The Detective - 20 July 2013




114 min, English with English Subtitles
Dir. Gordon Douglas, 1968
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick

 

Detecting the gays: Sinatra is on the case!


The Detective was first released on 28 May 1968, exactly a month before the riots in the Stonewall Inn marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. You can see in this film that something was on the brink of changing, or, to  put it another way, that change had already crept in and it was ready to topple things over.

 

The most surprising thing about this film is the absolute gusto with which Frank Sinatra plays detective Joe Leland, the unlikely champion of the persecuted gay criminals, psychos, and lost souls he encounters on his watch. We think of Sinatra as a right-wing Reaganite with little time for progressive causes and strong mafia connections, but up to the late 1960s he had been an active campaigner for the American Democrat Party, was a tireless supporter of the civil rights movement, seems to have assisted some communist organisations, and was vocal on issues such as women’s rights. Here’s a gay-friendly Sinatra to add to the picture.

 

The Detective is, unexpectedly, a political film disguised as a who-dun-it. It is a plea for tolerance and understanding for those poor homosexuals, who have enough to contend with without having to deal too with the savagery of prejudice. Yes, a few of them are crazy, but isn’t it because society has pushed them to the limit? In the detective novel that is our life, aren’t we all clueless? How much of what we do and what we are is really our choice? Each time a crime is committed, or a person is hurt, aren't we all responsible?

 

Detective Leland may be experienced, sharp, and eagle-eyed, but he does not even know what he is detecting. He thinks he is filing a murder case, but there is a whole lot more going on. There are the criss-crossing lines of the gay underground network in New York City. There’s the back-stabbing in the Police Department. There are the trickster pychoanalists who claim there is only one truth to each of us. And there is the love of Joe Leland’s life, Karen, a messed up woman with a ‘sexually perverse’ side (played by the great Lee Remick). She is the one to teach the detective that, straight or gay, we are all in the gutter, and the only faint light anyone can hope to see, can only ever come from a place deep within ourselves.

 
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