an accident. People on the outside don't understand.
Leland gets a call to an apartment. Will he help a 19-year old? Can he make it to the top? Can he crack a murder case in 48 hours? They question suspects. A detective visits health clubs, then an apartment house to find the suspect. Getting a confession will assure Leland's promotion. Can he use psychology to get a confession? [Isn't this distasteful?] Leland feeds Felix information and gets him to talk. [No Miranda warning?] Later Leland sees Karen in a bar with another man, an old schoolmate. That night he talks to Karen. "Who is it?" Joe tells his wife what to do. The next night he surprises Karen with another man! Is there something wrong with Karen? Yes, she explains. Leland is promoted to Lieutenant. Felix pays the price for his murder. A man falls from a racetrack's roog. A young girl goes missing. Who is the suspect?
Mrs. Mac Iver visits Lt. Leland about her husband's death. Is there a conspiracy? She hired a private detective but they dropped out. Was it a suicide? Were pages missing from Colin's notebook? A 68-year old man is questioned nude; the detective got the idea from Nazi methods. Are tenements in the ghetto the most profitable for landlords? Is it worth money to Leland to squash the Mac Iver case? Leland questions Mrs. Mac Iver. He visits Dr. Roberts to ask about Colin. He treated Karen. Leland doesn't like psychologists. Norma had a police record. She tells Leland about the room with Colin's records. Joe finds a ledger with names and money amounts. Joe survives an assassination attempt in his parking garage! "Rainbow" refers to a Planning Commission, who decides where new buildings are located. Wendell Roberts' name is on the list. "Be careful!" Leland snoops in Roberts' office. There is a tape from Colin Mac Iver. "Play it!" We hear Mac Iver's voice as he tells about his secret. [Sensationalism to attract customers?] "What's the matter?" There is an argument and a fight. Colin was guilty of a murder. A few weeks later Colin fell from the rooftop. Did he face responsibility? What will Leland do? "You'll never win" says the Captain. Why did he do it? What will Joe do now? Goodnight (and goodbye).
This movie has sensational parts and topics formerly censored, it still seems below average. Was the pacing too slow? Was the story too complicated? There was a slight reference to a "Planning Commission" whose members seek to enrich themselves by their control of land, the basic unit of wealth from time immemorial. Isn't this the real crime that affects everyone's taxes? Was the book better? This 1968 movie records the attitudes and culture of that era. Was it meant as an attack on capital punishment?
The supporting cast really helps out a movie that has a plot that's a bit all over the place. Besides Remick we get Tony Musanta, who was so gripping as the thug in "The incident", Jack Klugman, and Robert Duvall. With it's homophobic, and sex and drugs undertones The Detective was probably fairly edgy for 1968 but in present day it all comes off a bit forced and a bit cheesy. Sinatra manages to rise above it all and based on that I give the film three stars.
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