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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

THE FBI STORY (1959)

It opens with a decidedly creepy vignette as dutiful son Nick Adams plants a bomb and his mom on a plane. But not before getting Mom to sign up for flight insurance! Alas, any promise of perversity isn’t kept in this dramatically inert, 2½ hour love-letter to J. Edgar Hoover & all things FBI. It’s quite the whitewash as special agent James Stewart looks back on his days busting up the KKK; defending land rights for Native Americans; nabbing gangsters during Prohibition days; sweating it out in So. America during WWII; and finally tackling the Commie threat in Yankee Stadium! Whew! Look fast for a shot of J. Edgar himself; and isn’t that BFF Clyde Tolson standing by his side? Along the way, Stewart woos & weds a reluctant Vera Miles and raises a fine brood of patriotic kids between assignments. (A pregnant Miles gave up co-starring w/ Stewart in VERTIGO/’58 for this!) Mervyn LeRoy megs with a weary tread, barely staging the action stuff & sitting on his haunches for a few domestic scenes of teary recrimination & pep talks. But then, against all expectations, the film wakes up in the last reel; rousing itself with a rigorous Spy vs Spy sequence as the Red Menace comes to NYC. Suddenly we’re out on location: Central Park; 46th Street; Yankee Stadium; the IRT subway line; the pace ratchets up; cameras go askew; the editing gains wit & energy . . . what the hell is going on? Best bet is that, with none of the star players involved in the scenes, the 2nd unit took over. Just a few static inserts of Stewart back in his office for LeRoy to handle back @ the studio. Too bad he didn’t hand off the whole damn pic.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Larry Cohen’s decidedly odd THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER/’77, with its where-are-they-now cast (Broderick Crawford, Dan Dailey, Jose Ferrer, Howard Da Silva, Lloyd Nolan, Celeste Holm); community theater sets; and sweeping Miklos Rozsa score is a low-budget astonishment, but not for the feint-hearted.

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