Jeff Smith 9 a.m., June 28
Dueling Hoovers: Larry Cohen vs. Clint Eastwood
It started with this image I shared on my Facebook wall:
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."
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.
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.
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.
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?