The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977)

112 mins | Drama, Biography | 23 December 1977

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HISTORY

Flashback scenes of J. Edgar Hoover’s career and early life are accompanied by voice-over narration of Rip Torn as “Dwight Webb, Jr.”
       A story appearing in the 5 Feb 1976 issue of DV noted that producer-director Larry Cohen was preparing the film, which was projected to be three hours long and to have a budget of $3 million. Robert Duvall and Charles Durning were mentioned as being under consideration for the lead role of J. Edgar Hoover. The article also stated that sequences for the film had already been shot on location at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., with actor Robert Forster. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, these initial scenes were personally financed by Cohen, who wanted to shoot in the former FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) offices before the agency relocated to a building across the street, and because he did not yet have backing in place to complete the film. Forster does not receive screen credit in the film, but he has confirmed that he is the person in silhouette. His feet are seen in the initial scenes depicting a man walking through the recently vacated offices.
       In addition to archive footage, the 31 Dec 1976 Var review noted that the film adopted two distinct visual styles: a “backlot look” for reenactments of historic incidents, and a “documentary” look for scenes depicting Hoover’s life. Among the actual locations filmed for these documentary scenes were FBI headquarters and the Attorney General’s office in the Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C.; the FBI training Academy at Quantico, VA; J. Edgar Hoover’s home at 4136 30th PL NW near ...

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Flashback scenes of J. Edgar Hoover’s career and early life are accompanied by voice-over narration of Rip Torn as “Dwight Webb, Jr.”
       A story appearing in the 5 Feb 1976 issue of DV noted that producer-director Larry Cohen was preparing the film, which was projected to be three hours long and to have a budget of $3 million. Robert Duvall and Charles Durning were mentioned as being under consideration for the lead role of J. Edgar Hoover. The article also stated that sequences for the film had already been shot on location at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., with actor Robert Forster. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, these initial scenes were personally financed by Cohen, who wanted to shoot in the former FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) offices before the agency relocated to a building across the street, and because he did not yet have backing in place to complete the film. Forster does not receive screen credit in the film, but he has confirmed that he is the person in silhouette. His feet are seen in the initial scenes depicting a man walking through the recently vacated offices.
       In addition to archive footage, the 31 Dec 1976 Var review noted that the film adopted two distinct visual styles: a “backlot look” for reenactments of historic incidents, and a “documentary” look for scenes depicting Hoover’s life. Among the actual locations filmed for these documentary scenes were FBI headquarters and the Attorney General’s office in the Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C.; the FBI training Academy at Quantico, VA; J. Edgar Hoover’s home at 4136 30th PL NW near Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.; The Mayflower Hotel restaurant; the Pimlico racetrack in MD; and the Sheraton Hotel barber shop that Hoover frequented. Lee Grant’s 8 Dec 1976 LAT column noted that Cohen sought permission to recreate the 5 Jun 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, but was turned down by hotel management.
       Technical advisor John M. Crewdson was touted as an FBI expert and a writer with the NYT Washington Bureau.
       Although the film suggests that former FBI agent Melvin Purvis became a private detective and was harassed by Hoover until he committed suicide, Purvis was in fact an attorney who later owned a radio station, and his 1960 "suicide" may have been an accident.
       A 27 Feb 1977 LAT article stated the film was scheduled to be released in Apr 1977, but it was not until 26 Oct 1977 that DV announced the film's acquisition by American International Pictures (AIP). Although The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover did not receive a wide theatrical release, the 28 Dec 1977 Var indicated that the film opened in three Kansas City, KS, theaters five days earlier, but a 21 Mar 1979 LAT article reported that the five-city test engagement was not well received. According to Filmex director Gary Essert, Cohen entered the film in the 1978 exposition, but the print did not arrive in time to be considered. Essert later saw the picture at the London Film Festival, and allowed Cohen to bypass committee judgment and resubmit for Filmex 1979.
       The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover initially received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but the 30 Nov 1977 Var stated that the Code and Rating Appeals Board re-rated the film PG after Cohen filed an appeal.
       Statements in opening titles read: "This story is based on fact, but all characters, other than named public officials, are fictional and do not represent any actual persons living or dead."; and, "This motion picture was filmed on actual locations at the F.B.I. but without the approval or censorship of the Bureau."
       End credits state: "The Producers gratefully acknowledge the assistance of True Davis, Jay Raymond Bell, Jean Viner, Terry F. Lenzner, Harry M. Brittenham, David Forward, Edgar B. Hamilton Jr., Louis Cohen, The Stork Club, Copacabana, Gio Casara."
       Although credits list the copyright to Larco Productions Inc. in 1977, the theatrical release is not registered with the U.S. Library of Congress.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
5 Feb 1976
p. 1
Daily Variety
26 Oct 1977
p. 1, 6
Los Angeles Times
8 Dec 1976
Section H, p. 21
Los Angeles Times
27 Feb 1977
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Mar 1979
Section IV, pp. 14-15
Variety
31 Dec 1976
---
Variety
30 Nov 1977
---
Variety
28 Dec 1977
p. 11
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
starring:
as Hoover
as Robert F. Kennedy
as Lionel McCoy
as Florence Hollister
as Dwight Webb Jr.
as Carrie DeWitt
as Dave Hindley
as Franklin D. Roosevelt
as Melvin Purvis
+

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
starring:
as Hoover
as Robert F. Kennedy
as Lionel McCoy
as Florence Hollister
as Dwight Webb Jr.
as Carrie DeWitt
as Dave Hindley
as Franklin D. Roosevelt
as Melvin Purvis
as Hoover's mother
as Attorney General Stone
as Lyndon Johnson
as Damon Runyon
as Quentin Reynolds
as Janice Harper
and
as Clyde Tolson
also starring:
as Walter Winchell
as John F. Kennedy
as Dwight Webb, Senior
as Benchley
Mary Alice Moore
as Miss Bryant
as Senator McKellar
[and]
as Reilly
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Larco Production
A Larry Cohen Film
An American International Release
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Additional photog
Additional photog
Asst cam
Key grip
Still photog
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set des
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus rec by
Mus ed
Mus ed
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit pub
Prod consultant
Scr supv
Casting consultant
Casting consultant
Prod exec
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Tech adv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color by
Dailies
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 December 1977
Production Date:

Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Larco Productions, Inc.
26 January 1978
PA1286
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastmancolor
Black and White
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision equipment
Duration(in mins):
112
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24902
SYNOPSIS

Following the death of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, several prominent figures in Washington, D.C., become concerned that Hoover’s secret files will fall into the hands of President Richard Nixon. While most of the documents are destroyed, FBI whistleblower Dwight Webb, Jr., reflects on what is known about Hoover’s forty-eight years at the bureau. During World War I, Hoover began his career as a clerk at the Department of Justice and quickly gained prominence by establishing legal procedures for deporting communist immigrants. After the Teapot Dome scandal of 1922, Hoover is appointed acting director of the FBI at just twenty-nine years old. Ignoring the criticism of his peers, he immediately implements strict reforms designed to minimize corruption and bolster the bureau’s poor public image. The capture and death of public enemy John Dillinger secures Hoover’s standing as an influential lawman, but draws attention from critics who view his tactics as publicity stunts. As a result, Hoover becomes determined to personally arrest more dangerous fugitives. His dedication to his work prevents him from pursuing a personal life, and rumors eventually begin to circulate about his homosexuality. In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy fuels the American public’s fear of communism, and many innocent Americans are persecuted as alleged socialists or homosexuals. When President John F. Kennedy appoints his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, to the position of U.S. Attorney General, Hoover struggles to accept the younger man’s authority and progressive views. With the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, Hoover develops a hatred of Martin Luther King, Jr., and orders illegal wiretaps of him and his close followers, believing their radical activism is linked to ...

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Following the death of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, several prominent figures in Washington, D.C., become concerned that Hoover’s secret files will fall into the hands of President Richard Nixon. While most of the documents are destroyed, FBI whistleblower Dwight Webb, Jr., reflects on what is known about Hoover’s forty-eight years at the bureau. During World War I, Hoover began his career as a clerk at the Department of Justice and quickly gained prominence by establishing legal procedures for deporting communist immigrants. After the Teapot Dome scandal of 1922, Hoover is appointed acting director of the FBI at just twenty-nine years old. Ignoring the criticism of his peers, he immediately implements strict reforms designed to minimize corruption and bolster the bureau’s poor public image. The capture and death of public enemy John Dillinger secures Hoover’s standing as an influential lawman, but draws attention from critics who view his tactics as publicity stunts. As a result, Hoover becomes determined to personally arrest more dangerous fugitives. His dedication to his work prevents him from pursuing a personal life, and rumors eventually begin to circulate about his homosexuality. In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy fuels the American public’s fear of communism, and many innocent Americans are persecuted as alleged socialists or homosexuals. When President John F. Kennedy appoints his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, to the position of U.S. Attorney General, Hoover struggles to accept the younger man’s authority and progressive views. With the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, Hoover develops a hatred of Martin Luther King, Jr., and orders illegal wiretaps of him and his close followers, believing their radical activism is linked to the Communist Party. Meanwhile, he continues to withdraw from any personal relationships outside the companionship of FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson, and zealously scorns his employees’ sexual exploits. Following the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy unsuccessfully runs for president against incumbent Lyndon Johnson. Now seventy years old, Hoover briefly considers stepping down, but later convinces Johnson to exempt him from the compulsory retirement law enforced on government employees. Around this time, newspaper columnist Dave Hindley publishes claims that Hoover and Tolson have been engaged in a lifelong affair. While Tolson is hospitalized with a stroke, Hoover redoubles his stronghold over the bureau in attempt to thwart Richard Nixon’s desire to implement extensive illicit surveillance. Nixon’s team decides to bypass his authority by assembling a private wiretapping committee, which Hoover begins to investigate just before suffering a fatal heart attack. Now acting head of the FBI, Tolson muses that bureau employees will relish the eradication of Hoover’s oppressive workplace rules and concealment practices. However, the former director’s absence eventually leads to the exposure of widespread government corruption and the resignation of Richard Nixon.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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