A Long Tradition in Transition: The Detective
In a world chock-a-block with gritty, boundary-pushing, television crime procedurals, it’s always good to remember that the movies got there first, and New York regularly served as an epicenter for investigation. From the sleuthing of covert Nazi agents in The House on 92nd Street (1945) to the on-location authenticity of The Naked City (1948) to the police station tensions of Detective Story (1950) and the rooting-out of Communist operatives in Pickup on South Street (1953), the Big Apple grippingly served as the Big Uneasy, playing the shadow-drenched home to lowlifes in income brackets high and low. It took a while for Frank Sinatra (born across the Hudson River in nearby Hoboken, New Jersey) – and two decades of screen-acting seasoning – to step into the role of NYPD detective Joe Leland in The Detective (1968), but the wait was well worth it, and his no-nonsense decency and world-weary gravitas makes this admittedly shaky artifact of a transitional late-1960s era in screen content nonetheless a compellingly watchable entry in the Manhattan crime melodrama tradition. Adapted by Abby Mann from a sensational best-seller by Roderick Thorp and directed by frequent Sintara collaborator Gordon Douglas, the film goes into darker territory than mainstream audiences were accustomed to – the gruesome murder of a homosexual – and Leland must face head-on the other dark areas in his life: an unfaithful wife (Lee Remick), corrupt and bigoted police colleagues (played by a fabulous ensemble including Ralph Meeker, Al Freeman, Jr., Jack Klugman, Horace McMahon) and the tormented suspects (Tony Musante, William Windom) who leave chaos in their wake. Sinatra must have felt comfortable playing a principled but troubled New York City cop: two of his last major movie roles – Contract on Cherry Street (1977, for television) and The First Deadly Sin (1980) – also pinned an NYPD detective’s badge on him. Part of Twilight Time’s salute to the Sinatra Centenary, The Detective (also featuring Jacqueline Bisset, having a breakout year with subsequent lead roles in The Sweet Ride and Bullitt) debuts on TT hi-def Blu-ray in a recently completed, crisply detailed transfer, with an Isolated Audio Track showcasing its stylish Jerry Goldsmith score and an Audio Commentary featuring film historians David Del Valle, Lem Dobbs and TT’s Nick Redman covering Sinatra and the film’s production as well as offering an astute analysis of its “adult” material. Release date is December 8; Preorders open tomorrow, Friday November 20.