The FBI Story (1959)

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The FBI Story (1959) Poster

A dedicated FBI agent recalls the agency's battles against the Klan, organized crime and Communist spies.


6.6/10
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  • James Stewart in The FBI Story (1959)
  • James Stewart and Vera Miles in The FBI Story (1959)
  • James Stewart in The FBI Story (1959)
  • James Stewart and Larry Pennell in The FBI Story (1959)
  • James Stewart and Vera Miles in The FBI Story (1959)
  • James Stewart, Theona Bryant, Murray Hamilton, and Vera Miles in The FBI Story (1959)

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30 July 2015 | slokes
3
| I Love You, J. Edgar Hoover
An entertaining tribute to American law enforcement's most legendary force falls victim to Hollywood hokum, unrealistic dialogue, and choking piety regarding everything about the Federal Bureau Of Investigation, especially its founder, J. Edgar Hoover.

While Hoover is often referenced, sometimes heard, and even briefly seen at his desk, Buddha-like, the focus here is on fictional FBI agent Chip Hardesty (James Stewart), who dedicates himself to serving the bureau through decades of crime-fighting heroics. Whether ambushing John Dillinger or rounding up the Ku Klux Klan, Hardesty provides a case example of the heroism from which the FBI was made.

The final words of the film, superimposed on the screen over triumphant fanfare, establish what "The FBI Story" is all about: "Our sincere thanks to the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover not only for their guidance and active participation in the making of this motion picture but also for making this world of ours a safer place in which to live..."

If they had saved this boilerplate for the end, "The FBI Story" might have had a chance. Stewart was one of the greats, and in Vera Miles as the love interest he enjoys steady support. Few color films from the 1950s are this crisp- and dynamic-looking. Director Mervyn LeRoy was famously good at his job, and manages some stellar framing work with an eye for period detail in the episodic sequences showing Hardesty on the job at various stages of the FBI's existence.

But the accent of this film is not on delivering quality entertainment but burnishing Director Hoover's ego. At every turn, we get our noses rubbed into how brilliant an organization he set up, to the point where suspense gets crushed before it has a chance to develop.

An opening sequence features Nick Adams as a young man named Graham who kills his mother and 48 other people on board a plane by putting a bomb inside her luggage. Immediately we see FBI agents questioning him and searching his house until he cracks and confesses, even yelling at the end to send his mail to hell.

"Jack Graham's only mistake was that he was absent-minded," Stewart tells us in a voice-over. "He forgot about the broad research powers of the FBI."

Elsewhere we get lengthy descriptions of what these powers are, and even footage of people typing or staring into microscopes at FBI headquarters.

The dialogue in this film is much too purple, as if competing for your attention with Max Steiner's bombastic score. There are some howlers other reviewers here pointed out; my favorite is when Miles gets cross when she finds out her husband is going out armed to take on some public enemies. He tells her to take it easy.

"You take it easy, Chip! I don't look good in black."

Murray Hamilton has his own over-the-top moments as Chip's FBI buddy, all charged up with Hoover in charge. "I never wanna cool down," he says. No worries; a breathless script by Richard L. Breen and John Twist won't let him until it's time to stop and smell the lilacs.

There's one solid sequence where Hardesty investigates the murders of Osage Indians in Oklahoma. That works as a crime story with some mystery and humor to it, not to mention a satisfying wrapper.

The rest of the time, it's like some jacked-up medley of J. Edgar's greatest hits, like taking down bank robbers and a Soviet spy ring. Much padding involves Hardesty's family affairs, like his search for missing tissue paper or a crisis involving a shattered dish of pickles. Even when the script tries to drum up a crisis between Hardesty and his wife, the result is unconvincing and much-too-easily resolved.

That goes for most everything else involving "The FBI Story," rich in visual style but cheap in too many other departments, including the kind of patriotism too often used as the refuge of scoundrels. I do admire J. Edgar Hoover in some areas, but when it came to making movies, he should have stayed in the closet.

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