Mervyn LeRoy takes the factual material of Don Whitehead’s best-selling The FBI Story and makes of it a tense, exciting film story told in human terms. The method used is to show the work of the FBI through the life of one of its agents (James Stewart), a familiar enough device, but correct and rewarding in this instance.
The fictional story used as a framework sounds conventional enough. Stewart and his wife (Vera Miles), are torn between his dedication to his job with the FBI and the fact that he could give his family a more rewarding life outside the bureau. But Stewart believes what J. Edgar Hoover tells his agents when he takes over the service, that its men must be imbued not only with the service of justice but the love of justice.
The dialog is exemplary, economical in words despite the film’s length. Too, the story does not run out of plot. It plunges directly into a revelatory incident before the main titles, and one of the most suspenseful sequences, a fine chase through New York streets, is used for the final crisis.
Stewart gives a restrained performance, wry and intelligent, completely credible as the film covers a span of about 25 years to show both the fledgling agent and the older man. Miles, who plays particularly well with Stewart, synchronizes her more direct attack smoothly with his underplaying. Murray Hamilton is memorable as Stewart’s fellow agent, felled by gangsters. Larry Pennell and Diane Jergens supply the young love interest believably.