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The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover Review

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After the 1972 death of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agent Dwight Webb recalls the G-man’s career, from young manhood to old age, and his influence on American politics from the 1920s to the 1970s.

★★★★

‘I’ll bug and burglarise who I please,’ declares Hoover when Nixon aides ask to get in on the act for Watergate, ‘but damned if I’ll let anyone else do it.’ Larry Cohen’s radical revision of The FBI Story is a dissection of the life of a sexually-stunted demagogue-cum-demigod whose career began with the birth of American anti-communism in the Palmer Raids of 1919 and extended through Prohibition, Dillinger, World War II, McCarthyism, bitter rivalry with Robert Kennedy (Michael Parks), assassinations, the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam.

Cohen’s speculation that Hoover’s long-time sidekick and rumoured gay lover Clyde Tolson (Dan Dailey) was the ‘Deep Throat’ who brought down the Nixon administration has been disproved, but this biopic – made before more extreme, far-fetched accusations (like transvestism) were levelled against Hoover – is usually credible in advancing scurrilous, backdoor speculations about modern history. It signals respect for the old-style Hollywood gangster shows with his exceptional casting of old-time faces (Jose Ferrer, Lloyd Nolan) and using a brassy Miklos Rosza score, but Crawford’s Hoover is a semi-comic monster: drunkenly listening to the taped seduction of a political opponent, unintentionally horrifying a favourite waiter by revealing the extent of his knowledge of the man’s private life or found asleep in his office by a tip-toeing Bobby Kennedy.

It’s not a complete hatchet job, in that it grudgingly admires the ‘top cop’ for his bull-headed (profoundly undemocratic) refusal to follow orders from passing administrations of whatever political stripe, and presents unblinkered views of sainted figures like Franklin Roosevelt (Howard Da Silva) and Martin Luther King (Raymond St Jacques).

Fascinating a relatively even-handed investigation of the infamous FBI Director.

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