The Detective Review

Directed again by Gordon Douglas, Frank Sinatra again slips comfortably into hard-boiled investigator mode in The Detective, but unlike the two Tony Rome Private Investigator films it sits between, Tony Rome and The Lady In Cement, there is a rather more serious and adult tone to the proceedings here.

Frank Sinatra plays Joe Leland, a police detective assigned to a particularly gruesome murder case. Theodore Leikman Jr.’s battered and mutilated body is found in his apartment. From the nature of the attack and knowledge of Teddy’s sexual activities, it is presumed that the murder is a consequence of a dispute between homosexual lovers. In contrast to his less than tolerant police colleagues, Leland rounds up suspects from among the gay community and demonstrates the fairness and effectiveness of his own methods. In what appears to be a separate case, a Public Accountant jumps from the rooftop of a racecourse. His wife (Jacqueline Bisset) is suspicious of the suicide verdict and suspects a conspiracy and cover-up. Leland investigates and finds that the whole affair is a lot more complex and corrupt than he thought – and he begins to have doubts over his own integrity.

The Detective is a relentlessly downbeat film that delves into some fairly adult themes in a way that is rare for a Hollywood picture of the period, particularly in examining the attitudes towards homosexuality in the sixties, but also getting fairly near the knuckle in its examination of the failure of Leland’s marriage with his wife Karen, played by Lee Remick. Everywhere you look, The Detective depicts a cold, ugly world – everyone huddled into their own little groups for protection, whether it’s the homosexual community in hiding from prejudice and intolerance, the police department covering for their own or the civil liberties groups, who are just as intolerant and mistrustful, regarding any police activity as fascistic. In the middle of all this is Joe Leland, an embattled island of integrity and moral rectitude, struggling against the disagreeable attitudes and brutal methods of his fellow police officers and the public attitude towards the police – the isolation of his position creating a deep-seated cynicism for an agent of justice. “Yeah, cute kid”, intones Sinatra at one point in a measured drawl tainted with bitterness, “She’s a whore, she’s a pusher, she’s an addict, and she’s 19 years old. This whole town is crawling with kids just like her… Part of the Great Society”.

This bitterness extends to the failure of his marriage to Karen, the one person he thought he could get close to, who stuck by him in spite of the disapproval of her liberal friends towards his position as a police officer. The marriage already on the rocks by the time most of the film takes place, Leland’s flashback looks to where it all went wrong are inevitably tinged with a deeply cynical outlook forged by bitterness and regret – and although alcohol plays no part in their marital problems, the disintegration of their relationship is scarcely less harrowing than Remick’s similar performance in Blake Edwards’ Days of Wine and Roses (1962).

This is a deeply unpleasant film – or at least the attitudes on display are, since the film tries to examine attitudes of intolerance and prejudice and their affect on individuals and society. The film tackles them about as far as a 1960’s film could, and it does it fairly well, but perhaps the squeamish attitudes towards homosexuality and its depiction on the screen need not be quite so repugnant itself. It’s a strong film and it’s well-played, both Sinatra and director Douglas Gordon adapting their styles appropriately, maintaining a consistent tone throughout with none of the smirking innuendo that was more appropriate to their glossy, gaudy romps through Tony Rome and The Lady In Cement.

The Detective is released in the US on a Region 1 encoded DVD by 20th Century Fox. It’s released alongside Douglas and Sinatra’s other Private Investigator films from this period - Tony Rome and its sequel The Lady In Cement. The discs are fairly barebones, but are available at a budget price.

The lovely 2.35:1 Panavision print is impressively transferred anamorphically to DVD, with nice colour tones and quite a sharp image, although edge-enhancement haloes and blue-line edging are often quite noticeable. There is the occasional dustspot dotted throughout, but nothing too troublesome. In the main the print looks fabulous, skin tones particularly, although slightly reddish, show terrific tone and detail.

As with the other releases in this series, the film comes with a choice of the original soundtracks as Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or mono and there is little substantial difference between them. Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack sounds a little thin and the dialogue is sometimes a little echoing and sometimes shows a little harshness around the edges in louder parts. Generally dialogue is reasonably clear, but the odd word gets lost or mumbled and I had to check the subtitles occasionally to follow what was being said – although more often this was to check that I was really hearing what I though I heard as the dialogue is often fairly strong for a 1968 Sinatra film. French and Spanish dubs are also included.

Thankfully English hard of hearing subtitles are provided, as they usually are on Fox releases, which is very good practice and it’s nice to see continued. Spanish subtitles are also included, as are partial Spanish subtitles, to accompany the dub and translate English signs and written words. I mention this only because a stray one seemed to pop up at one point in the film when I had no subtitles selected.

Not too much in the way of relevant extra features. The Theatrical Trailer (3:17) is presented in full anamorphic 2.35:1. It’s a long trailer which emphasises the “adult” nature of the film, and it gives rather a lot away. Other trailers are included for Fox’s other Sinatra and Raquel Welch titles.

The Detective clearly tried to push boundaries as far as it could go for a mainstream 1968 film and is a brave attempt that maintains a deeply bleak, bitter and cynical tone throughout, with no-one coming out of the film as a hero. However the direction seems less than assured in its treatment of the material and some people might find the film just as repugnant as the uncompromising, cynical attitude towards society and individuals it depicts. Fox present the film extremely well, with a beautiful detailed anamorphic transfer of the Panavision scope, with little extras, but at an attractive price.

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