The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977)


(director/writer: Larry Cohen; cinematographer: Paul Glickman; editor: Chris Lebenzon; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Broderick Crawford (J. Edgar Hoover), James Wainwright (Hoover at age 29), Michael Parks (Robert F. Kennedy), José Ferrer (Lionel McCoy), Celeste Holm (Florence Hollister), Rip Torn (Dwight Webb), Lloyd Nolan (Attorney General Stone), Michael Sacks (Melvin Purvis), Dan Dailey (Clyde Tolson), Roneé Blakley (Carrie Dewitt), June Havoc (Hoover’s Mother), Ellen Barber (FBI Secretary); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Larry Cohen; AIP; 1977)
“Part sleazy sexual exploitation and part stilted realpolitik historical tableau.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Larry Cohen’s (“Bone”/”God Told Me To”) engaging but hardly fulfilling comic strip pseudo-biopic on America’s top cop J. Edgar Hoover is part sleazy sexual exploitation and part stilted realpolitik historical tableau. It’s noteworthy for being the first movie to be filmed at the FBI site without advance script approval by the FBI. Hoover is portrayed as a public relations expert who made sure he always looked good in print. In truth he’s shown as a mean-spirited vindictive man, a boy scout lawyer, a mama’s boy, a homosexual who was schizophrenic about his sexuality, a woman hater, a commie hater, a bigot, a blackmailer, an anal compulsive monster who was strict about dress codes and appearance, a power-hungry opportunist who gained power over others through wiretaps and keeping secret files on them, and a puritanical obsessive paranoid who raged over the sexual conduct of others to the point of having no qualms destroying the lives of those whose sexual ideas he disapproved of. There’s no doubt that Hoover is vilified in this movie, though given some credit for starting a crime lab and having the agent’s job be given on merit instead of by political appointment.

The film follows the 48-year career of Hoover when the 29-year-old ambitious workaholic was first appointed FBI director in 1924 by Attorney General Stone, following the Teapot Dome Scandal, until his death in 1972 when he was viewed as senile. It covers many of the major events of the times ranging from the dramatic re-enactment of Dillinger getting killed by FBI agent Purvis outside the Chicago movie theater on a tip by one of the hoodlum’s girlfriends, the top cop’s first arrest of wanted gangster Alvin Karpis, his commie witch hunts executed with the info he supplied to political allies such as Senator McCarthy, his uneasy relationship when Bobby Kennedy was his boss as attorney general, his wiretaps on Martin Luther King, and finally his last days under the friendly Nixon administration. When the so-called great man dies, the FBI under uptight crusading agent Webb (Rip Torn), the film’s narrator, shreds the secret files rather than letting the Nixon administration take them intact.

James Wainwright does a good job portraying Hoover at 29, Broderick Crawford gives him an even darker and more strained edge in an even better portrayal of how grotesque he was as an old man. The rest of the cast fails to distinguish itself and the movie is too carelessly dramatized to seem anything more than a B-movie. Also its accuracy is questionable. But with all that being said the film, nevertheless, had its interesting moments that veered on camp without becoming campy.