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It started with this image I shared on my Facebook wall:

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Go, Clint!

J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood's biopic on the controversial FBI director that stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, opens next week. With that in mind, I posted the following snarky caption above the photo: "Too bad J. Edgar and Clyde didn't live to read this."

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Edgar and Clyde.

For decades, it's been accepted knowledge that J. Edgar Hoover was a flaming cross-dresser who had a clandestine love affair with his aid, Clyde Tolson. I have yet to see J. Edgar, that happens tomorrow morning, but according to those that have, there is a make out scene between Hoover and Tolson.

The following link was left by Jonathan Rosenbaum in response to my Facebook post. It's a memo written by Larry Cohen that was left earlier this year in the comments section of Dave Kehr's blog, Reports From the Lost Continent of Cinephilia.

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Larry Cohen.

Everyone knows Clint, but Larry Cohen has become somewhat of a specialty item. Cohen is a director, writer, and producer who had a prolific creative spurt in the '70's and '80's. His workload may have since diminished, but Cohen endures, along with Roger Corman, as a modern day King of the B's.

He broke his bones on a series of intelligently written blaxploitation films (Bone, Black Caesar), and quickly established a reputation for stylishly executed (if not always 100% coherent), low budget horror and sci-fi. He is best known for the It's Alive trilogy, Cohen's sympathetic retelling of the Frankenstein legend, this time starring a mutated, hydrocephallic infant born with killer instincts.

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Cohen's prized-possession is the seldom seen, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. The film never received a theatrical release in Chicago -- I saw it as an art house revival -- and in spite of well-deserved critical praise, quietly faded from sight. (It's currently available on Amazon as part of M.G.M.'s Limited Edition Collection.) It popped up a few years back on Encore and I stood in awe, if for no other reason than Cohen's ability to assemble a name cast on such a teensy budget.

Legendary Hollywood tough guy Broderick Crawford plays Hoover, and he's backed by a veritable who's who of venerable character actors and other assorted familiar faces: José Ferrer, Celeste Holm, Howard Da Silva, Rip Torn, Michael Parks, John Marley, Raymond St. Jacques, June Havoc, Lloyd Nolan, Andrew Duggan, Jack Cassidy, Brad Dexter, Lloyd Gough, and Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, the man thought for years to be Hoover's one and only love interest.

There is no hint of amour fou in Cohen's Private Files. (Oddly enough, as Cohen points out in his memo, the film was the recipient of London's Gay Critic Award in 1978.) If anything, Cohen positions himself as a Hoover scholar, offering a point after point vivisection of Dustin Lance Black's (Milk) screenplay.

The memo reads like a pot-boiling expose of political corruption. Cohen blames a government cover-up for his film's limited distribution. He also fingers Hoover as the real "Deep Throat" in the Watergate scandal. Instead of a conspiracy theorist's wet-dream, Cohen goes on to make a case that it was Castro who placed Oswald on the grassy knoll, and Hoover knew it.

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Clint and Leo.

This calls into point a filmmaker's responsibility to history. There is more truth to be dodged concerning General Custer than there are bullets in Raoul Walsh's They Died With Their Boots On, but it's still a pretty damn fine piece of entertainment. And Oscar didn't seem to mind that Oskar never said, "If I sold one more car, I could have saved even more Jews" (or something to that effect), when awarding Schindler's List its best picture award.

Hopefully, Cohen will write a follow-up after seeing J. Edgar. Given Warner Bros. dubious treatment of him, it's doubtful Cohen was invited to an advance screening. Hey, Larry. You doing anything tomorrow morning?

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Comments

Jay Allen Sanford Nov. 2, 2011 @ 11:58 a.m.

If I had any doubts about the stellar value of your contributions to the Reader, Mr. Marks, you've won me over by headlining my favorite offbeat filmmaker Larry Cohen, perpetrator of inexplicable and wonderfully wonky masterpieces like "God Told Me To" (basically concerning an outer space hermaphrodite Jesus with a pulsating vagina on his chest who tells people like Andy Kaufman, in his first film role, to kill everyone in sight).

I've written about Mr. Cohen and followed his career for over a quarter century - his recent stuff for the Masters of Horror TV series is just as thrilling for me as seeing "Black Caesar" rub shoe polish on a white guy's face and making him sing "Mammy" before killing him, or marveling at Cohen's ability to make a whole movie about a flying serpent in NYC (Q), with barely a glimpse of the titular creature actually flying around NYC ---

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Scott Marks Nov. 2, 2011 @ 1:24 p.m.

Thanks much, Jay. He's an unsung hero where I come from. I am proud to say that next to Hitchcock, Corman, and Scorsese, there are more Larry Cohen films in my collection than any other director. With the exception of "Full Moon High," the one stinker in the bunch, I'm complete on everything he directed. Screenplays are a different story. Not enough shelf space.

Admittedly, a lot has to do with what fate casts in the used bin on any given day, but I find his films a fascinating merger of cheezy '50's sci-fi and the horrors that face our modern world. I'm a bit rusty, but isn't "God Told Me To" the granddaddy of all contemporary serial killer films? ("Psycho" was there first, of course, but something in my head stands out concerning GTMT.) "A Return to Salem's Lot" is one of the few sequels to outclass the original, and any filmmaker wise enough to offer Sam Fuller a speaking part is a genius.

So glad we could bond over Larry Cohen, Jay. He still has a few dozen films left in him. Sure wish he found more work.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Nov. 2, 2011 @ 12:05 p.m.

Thanks, Jayallen, for telling me everything about Cohen I need to know.

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Scott Marks Nov. 2, 2011 @ 1:25 p.m.

Check out his movies, Joaquin. You ain't seen nuthin' yet!

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Jay Allen Sanford Nov. 2, 2011 @ 12:05 p.m.

The Reader's own Matthew Alice illustrator Rick Geary wrote and illustrated a hardcover graphic novel called "J. Edgar Hoover: A Graphic Biography," one of the best "reality" comics I've ever come across (and that includes the 150 or so bio comic books that I'VE created!)

BTW, Hoover and his longtime partner Tolson have a lot of San Diego history, as chronicled in a couple of the Reader's Famous Former Neighbors comic strips (with artwork based on photos of the actual locales):

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1634914549393&l=b5b9a24f9f

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1634914589394&l=b934a1c2dc

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Colonna Nov. 2, 2011 @ 4:28 p.m.

That "Private Files" trailer sure lists a lot of names... I was disappointed when I didn't see or hear "And Henry Fonda as The President".

Does Brod Crawford eat ice cream out of the carton in this one too?

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