The FBI Story

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The FBI Story
The FBI Story - 1959 - Poster.png
1959 theatrical poster
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by Richard L. Breen
John Twist
Based on a book by Don Whitehead
Starring James Stewart
Vera Miles
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Philip W. Anderson
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
October 1959
Running time
149 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $3.5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]

The FBI Story is a 1959 American drama film starring James Stewart, and produced and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The screenplay by Richard L. Breen and John Twist is based on a book by Don Whitehead.


John Michael ('Chip') Hardesty (James Stewart) narrates the story of a murder, which the viewer sees in a flashback. Young Jack Graham (Nick Adams), takes out life insurance on his mother and plants a bomb in her luggage for a flight that she was taking from Denver, Colorado, to Portland, Oregon, November 1, 1955.

Then he recounts his first involvement as a government clerk in Knoxville, Tennessee in May 1924, and his proposal to a librarian, Lucy Ann Ballard (Vera Miles). Ballard loves Hardesty but wants to change him. They marry with the idea that Hardesty will resign from the FBI and start practicing law. On his way to Washington D.C. his partner, Sam Crandall (Murray Hamilton), tries to talk him out of resigning.

Following the Kansas City Massacre average citizens and civic groups decided that they had had enough and started to demand actions against gangsters like Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde.

Nelson comes up shooting, mortally wounding Crandall. (The real incident did occur on April 22, Baby Face Nelson, was hiding out with John Dillinger, but it was at the Little Bohemia Lodge just outside Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, the two agents were Special Agents J. C. Newman and W. Carter Baum, Baum is the agent killed in the shootout. With them was also a local constable not shown in the film. Nelson was holding two hostages in a house, and when the car came up, Nelson, wanting to take the vehicle, rushed forward shouting for the occupants to get out, but then opened fire on the car shooting all three lawmen).[2]

With the US entry into the war, enemy aliens (Americans of Japanese, German and Italian descent) are quickly rounded up by the FBI and sent to "concentration camps", and although none of them were spies, the film argues that it was a necessary act to prevent possible espionage and collaboration with the Axis Powers. In order to shoulder the new burden, the ranks of the "bureau" are quickly doubled from about 2500 to more than 5000 agents. One of those aspiring new agents is the deceased Sam's son George who is constantly frustrated and worried that he would never live up to his father's reputation. After another day of difficult training, George is invited by Chip to a barbecue at the Hardesty household where a romance is clearly budding between the young man and Chip's oldest daughter. While dancing in the backyard, the party is suddenly interrupted by Chip's only son who plays the Marine Hymn on the phonograph before announcing his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps. Heartbroken by their loss, Chip and Lucy nonetheless continue serving their country with courage as the Axis powers are defeated and America slowly enters the Cold War.

Hardesty's speech to his fellow FBI agents, walking out of the building he is greeted by his family, including his own granddaughter wearing an old hat that sang the tune of Yankee Doodle ; the same hat that Chip had bought for his own children decades ago near the beginning of his career.



The Federal Bureau of Investigation had great influence over the production, with J. Edgar Hoover acting as a co-producer of sorts. Hoover even forced LeRoy to re-shoot several scenes he didn't think portrayed the FBI in an appropriate light, and played a pivotal role in the casting for the film. Hoover and LeRoy were personal friends, but Hoover only approved the film after he had a file of "dirt" created on LeRoy.[3][4] Hoover had to approve every frame of the film and also had two special agents with LeRoy for the duration of filming.[5] Hoover himself appears briefly in the film.


  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take". Variety: 34. January 6, 1960. 
  2. ^ "Famous Cases: "Baby Face" Nelson". FBI. 
  3. ^ Gentry, Curt (2001). J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and The Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 384, 446–447, 708. ISBN 978-0-393-32128-9. 
  4. ^ Doherty, Thomas Patrick (2005). Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 978-0-231-12953-4. 
  5. ^ Quirk, Lawrence J. (1997). James Stewart: behind the scenes of a wonderful life. New York: Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 251–254. ISBN 978-1-55783-329-7. 

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