Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Release Date: May 28th, 1968 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Gordon Douglas Actors: Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Ralph Meeker, Jack Klugman, Horace McMahon, Lloyd Bochner, William Windom, Tony Musante, Al Freeman Jr., Robert Duvall
ergeant Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra) arrives at the Theodore “Teddy” Leikman Jr. estate to begin his investigation into a fresh murder. Joined by rookie detective Robbie (Al Freeman Jr.), Leland examines the naked corpse of a caucasian man, covered in blood, with the side of his skull crushed in. Additionally, the victim’s fingers have been shredded (two are missing entirely) and his penis has been cut off. It’s a particularly violent crime, with few obvious clues. The swarm of fellow officers can’t come up with much, though the doctor on hand is quick to point out that Teddy was a homosexual.
It’s not long before an upstairs neighbor offers up information about Teddy’s roommate; a politician noses around, interested in the death of Leikman, a well-known, important name in town; and a no-nonsense police captain obligatorily shouts and spews insults at his underlings. Before Leland can really dig into the case, the film pauses for a moment (actually, a considerable series of scenes) to flash back to an earlier time to introduce Karen (Lee Remick), Joe’s love interest, and all the details surrounding their courtship. It’s a better romance subplot than what is typical for this kind of project, but it employs a rather unnatural cinematographic quirk of characters talking directly into the camera during conversations, which has a certain charm but never feels entirely appropriate or natural.
In this second of three companion pieces all starring Sinatra and directed by Gordon Douglas (this picture was released just a few months before “Tony Rome’s” official sequel, “Lady in Cement”), Sinatra again dons the guise of a veteran flatfoot immersed in a seedy underworld of crime. “I am tough,” he states with absolute genuineness. As part of the continuing trend of neo-noir films that examines darker, more controversial, and more taboo themes throughout the ‘60s, “The Detective” paves the way for the perfection of something like “The French Connection.” This one has a harsher edge to it than the adventures of Tony Rome, giving it a decided advantage over not only the other two Douglas/Sinatra entries but also its coeval peers (even across the ‘70s). Of particular note is Robert Duvall, in a bit part, who is sensational as a brutal, prejudiced, abusive, law-bending cop, delivering coarse lines with total conviction. And though the music has a lighter tone than it should, the action and violence surrounding the wealth of unethical personas are entirely fitting for this type of heavy-hitting dive into neo-noir.
However, the pacing is disrupted by unnecessary scenes – or ones that carry on too long (as well as a second, clunky flashback) – which contribute to the character development but fail to add deserving new material to Sinatra’s recognizable turn. His performance is severer than before (so too are Remick’s and Freeman’s [who represents an arc of corruption through imitation]), which is thoroughly impressive, but the film’s insistence on concentrating on dramatic marital issues over the solving of the murder only slows down the intensity of the events. Curiously, “The Detective” features two seemingly different crime stories, the second picking up with all new players during the latter half, as if a completely separate chapter, complete with its own introductory death scene. This means that there are no less than three distinct plots coursing through the movie.
In many ways, “The Detective” is a chronicle of a police precinct riddled with a history of crookedness and shady political entanglements. This topic runs concurrently with the mysteries, expanding upon what would have been, individually, simple homicide tales. Joined by rough interrogations, a troubling lack of police accountability (and a notable absence of lawyers), seedy establishments, and general ugliness (including commentary on contemporary sociopolitical predicaments), it’s evident that this Roderick Thorp adaptation (he also penned the sequel “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which eventually became “Die Hard”) contributed significantly to the subject matter of “Chinatown” and even to the disenchantment with authority seen in “Dirty Harry.” “The Detective” is unpolished in spots, but it’s a major, influential stepping stone in the neo-noir movement.
– Mike Massie