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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Thriller > The Detective (1968/Fox DVD)

The Detective (1968)

 

Picture: B     Sound: B-      Extras: C+     Film: B+

 

 

Considered shocking at the time of its release, but mild by today's standards, The Detective was a groundbreaking film in the late 1960s because it was one of the first to deal with the once taboo subjects of homosexuality and nymphomania.  While it no longer has the lurid shock effect it did 37 years ago, the film still holds up as an absorbing police procedural that's well-grounded in day-to-day police work.  It's also the best of the three films Frank Sinatra starred in for journeyman director Gordon Douglas in 1967-68 (the others being Tony Rome and its sequel Lady in Cement, both elsewhere on this site), and arguably ranks as one of Sinatra's five best films period.

 

Based on the novel by Roderick Thorp, The Detective was adapted for the screen by Abby Mann, who would later create Lt. Theo Kojak in the made-for-television movie The Marcus Nelson Murders (1973), which spawned the popular police series Kojak.  And you'll notice some glaring similarities between Lt. Theo Kojak and the dedicated, incorruptible police officer Frank Sinatra portrays in The Detective. Sinatra stars as Joe Leland, whose dedication and righteousness often alienates him from politicians and the lesser-principled cops in his own department. His only professional liability is the inability to kiss up to his superiors. In the film, things intensify between Leland and his fellow cops during the investigation into the gruesome murder of a homosexual. Another major source of frustration for Leland is his sexually loose wife (Lee Remick), who can't stop sleeping around even after they're married.

 

Filled with great dialogue that might have been gasp inducing in 1968, it seems cleverly suggestive now, but holds up because the screenplay is so intelligent.  Mann obviously has a liberal point of view, but doesn't pound you over the head with it.  The film also benefits from an outstanding supporting cast that includes Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall, Jack Klugman, Ralph Meeker, Horace McMahon, Lloyd Bochner, Tony Musante, Al Freeman Jr., William Windom and Tom Atkins.  And Jerry Goldsmith contributes another memorable musical score that perfectly captures the film's mood.

 

A moderate hit in the summer of '68 that deserved to do even better, The Detective has finally arrived on DVD in an anamorphic 2.35 x 1 widescreen transfer, and the overall picture quality is an improvement over the old 12 widescreen LaserDisc edition.  The only obvious visual imperfection on the DVD is the vertical black lines present during one scene of Sinatra driving -- these vertical lines were also noticeable on the LaserDisc, so the same source print is being used. Hopefully, a new print will be struck when it comes time for a digital HD version of the film. 

 

The Dolby Digital 4.0 Stereo sound is not a bad mix, with this kind of configuration usually surfacing in Fox scope productions. This is the way to play it back, as the Dolby 2.0 Mono sound quality is just average, though, and you may have to play this DVD a little louder than normal to properly hear all the dialogue. Extras include the original theatrical trailer as well as trailers for other late '60s films starring Sinatra and Raquel Welch -- at least these are all Fox films from the same era and not the usual gratuitous attempt to peddle more recent product.  The Detective is an absolute must-see for fans of gritty police dramas, and would make a perfect double feature with 1981's Fort Apache, the Bronx, another underrated 20th Century Fox movie release about a principled cop embroiled in NYC crime and corruption.

 

 

- Chuck O'Leary


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