It will be the irony of Robert Blake's decent acting career that despite his stint as Baretta in the Detective Series, his personal life will make people think only of his negative - villainous characters, as in his best performance IN COLD BLOOD and as Jimmy Hoffa in BLOOD FEUD. Fortunately, Blake was such a good performer that his performances in both roles are worthy of being remembered. It's just a pity about his hero parts.
James R. Hoffa will remain (to most Americans) one of the most despicable figures in the history of our labor unions. There have been other crooked union leaders before and since, but Hoffa is the extreme example, because his Teamster's Union was one of the best run and richest unions, and giving tens of millions of dollars from the pension funds to the Mob for their activities. On the other hand, if you speak to Teamsters, even if they admit Hoffa's failings, they will point out that he was a remarkable figure in improving wages and benefits, and in actually nearly achieving the dream of all union leaders: Hoffa nearly created a NATIONAL contract for teamsters in this country. If he had been honest and achieved these things, say like Gompers or Powderly or Green or Lewis or Reuther, he would have been considered a great man. Instead he is forever a fascinating but twisted figure.
This film discussed the confrontation beginning in the 1950s between Hoffa and Robert Kennedy, first as an attorney working for the Congressional Committees investigating the union, and later as his brother's Attorney General. There had actually been some impressive work earlier - the corrupt Union Head Dave Beck had been convicted by the Government and sent to prison. Ironically the election of Hoffa was greeted as a new broom sweeping clean. Actually it was more like changing leaders from a common thief to an uncommonly brilliant one.
In the film Blake plays Hoffa as an intensely intelligent individual, but one who could get emotionally involved to his detriment. Had Hoffa been cooler he possibly might have beaten Kennedy's assault. But Kennedy (here played very competently as a competitive person by Cotter Smith) found that he did not like being defeated at every turn by the Union leader's maneuvers. Possibly had he been cooler he might have noticed that despite the level of corruption there was evidence that Hoffa was actually achieving much for his rank and file.
In short two amazing men with huge egos turned a government probe into a gladiatorial contest. The key to Hoffa's fall was one of his lower level Union leaders, the head of the New Orleans Local Eddie Partin (Brian Dennehy in a fine performance as a man torn by loyalties who turns on his closest friend Hoffa for his own safety). Partin produced the evidence of malfeasance that Kennedy used to prod Hoffa out of his position of power.
The end result of all this was mixed - and did not do good for the powers that be. Hoffa became a liability for the mob, because they knew RFK would start on them in the second administration of his brother. And the film does strongly suggest that this may be the reason for JFK's assassination, as the Mob realized Bobbie would not be able to retain his Attorney General position long under his personal political enemy Lyndon Johnson (Forrest Tucker, shown to good affect but not as much as one would like as a man who dislikes being high-hatted by the snobby Kennedy boys). Still Johnson kept Bobbie in his position until Hoffa was found guilty of stealing from the union.
But his fall from power doesn't end there. In the film, Blake's Hoffa still has contacts with the Mob even as he is headed for prison. And he hears things. The film ends in June 1968, with Bobbie in the hotel in Los Angeles looking forward to the Democratic National Convention. Suddenly there is a phone call, and it is from Hoffa. The latter is about to start his prison term, and feels obligated to warn Kennedy about possible threats. Kennedy won't listen, but Hoffa (if this is true) suggests that maybe at this point they should work together for their own safety. Kennedy, somewhat bemused by the phone call, vaguely says he'll have to think about it. After the phone call ends an aide asks if he really feels there is a physical threat from the Mob. RFK shakes his head, and quotes the poem by Robert Frost, that he has "miles to go before I sleep." Then he heads downstairs for the speech of victory he gave regarding the California primary.
The film worked very well, with a cast of highly competent character actors. Whether Hoffa really tried to reach an accord with RFK I cannot say, but their duel certainly did neither very much good. And the Teamster's Union has taken decades to recover.