FBI Story The (1959) – full review!
Produced & directed by Mervyn LeRoy with a screenplay by Richard Breen (Titanic (1953)) and John Twist that was based on a book by Don Whitehead this overlong drama begins strongly when its principal character and narrator James Stewart as agent John ‘Chip’ Hardesty tells how the titled agency used it vast yet efficient resources to find the person (Nick Adams) responsible for blowing up an airliner in flight; he’d put a time-bomb of dynamite in his mother’s luggage which was checked baggage in the plane’s cargo hold before it exploded killing the 49 persons (crew and passengers) onboard. There are several other sequences within the film during which Stewart narrates and the storyline is gripping or interesting for its historical aspects: the Federal Bureau of Investigation gets their man in the 1930’s when the notorious gangsters operated and the nation knew who was on the FBI’s most wanted list – Pretty Boy Floyd Baby Face Nelson John Dillinger (after going to watch Myrna Loy in Manhattan Melodrama (1934)) Ma Barker and Machine Gun Kelly who evidently coined the term G-man. In fact an earlier film titled ‘G’ Men (1935) and starring another James (Cagney in a role similar to Stewart’s) recounts much of these same facts and incidents: FBI agents couldn’t carry firearms initially an agent was killed while trying to bring in a gangster caught in Kansas City civic groups and then Congress got involved to arm the FBI with guns which leads to a shoot-out at a Wisconsin resort (Snyder lake?) during which lead actor James’s partner is killed (Murray Hamilton as Sam Crandall in this one). The titled story moves along best during these periods of narration.
Unfortunately far too much of this movie’s plot and action are spent on Hardesty’s domestic life an ultra squeaky clean family life (ideal Americana?) involving Vera Miles as Chip’s long suffering wife Lucy Ann who practically raises their three children alone during his frequent absences undercover which cause her consternation as she fears for his life. This syrupy love story dominates an inordinate amount of screen-time and includes several too perfect or too contrived plot-lines like Sam’s son George (Larry Pennell) becoming an FBI agent who also later works with Chip (in the jungles of Brazil; a sequence added to show a couple of special effects?) who even marries one of his daughters or the Hardesty’s son Mike (Buzz Martin) joining the Marines and dying during the first wave assault on Iwo Jima during World War II. In fact the film could have been edited much more tightly excluding much of this last hour (which involves an elongated tracking and chase of two suspected Communists to end it on a high note?) and been better for it.
J. Edgar Hoover who appears uncredited in the film must have personally supervised and approved of all these storylines which also include the FBI’s involvement in infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan catching a person (Fay Roope) responsible for conspiring to kill oil baron ‘Indians’ in Oklahoma in order to take possession of their land and rounding up aliens Japanese and German Nazi’s in our country after the outbreak of WW II. An actor playing Hoover is even seen apprehending gangster Alvin Karpis who was arrested without incident.