According to Larry Cohen, who wrote, produced and directed this $3 million look at America’s top cop, J. Edgar Hoover was a public relations gimmick. As a vindictive, puritanical paranoid he shipped agents off to Knoxville for reading Playboy magazine. Privately, he was a mama’s boy and a homosexual who got his jollies by sitting in the dark with a bottle of bourbon and a tape recorder playing the sounds of a powerful government official’s hotel liaisons.
This may be the motion picture industry’s first historical horror story. Cohen has adopted two visual styles. There’s the ‘backlot look’ used to reenact great moments in J. Edgar Hoover’s life, like the shooting of John Dillinger in front of the Biograph Theatre in Chicago and Hoover’s first arrest.
Then there’s the documentary look: Hoover in the FBI building; that’s the real FBI building. Hoover in the apartment of his lifelong friend Lionel McCoy; that’s the real McCoy’s apartment.
He also knew enough to cast Broderick Crawford in the lead. As Hoover, the jowly Crawford turns in a fine performance. However, the remainder of the performances, starting with Michael Parks’ Robert Kennedy, are grotesque attempts to mimic well known public officials.