J Edgar The Film


Laurel King, Contributor

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j edgar the filmIn many films, J. Edgar Hoover is depicted as a rather painful dichotomy, at times confident and cocky, at other times timid and self-conscious. However, this is a somewhat accurate portrayal of one of the most controversial G-men of all time.

To John Edgar Hoover, film was a great way to get his thoughts across to a wider audience. In 1959, he served as a consultant to Warner Bros. for a film about the FBI, The FBI Story and in 1965 for a somewhat longer-running, spin-off TV series, The F.B.I. To ensure the FBI was portrayed in a more favorable light than other crime dramas popular at the time, Hoover was careful to interject his comments and critiques until he felt the finished product was acceptable.

For those looking for a J. Edgar Hoover film, there are several, showing numerous sides of a rather complex historical figure. The 1977 film The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover stars Broderick Crawford as the director; this film explores what might have happened to the "private files" kept by Hoover, on so many notably powerful leaders. Ernest Borgnine starred as Hoover twice; once, in a 1983 TV film Blood Feud and again in the 2000 film, Hoover, a one-man film. He was depicted in the TV film, Hoover vs. The Kennedys (1987) played by actor Jack Warden, as well as a turn by Treat Williams in the TV film J. Edgar Hoover (also in 1987). There was even a comic musical, J. Edgar!, featuring Kelsey Grammar as Hoover and John Goodman as Clyde Tolson, in 2001.

In J. Edgar the film (from 2011), Clint Eastwood directs an epic attempt to describe the confounding behavior of one of the most controversial government employees of the 20th century. As J. Edgar Hoover, Leonardo DiCaprio is both captivating and cringe-inducing. In the J. Edgar 2011 film, he easily goes from confident and obsessive, to indecisive and self-conscious, sometimes in the space of a few minutes. With his skill at showing such a wide range of personal emotion, DiCaprio is able to show what must have been a maddening self-loathing (for his inability to conform to societal expectations regarding sexuality and marriage).

In Hoover the film (2000), Ernest Borgnine plays the director, in a solo performance. Directed by Rick Pamplin, the film is basically a "one-man show" with Borgnine's Hoover discussing his long and controversial career on camera, reliving his triumphs and attempting to explain away his failings.

There are also several 'cameo' appearances of Hoover in different films on television and theater, from 1983 to 2012. He is portrayed by Kevin Dunn in the 1992 film Chaplin, and Pat Hingle in the TV film Citizen Cohn (1992). Richard Dysart plays him in a TV film Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair (1993) and screen film, Panther (1995). Bob Hoskins takes a turn at the job in Oliver Stone's 1995 film, Nixon, as well as David Fredericks in two episodes of The X-Files and Millennium. Larry Drake plays Hoover in a 2002 film, Timequest, and Billy Crudup plays him in Public Enemies (2009). Finally, Enrico Colantoni acts as Hoover on the 2011 television miniseries, The Kennedys, and William Harrison-Wallace portrays him in the Stephen King adaptation of The Death of Jack Hamilton (2012).