Director: Gordon Douglas
Writer: Abby Mann
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Ralph Meeker, Jack Klugman, Horace McMahon, Lloyd Bochner, William Windom
Roderick Thorp’s 1966 novel The Detective was adapted into the 1968 film of the same name starring Frank Sinatra. Over a decade the novel and film came out, Roderick Thorp wrote the sequel, Nothing Lasts Forever, which was adapted into Die Hard. Due to contracts Sinatra had to be offered the role in Die Hard first, which he declined (As did others including Stallone and Schwarzenegger). There’s a different timeline somewhere that has Frank Sinatra instead of Bruce Willis in Die Hard. It would have been a very different film, but as it stands, they are completely unrelated other than sharing the same book series as their inspiration. Before John McClane, there was Joe Leland a detective who just wants to help make New York a better place.
Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra) is investigating a horrifically violent murder, while at the same time trying to handle the breakdown of his marriage to Karen Leland (Lee Remick). He’s all but promised a promotion if he can solve the case. After getting a confession from the lead suspect things carry on as normal but something doesn’t sit right with Leland, who finds that one of his next cases may be linked to the murder.
Frank Sinatra is phenomenal as Joe Leland. He’s giving it everything he’s got; from the no-nonsense attitude he has one the case to the cold stare into the camera while remembering his relationship. It’s a perfect performance that fits the tone of the film nicely. Leland isn’t like the other cops on the force, he sees the madness and horrors that are happening around him, with the civil unrest of the time. The film tackles mature themes for a cop film of the time, especially the heavy-handed measures the police use to try and get confessions, that can lead to false-imprisonment. There’s a scene where Leland comes back to the station and finds and then stops a colleague who has stripped down a suspect in front of everyone and is humiliating him to get a confession, because it’s something the Nazis used to do. The film isn’t really about the crime, it’s a character study on a man who has become disillusioned with his life, with both his job not living up to what he wanted and his marriage breaking down.
This is a noir thriller through and through, the dialogue feels like it’s taken out of something from Raymond Chandler and there’s a scene where Leland is driving, thinking back on his relationship with Karen that bleeds into a flashback, where it wouldn’t be out of place if there was a voice over narrating it. The style is more modernised than the classic noir films of the 40s, but it still feels right at home with that kind of detective story.
The actual crime itself takes a backseat to the drama. This isn’t something where you can piece together the mystery and try to solve it at home. It’s more about Leland and how he got to where he is and why he’s struggling with the reality of the world around him. He sees the growing tension in New York and knows that something has to be done. There’s a general distrust towards the police and he’s aware of that and understands why. He’s a good cop in a broken system.
The Detective is really worth seeking out. Sinatra is absolutely great in it and carries the whole film. It’s something that completely absorbs you while it’s on and should be spoken about more than it is.
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