Get ready to record Sinatra’s classic X-rated film!

by Martin Hafer

On Thursday December 10th at 1:45am, Turner Classic Movies is airing an X-rated film starring Frank Sinatra and it’s one of his best films. This is saying a lot, because Sinatra made an amazing number of great films including From Here to Eternity, Suddenly, Von Ryan’s Express and The Manchurian Candidate. Now, about that X-rated thing, I’ve got a bit of explaining to do. When The Detective debuted in the United States, it was slapped with the X-rating and my headline about this surely got your attention. However, this film to be released today, it would only receive a PG-13 rating. What gives? Why the X rating?! Well, back in 1968, films didn’t talk openly or sympathetically about homosexuality…hence the X-rating because such subjects were definitely taboo back in the day. While it’s not a movie I’d show to young children, I’d be comfortable letting teens watch, so don’t worry about that X!

The film begins with a naked dead man being examined by detectives–and I knew right there this was not a typical 60s cop picture! Apparently the man’s been murdered–and viciously so. The murder and the casual way the police behave about this is pretty intense stuff for the time. The detective investigating the crime, Joe Leland, is played by Sinatra. Leland is odd in that although he’s a very good and effective cop he’s also stuck with a liberal conscience–and his conscience troubles him throughout the film. He sees the dead man and other gay characters through the movie as human beings…something that sets him apart from most of the other policemen in the film. What also bothers him is that although he’s extremely effective on his job, other cops seem willing to do almost anything to rack up arrest and conviction statistics–and he soon gets sick of this as well as their attitudes. His disgust, however, is a lot to get a lot worse–when this case turns into one involving widespread police corruption.

The Detective
Directed by
Gordon Douglas
Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Ralph Meeker
Release Date
28 May 1968
Martin’s Grade: A

I really like this film and the writing is terrific. Much of it was because although it was very adult, it never really seemed gratuitous. It also brought up a lot of wonderful moral questions about being a cop–and clearly was the influence for such later new-style cop films as McQ, Dirty Harry and The French Connection. These cops, in contrast to what folks had been seeing before, were much tougher and more violent…and the cases they took on were much earthier than usual. The Detective is well worth seeing–and an excellent performance by Sinatra. In fact, it’s all so good that I am shocked that it’s not one of Sinatra’s more famous film roles. This film is anything but ordinary.

By the way, I should warn you that this movie is very blunt and crude on occasions when it talks about homosexuals–and is sure to offend some. However, despite this, it’s a very progressive film for its time and actually is quite sympathetic in how it deals with the subject as well as giving police, for once, a more three-dimensional quality.