The Detective (1968 film)

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The Detective
Film Poster for The Detective.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGordon Douglas
Screenplay byAbby Mann
Based onThe Detective
1966 novel
by Roderick Thorp
Produced byAaron Rosenberg
CinematographyJoseph Biroc
Edited byRobert L. Simpson
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Arcola Pictures Corporation
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • May 28, 1968 (1968-05-28)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.5 million [1]
Box office$6.5 million (rentals)[2]

The Detective is a 1968 American neo-noir[3] crime film directed by Gordon Douglas, produced by Aaron Rosenberg, and starring Frank Sinatra, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Roderick Thorp.

Co-stars include Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Jack Klugman, William Windom, and Robert Duvall, with a script by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Abby Mann. The book's rights were owned by Robert Evans, who was to produce the film but never got a chance to when Evans was hired by Gulf+Western to run Paramount Pictures.

The Detective marked a move towards — and was billed as — a more "adult" approach to depicting the life and work of a police detective while confronting, for one of the first times in mainstream cinema, previously taboo subjects such as homosexuality. Here, the detective in question is Joe Leland, who is trying to juggle marital issues with a murder case that seemed to be open-and-shut at first but runs much deeper than he could have imagined.

The Detective was Sinatra's fourth collaboration with director Douglas, having worked together on Young at Heart (1954), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Tony Rome (1967), and then later Lady in Cement (1968).


New York City police detective Joe Leland is called to the home of a murder victim who has been beaten to death, head crushed, and has had his genitals removed. Puzzled and disgusted, the police on call are left bemused, and Leland holds things together with his direct, no-nonsense approach.

Few leads are found, other than the fact that a housemate of the victim remains conspicuous by his absence. All the while notions about the victim's sexuality and personal interests warp the ideals of the officers assigned to the task. Leland tries to remain focused on the case while dealing with the breakdown of his marriage to wife Karen).

Eventually, the victim's housemate is identified as Felix Tesla, and he is soon tracked down by Leland and another detective. Leland makes a psychologically disturbed Tesla crack and coaxes a confession out of him. This results in extensive publicity, a promotion for Leland, and the electric chair for Tesla, which distresses Leland because it is clear to him that Tesla is insane.

Sinatra and Remick

Later, across town, a man kills himself by jumping from the rooftop of a racetrack. The case goes unnoticed until the much-younger wife of the dead man, Norma MacIver, comes to Leland's office and asks him to look into it, believing something far more complex is involved.

Leland and partner Dave Schoenstein follow leads. A psychiatrist, Dr. Roberts, clearly knows more about the dead man, Colin MacIver, than he is willing to reveal. The therapist also is familiar with Karen Leland, whose infidelity is putting a great strain on the detective's home life and distracting him from his work.

Leland soon learns that certain powerful interests in the city do not want him to ask questions about their scheme to inflate the value of real estate. Leland discovers MacIver is at the center of the scheme. The incorruptible detective presses on, at risk to his career and life, as he discovers a lurid relationship between the man's suicide and the previous murder. MacIver had met the victim after going to a gay club to "get [homosexuality] out of my system." MacIver then proceeded to murder him following the victim's remarks about being able to recognize MacIver as a homosexual.

MacIver made a taped confession to Dr. Roberts in which he also explains that he used the doctor's name as a front in his real estate scheme. Roberts insists that Leland keep MacIver's confession secret to preserve the detective's professional reputation as well as the powerful interests who do not want their crimes exposed. The film ends after Leland has revealed the truth and is happy to let the chips fall where they may, having unburdened himself of his guilt over Tesla's wrongful execution.



Sinatra originally planned to have his then-wife Mia Farrow cast as Norma MacIver, a role that was eventually taken by Jacqueline Bisset after Farrow was kept beyond the previously scheduled end of filming for Rosemary's Baby. This was the last straw for Sinatra, who had the divorce papers publicly served on Farrow on her film's set. Their divorce became final in August 1968, putting an end to a short-lived romance of barely two years.[4]

Release and critical reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Released on May 28, 1968 The Detective was a box office success, becoming the 20th highest earning film of the year with $6.5 million taken in box office rentals, exceeding its $4.49 million budget.

According to Fox records the film required $8,800,000 in rentals to break even and by 11 December 1970 had made $10.2 million, therefore making a profit for the studio.[5]


Critical reception was mostly good while Sinatra delivered one of his most intense and dedicated acting performances.

The Detective was released on DVD by 20th Century Fox in 2005 as part of a boxed set that included Tony Rome and Lady in Cement.[citation needed]

The Hollywood Reporter commented: "Sinatra has honed his laconic, hep veneer to the point of maximum credibility." Roger Ebert praised his performance and the concept of the film, stating: "It is pretty clear that Sinatra wanted 'The Detective' to be as good a movie as he could manage. It provides a clear, unsentimental look at a police investigation, and even the language reflects the way cops (and the rest of us) talk."[6]


In 1979, Roderick Thorp wrote a sequel to his novel The Detective called Nothing Lasts Forever, in which Leland is trapped in a Klaxon Oil Corporation skyscraper after it is taken by German terrorists and must rescue his daughter and grandchildren. The novel was adapted into the 1988 20th Century Fox film Die Hard, in which Joe Leland's name was changed to John McClane, the object of his heroism was changed from his daughter to his wife, and Klaxon became the Nakatomi Corporation. Coincidentally, Lloyd Bochner's son Hart was also featured in Die Hard, as was Jacqueline Bisset's then-partner, Alexander Godunov. The film launched a film franchise that ran until 2013.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p255
  2. ^ Solomon p 230. See also "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969, pg 15.
  3. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  4. ^ Mia Farrow profile,; accessed 4 May 2016.
  5. ^ Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 327.
  6. ^ "Roger Ebert's Review, July 12th 1968".
  7. ^ "The Running Man and Die Hard with Steven de Souza: Live from Alamo Drafthouse, episode #57 of I Was There Too on Earwolf".

External links[edit]