It’s a little difficult to wrap one’s head around the idea of Frank Sinatra as Dirty Harry Callahan, but that’s what the suits at Warner Brothers originally had in mind. The script for “Dirty Harry” was bought by the studio for Sinatra, who had to drop out after he was unable to wield the large handgun that was the San Francisco cop’s favourite weapon due to a hand injury.

Perhaps the reason why Sinatra was considered for the role of Dirty Harry was that he had played hard-boiled cops or private detectives in a string of movies in the 1960s, including “Tony Rome” and “The Detective”. 

“The Detective” (1968) has Ole Blue Eyes playing Joe Leland, who is investigating the brutal murder of a high society homosexual who has had his head bashed in and his genitals cut off. Leland and his colleagues soon zero in on the homosexual’s psychopathic roommate and he gets what seems to be confession out of the man.

The man is sent to the electric chair and Leland and his fellow detectives soon move on to other cases, including the suspicious suicide of an accountant married to a woman named Norma McIver (Jacqueline Bisset). As Leland digs deeper into the suicide, he uncovers a network of corruption involving politicians but learns that any further investigation could jeopardise his chances of being promoted.

“The Detective” tries a little too hard to be a movie about big issues in the US in the tumultuous 1960s – homosexuality, race relations, drug abuse, psycho-analysis (which Leland being the strong silent type doesn’t approve of) and corruption in the system.

Add to that the fact that Leland is separated from his nymphomaniac wife Karen (Lee Remick, who has little to do except mope and look troubled). A few minutes into “The Detective”, viewers are pulled completely out of the main story by a long flashback that traces Leland’s troubled relationship with Karen.

One of the strengths of “The Detective” is its ensemble cast, including Jack Klugman as Leland’s partner Dave Schoenstein, Horace McMahon as the captain of the detective squad, Robert Duvall as a mean-spirited detective (whose character is used to highlight the prejudice towards homosexuals) and Lloyd Bochner as psychologist Wendell Roberts, who has crucial information about the accountant’s suicide that links up with the initial murder of the homosexual.

Director Gordon Douglas seems to be painting by numbers as he makes his way through the various plots and sub-plots of this film. A firmer hand and some tighter editing could have made “The Detective” more compelling.

Okay for a rental on a rainy afternoon.

By the way, here’s some nice bits of movie trivia: a) An early advertisement for Sinatra as Dirty Harry. 

b) “The Detective” was based on a novel by Roderick Thorp, who wrote a sequel that has Joe Leland trapped in a skyscraper taken over by German terrorists. That novel was adapted for the silver screen as one of the biggest action flicks of the 1980s – “Die Hard”.

Go here for Clint Eastwood talking about how he got the role of Dirty Harry.

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