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The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
IMDB Rating: 6.4/10 from 393 votes
Release: December 1977 (USA) /

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Larry Cohen,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: The story of the late J. Edgar Hoover, who was head of the FBI from 1924-1972. The film follows Hoover from his racket-busting days through his reign under eight U.S. presidents.

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Critic Reviews


In a well-crafted semi-documentary style, this film traces the career of John Edgar Hoover across the 48 years of his directorship of the FBI. The drama is interlarded with genuine news footage of key events, and as a whole the movie works well as a hybrid of fact and fiction. Broderick Crawford gives the performance of a lifetime as the pugnacious, jowly control freak with a vulnerable core. The essential contradictions of the man are cleverly exposed: the 'top cop' who never really was a policeman does not scruple to violate the constitution when it suits him, and the priggish crusader against moral laxity gets his quirky thrills listening to wiretaps of sexual liaisons. The casting is inspired. Quite apart from the marvellous Crawford, several Hollywood veterans turn in first-class performances - Dan Dailey is Hoover's sidekick Tolson, Jose Ferrer is the cynical McCoy, and Lloyd Nolan is impressive as the Attorney-General. Among the younger actors, William Jordan is convincing as John Kennedy, and Michael Parks' Robert Kennedy captures the vocal inflexions of the real man admirably: it is just a shame that the 'look' isn't quite right. Bobby was nothing if not clean-cut and athletic, and Parks plays him as a slightly dishevelled, shambling figure. Larry Cohen wrote, directed and produced the film, and his enthusiasm for the project occasionally leads him into error. Hoover is given too much credit (or blame) for the unravelling of Watergate. Where the film scores highly is in its depiction of the power struggle between the young intellectual Robert Kennedy and the declining but still formidable Hoover. The movie is also spot-on in showing how Hoover clung to office long after he had anything left to contribute. The politicians left him undisturbed because they feared him. Of the presidents and attorneys-general portrayed in the film, Nixon alone fails to emerge from the shadows. This can no doubt be explained by the fact that he was still alive in 1977: all the others were in their graves: dead men don't sue. There must have been a real temptation, when putting this film together, simply to trash Hoover as an unbalanced megalomaniac. Wisely, Cohen resists that pull, and shows his subject as a psychologically-deformed man who nevertheless believed that he was holding his country together and devoted his life to the cause. Hoover comes across as a cruel self-publicist, but also as a lonely man racked with hang-ups and inhibitions. He had no private life worth speaking of. He never married and was unwilling (or unable) to retire to a life of leisure. At one point in the film, his G-men describe him as a priest. And so he was - if you consider the guardianship of a nation's dirty linen to be a holy office.

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