Review: The Detective

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The Detective is a neo-noir from 1968 starring Frank Sinatra. This film is based on a book by Roderick Thorp by the same name. The book is the first book by Thorp based on his P.I. character Joe Leland. In this film the character Joe Leland is changed from a private investigator to a New York Police Detective. This book isn’t as popular as Thorp’s second Joe Leland book,  Nothing Lasts Forever. Nothing Lasts Forever was also adapted for the big screen. In this film, the Joe Leland character is also changed from a P.I. to a Police Detective, but his name was also changed from Joe Leland to Officer John McClane. Yup, Nothing Lasts Forever was adapted to a little film called Die Hard.

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So…in the literary world Die Hard is a sequel to The Detective…and Frank Sinatra played a younger version of Bruce Willis’ John McClane or Willis played an older version of Sinatra’s Joe Leland? I have not read either of these books, and find the movies have very little to nothing in common, but find this knowledge fascinating.

The Detective was directed by Gordon Douglas, due to Sinatra’s request. The film revolves around Sinatra’s Joe Leland who is a hardboiled detective and is at the top of his game. Leland is a bit displaced as he seems to be a detective stuck in the 1950’s and sometimes comes across as a man who doesn’t fit in to the late 1960’s changing world. When confronted with drugs, open relationships, and homosexuals, you get the feeling he wishes he was back in simpler times, when this stuff was not openly paraded in front of his face.

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The film starts out with a prominent businessman’s son found dead and Leland is brought to the crime scene. The son is brutally murdered by somebody and the police force is under pressure to find the killer fast. The film then flashes back to Leland remembering how he meet his wife, played by Lee Remick. This flashback shows his wife as a damaged soul that is self destructive.  When we return to the present, Leland helps solve the case and sees his suspect go to the electric chair. He also gets a promotion due to this case, but did he send the wrong guy to death?

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As the film continues Leland is approached for help from Norma MacIver played by Jacqueline Bisset. Her husband has committed suicide, but Norma doesn’t think this is the whole picture. Is this second case tied to the first? Is it just part of a bigger conspiracy?

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Look for Robert Duvall and Jack Klugman in small roles as police detectives.

This may not be Sinatra’s best work, but it is an intriguing film that is well worth watching for Sinatra fans. This film is a good bridge for the classic film noir of the late 1950’s to the classic neo noir’s to come in the 1970’s.

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Favorite Tidbit: At the time of this film Sinatra was married to Mia Farrow who was filming the now classic Rosemary’s Baby. Farrow was scheduled to play the role that eventually went to Jacqueline Bisset. When Rosemary’s Baby went over schedule, Sinatra tried to get Farrow pulled from the production. When Farrow was not pulled from the production and did not make it to the filming of The Detective, Sinatra sent her divorce papers to the set of Rosemary’s Baby.

 

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Re-Watching the Classics: Suddenly

Suddenly is a classic film noir with two of the greats. We have Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden in this battle of good and evil. the film is from 1954 and was written by Richard Sale and directed by Lewis Allen. Frank Sinatra got top billing for this film because he had just won the Academy Award for his performance in From Here to Eternity. I recently watched the 2 part documentary on the life of Frank Sinatra from H.B.O. Films, and I got to say, his life was interesting, and could be the basis of a good noir film! I was hoping they would bring up this film, but unfortunately I did not get any new insight on this. The reason I wanted a little more information on this is supposedly Lee Harvey Oswald watched this film only weeks before he shot John F. Kennedy. The documentary did go into depth about how close JFK and Sinatra where, but did not touch on this film. The other story, which Ben Mankiewicz told just a few weeks ago on Turner Classic Movies while talking about this film, is that Sinatra was so upset about Oswald possibly using this film as inspiration to kill his friend, he had this and The Manchurian Candidate pulled off of television play. Others say this is false and he never tried to do that. If you think Sinatra would not have enough pull as an actor/singer to do something like this, watch the documentary and find out how much pull this man had in not only the entertainment industry, but in politics as well.

This story starts out with a small glimpse into a sleepy little town in California named Suddenly. The Sheriff is Sterling Hayden who protects this little town and is well liked. He has a thing for a widow played by Nancy Gates and her son looks up to Hayden. Soon the town is a buzz with something big coming. Hayden takes charge getting ready for the Secret Service, they are coming to inspect the town because the President is coming through on his way to play golf down the road. As Hayden is helping them, three F.B.I. Agents lead by Sinatra, go to Gates’ house to make sure everything is clear for the President. Gates lives with her Father-in-Law who happened to be an Ex-Secret Service Agent. One of the current Secret Service Agents worked with the Father-in-Law and wants to personally go up to the house and say hi. Hayden takes the agent to the house and when the Secret Service Agent meets the F.B.I. Agents all hell breaks loose.

This is a really amazing little film and well worth watching. Hayden is good as always and Sinatra is brilliant as the psychopathic killer that the war created. Most of this movie takes place in a small house, but the tension blows the roof of this one. I think fans of Sinatra and Hayden will obviously enjoy this film as well as classic film noir fans. On the other hand if you don’t know why Sinatra was such a huge star, give this a watch and see how he could command a room. This would make an amazing double feature with The Manchurian Candidate.

Review: The Man with the Golden Arm

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The question I had before viewing this film was “Is this a film-noir or not?”  I have no degree in film, and this doesn’t have the traditional technical aspects of a true film noir, and from what research I can find, Otto Preminger didn’t want this to be a traditional film noir. Preminger was a director that knew noir, he made quite a few, some before and some after this one. So could this be the very first neo-noir?  All I know is this is filmed in black and white and doesn’t have as much shadow play as most films of this era.  The subject matter on the other hand is very noir, it is gritty and dark.  The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Nelson Algren.

We have a convict fresh out of prison.  He was arrested as a card dealer at an illegal casino and he has a drug problem.  He comes out of prison, clean and with a new skill as a drummer.  He is looking for a fresh start, but gets pulled into his old ways.  His girl is bound to a wheel chair because of a spinal issue, she needs money to go to the doctors to help her find a cure.  She is about as close to a femme fatale as you can get.  There is also the beautiful neighbor down stairs who is the girl our hero really likes.  We have an old boss that wants to control our hero and get him back into dealing cards for him.  We got his best friend that is an honest hustler, he feels he is more honest than the criminals around him, but still a criminal.  Murder, drugs, gambling, dancing-girls, hustlers, thugs and love triangles, sounds like noir to me.

The film also pushed the boundaries of The Motion Picture Association of America’s film code and is one of the reasons the code was changed.  Because of its drug use in this film it almost wasn’t approved.  After this film, taboo subjects like drugs, kidnapping, abortion and prostitution were allowed in film.  This would of course be big for noir and neo-noir films to come.

This was nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Frank Sinatra’s one and only nomination for his portrayal of Frankie Machine.  Eleanor Parker plays Frankie’s wheel chair bound girlfriend.  Kim Novak plays their neighbor, Molly. Funny man Arnold Stang plays Frankie’s side kick Sparrow.  Darren McGavin plays the underworld boss that is trying to control Frankie.

So for those fans that have seen it, what do you think?  Is it a film-noir or a well done crime drama?  In either case it is a good film worth watching.