J. Edgar Hoover’s secret file contains a bit more of interest for TV viewers than Al Capone’s infamous secret vault yielded, but not much.
The provocative title and heavy hype tied in to the recent release of “Official and Confidential,” Anthony Summers’ investigative biography of the longtime FBI director, should initially attract a relatively large audience to “Frontline.” They may not stay tuned, however, once they find out how little the program has to reveal.
There’s not much concrete here: The report mostly rehashes the rumors about Hoover’s homosexuality and mob ties that have been floating around for years, perhaps giving them more credibility by eliciting testimonials from respected FBI veterans and the likes of former Vice President Walter Mondale.
What’s missing is an answer to the really important question about Hoover: Why, despite the flagrant behavior detailed here, “his fraud and dishonesty went undetected in his lifetime.”
Can it really be true that during Hoover’s 48-year tenure as FBI director, no one knew he was an inveterate gambler or that he routinely exploited the resources of the FBI for personal use? How did it come to pass that the Justice Dept. probe of Hoover that collected all this dirt on him was only launched after he died?
The show comes up with the stock answer about the damaging personal files Hoover allegedly kept on Washington’s most powerful politicians, without ever delivering real proof of them.
Instead, viewers are shown a cheesy setup shot of a hand taking manila folders out of a briefcase, a half-empty wine glass in the foreground, while the narrator intones about the contents of yet another secret file: photographs of Hoover in compromising positions that the Mafia allegedly used to keep him out of its hair. Of course, audience never sees those, either.
“The Secret File” is good at stringing together colorful, amusing anecdotes about Hoover, from his demand that the FBI crime labs analyze an animal dropping left on his front porch to his penchant for skipping out on lunch tabs.
Most of these tales are illustrated by interesting stock footage from historical archives, though there are occasional previously unseen photographs of Hoover on vacation or whooping it up at the Stork Club.
For the most part, though, viewers have seen — and heard — all this before, if not in as much detail.