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The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover Reviews

In a chronologically sweeping film that tries to show too much of the half-century of Hoover's reign as head of the FBI, writer-producer-director Cohen produces a sometimes fascinating but thoroughly sensational picture. Crawford, who bears some resemblance to the swarthy, corpulent Hoover, fist-thumps his way through his fight with the Kennedy brothers in the 1960s and his persecution of Martin Luther King, Jr. Wainwright plays a laconic, tight-lipped Hoover during the early years of the FBI director's tenure, shown in briefly sketched episodes dealing with the gangsters of the 1930s and the spies of the 1940s. But Crawford occupies most of the footage as the jowly, truculent Hoover in his later years, a Buddha-like tyrant of bureaucracy, intimidation, and outright blackmail, using the FBI files and the threat of his all-powerful office to maintain his awesome authority. Of course, Hoover has since been thoroughly denounced and exposed as a vainglorious despot with serious psychological problems. Hoover is shown to be a shifty-eyed, paranoid, jealous guardian of files, which Cohen claims concentrated on the sex lives of US politicians rather than wanted felons. Hoover used them as blackmail tools by which he flexed his muscles, fattened the bureau's budget, and made life miserable for any who dared criticize or oppose him. Crawford's always-angry posture evokes no sympathy, and the actor's demeanor suggests he can't wait to deliver his stereotyped, cliche-glutted lines and leave the production. Dailey, as Hoover's associate director sidekick, is rather good, but has little to work with. One of the most unintentionally funny scenes of the film occurs when Crawford and Dailey explode with rage when they learn a Washington newshound has suggested they are lovers. Not much of this film is credible, especially Cohen's poorly written script, his inept direction, and an overall production that is best described as sleazy and pandering to bad taste. The film reportedly was made on a "low budget" of $3 million.