Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THE DETECTIVE on Blu-ray ""

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Twilight Time - THE DETECTIVE on Blu-ray

THE  DETECTIVE (1968; Gordon Douglas)
So I consider myself a pretty big Sinatra fan, both of his music but also his acting. That is not to say that I always think he's spectacular in everything he's a part of, but his films interest me to say the least. For some reason, despite being a proponent of both his TONY ROM films (especially LADY IN CEMENT which came out the same year as THE DETECTIVE), I somehow passed by this one despite it also having been directed by Gordon Douglas (who is a journeyman director I've come to truly appreciate in the past five years or so). What I did not realize as much until viewing this movie (and hearing the excellent Twilight Time commentary track) is just how impactful this film was in its time. It deals with a world weary detective (Sinatra, obviously) who by way of his investigation of the murder of a homosexual man, finds links to corruption and much more dark seedy perversion than he ever expected. What's interesting about the film is mostly its frankness with the explicitness of the actions of the characters in the story. For 1968, it's a pretty bold text for a movie. As I watched the opening scene wherein Sintra's character examines the dead man and he describes it to a rookie officer as he takes notes, I became aware of the more direct way it was going about things. While the body is not shown, Sinatra's description includes details about the victims penis having been cut off. While it sounds odd, hearing Frank Sinatra say the word "penis" in a movie, let alone in such a clinical way struck me as unusual. Since I mostly think of him as a classic Hollywood era actor, I doubt I'd ever heard him make specific reference to male genitalia in a film before. Such is the partially the place and context of THE DETECTIVE though and the movie goes on to deal with homosexuals (albeit badly) and perverse lifestyles in what would have been a much more progressive way than was the norm in 1968. It was around this time that things like BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GRADUATE and THE WILD BUNCH were putting the final nails in the coffin of Hollywood's outdated Production Code-y ways and opening the door to the ratings system and allowing for more specifically adult entertainment in cinema. It was films like THE DETECTIVE that would lead shortly to stuff like DIRTY HARRY and a much more explicit and gritty police drama in the movies. It was also a big hit apparently at the time and played as something of a big deal for Sinatra whose career had been flagging badly, as had his personal life. THE DETECTIVE is notoriously the movie that kind of broke up his marriage with Mia Farrow. She had been cast in her career-making role in ROSEMARY'S BABY and it caused a huge rift between them. It was Sinatra though who had served her with the ultimatum that she was to report to the set of THE DETECTIVE for her role before ROSEMARY'S had wrapped or else. She chose "else" and Sinatra then had his lawyer serve her with divorce papers on Polanski's set. There is even a role in THE DETECTIVE which is played by a young and badly wigged Jacqueline Bissett that seems to have been earmarked for Farrow, but was apparently cut way down when she didn't show. So this film serves a specific place in gritty, police cinema as well as a significant place in Sinatra's life. Though the homosexual characters in the film are portrayed rather terribly (one can draw a line from this film to Friedkin's CRUISING), Sinatra's character is shown to be fair handed with them. He even gives a verbal lashing to another detective (played by a young Robert Duvall) after he is abusive during a raid dealing with a bunch of awful stereotypically gay men. The most powerful scene, perhaps in the film, features Sinatra's detective coaxing a murder confession from a gay man. It is a powerful scene in the way Frank plays it at least, as it is something of a seductive interrogation wherein he touches the gay man (played by actor Tony Musante) in a very inviting way that could be perceived as quite brave, at least at the time. Sinatra was and is a classic example of macho manhood and for him to agree to do the scene, he must have known how it would play contrary to his image at large. Overall the film is quite dark and moody and much different than his TONY ROME films, but it is memorable mostly for how it pushed boundaries at the time it came out. It seems oddly foreign to me to think of Sinatra as a boundary-pusher, but I guess he was in some ways. 

Special Features:

This Blu-ray has a nice widescreen transfer that almost shows too much of Sinatra's face and how he was clearly too old to play this part, but it looks good nonetheless.
--Included is a great commentary from Twilight Time regulars Nick Redman and Lemm Dobbs, but with a new addition in David Del Valle. The trio expound upon the film and its significance in context at length as well as examining the place where Sinatra was in his career at this point. There is much discussion of how Sinatra was as an actor on set  and how he dealt with his directors and other actors (based on some stories told by members of THE DETECTIVE's cast). They talk about Sintra's relationship with Gordon Douglas and how hands off he was with Frank. It begs the question what he would have done with some stronger directors to really push him, but it's obviously difficult to know the outcome of such things, based on the way Sinatra was and how he protected himself. There are many tales of Sinatra's monstrosity AND generosity contained on this track and for fans of him in general, it is certainly recommended.
-- Also included is an isolated score track with Jerry Goldsmith's music. This is always a nice Twilight Time touch and I salute them for continuing this tradition on their releases.

This Blu-ray can be purchased via Twilight Time's Website here:


beamish13 said...

Interesting to note that this film is essentially a prequel to DIE HARD

The Movie Waffler said...

Yep, because of this movie Sinatra was contractually obliged to be offered the role in Die Hard.