The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977)

A filmmaker can tell it like it is, like they see it, or like their subject sees it.

In The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover screenwriter and director Larry Cohen goes with the third option. Surrounded by scandal and gossip, Cohen’s version of J. Edgar Hoover sees himself as an unflinching moral watchdog holding the country in check. When he first arrives at the bureau Hoover plays the role of reformer. In time, he fancies himself as the countries top cop. Broderick Crawford delivers a surprisingly nuanced portrayl of a man fractured man. Here Hoover operates above the law, not out of greed or lust for power, but out of self-appointed duty. He truly believes he’s the only moral man in America and that his ever growing collection of incriminating evidence forces others to keep their nose clean.

Of Larry Cohen’s work, this is not his best. It is certainly interesting, even curious for those history buffs and conspiracy nuts who want another take on a man with unspeakable access and power. Seen through modern eyes, issues like the autonomy of the FBI from the Oval Office or issues of legal wiretaps seemed dated an quaint. The entire film is a yarn, one you compulsively watch as it unravels before your eyes. As much as I should have something to say about the quasi-documentary style the film employs, I could care less for accuracy or truth. In its own subtle ways The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover give you the same tantalizing thrill of peering into the secret life of someone, much like Hoover enjoyed spying on America.

The film also foisted up this gem of a scene, so good I’ve decided to start a new category called, “That One Scene”. This is a category dedicated to films that if they have nothing else, they have that one crazy scene that send the film to a different level. This is not to say that the films have to be bad, but for one scene, but more that one scene simply stands out for its brilliance or strangeness.

So here, I offer up this scene from The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, a scene that takes places a few minutes after we see Bobby Kennedy telling Hoover to have the FBI hire more black agents.


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