Film Comment Selects (Aug 30) “The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover” (1977)

by on August 30, 2011Posted in: Essay

Larry Cohen The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover 1977


EXPLOITATION AUTEUR LARRY COHEN is a seasoned industry veteran with an accomplished track record of low-budget, high-minded entertainment. Of the writer-director’s cheapie filmography, his most well-known works are a pair of blaxploitation gangster flicks (Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem, both 1973); a handful of monster mashes (It’s Alive, 1974, God Told Me To, 1976, Q: The Winged Serpent, 1982); and a meta-thriller movie-movie (Special Effects, 1984). Cohen pushed genre fare past the point of Hollywood decorum and B-unit predictability. His through-the-looking-glass inversions of sleazoid staples were acute in their ideology and unsettling in their effect. “It’s Alive was summarily dismissed in a recent Film Comment as a ‘Rosemary’s BabyExorcist rip-off,'” complained Robin Wood in a later issue of the same magazine. “It is more intelligent than either, and owes them about as much as Rio Bravo owes High Noon.”


Though Film Comment is now hosting the writer-director for a double-feature revival and on-stage discussion, Wood’s complaint is as true today as it was then. Reductively pegged as a “cult” (even “camp”) filmmaker, Cohen’s reception — and arguably, his career — has been unfairly straight-jacketed by his status as a schlockmeister. Thus the critical neglect of Bone (1972), a formally experimental riff on the home-invasion genre and an acid commentary on race relations in America. And then there’s the little heralded film that may be Cohen’s crowning achievement, his 1977 political biopic The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover.



COVERING OVER FIVE DECADES in the life of the FBI’s most powerful Director, Private Files plays as a postmodern exegesis of government propaganda films, pulp-fiction fabulations, and New Hollywood historical revisionism. The range of influences spans the same decades as the rapid-fire pastiche of re-enactments from Hoover’s career: the Thirties’ pre-Code gangster films and post-Code police procedurals; the Forties’ noir-ish cynicism and splintered, post-Kane chronology; the Fifties’ Freudian neuroticism and ambivalent antiheroes; the Sixties’ nostalgia for the Thirties and the post-New Wave freedom with form; and the Seventies’ utopian promise to decisively expose the government secrets and sexual hypocrisy that were the moral underbelly of the American dream. The cast pairs classical-era standbys with a younger generation of psychedelic roustabouts. Beefsteak-jowled powerhouse Broderick Crawford plays Hoover and song-and-dance man Dan Dailey plays Associate Director Clyde Tolson, while Method-mug Rip Torn hoofs it as an FBI “brick agent” and grindhouse lothario Michael Parks wears the mask of Robert Kennedy. The title music score, by Miklós Rózsa, is cued by the marching band schmaltz of early 50’s crime dramas with a smatter of the avant-jazz that opens anti-hero 70’s cop shows. Private Files belongs to many eras, and also to none.


By emphasizing the “private files” in his title, Cohen suggests that for Hoover–who famously marshaled the bureau’s first P.R. agents–the prime instrument of power was image and information. Though he never served in the army or police force (he had previously worked as an indexer at the Library of Congress), he was sold to the press as “America’s top cop.” Hoover was obsessed with public presentation. “You have a tendency to five-o’clock-shadow,” he informs a young agent upon first meeting. “Shave twice a day.” But that fixation was more than matched by his voyeuristic invasion of people’s private lives, an expansion of power he jealously horded to himself. “I’ll bug and burglarize who I please–but damn if I’ll let anybody else do it!” For decades, Hoover’s surveillance gave him great blackmail leverage over a rotating cast of elected officials and movement activities. “If it wasn’t for the files,” narrates Agent Dwight Webb in the movie’s opening sequence, “there might never have been a J. Edgar Hoover or an FBI as we know it.” But the scope of Hoover’s bedroom probes was still remarkably far-reaching, wrapping its tentacles, in one unforgettable scene, around even the waitstaff at his favorite restaurant. As Larry Cohen explained in a recent interview with Alt Screen, “Whoever you were,” says Cohen, “he wanted to know as much as he could find out about you.” Not surprisingly, the feeling was mutual.


Growing up in post-war America, Cohen was a fan of old FBI movies like The House of 92nd Street and The Street with No Name. Under Hoover, the Bureau’s Crime Records Division acted as a publicity machine, placing puff-pieces in news outlets and pulp weeklies that propagated an image of iron-jawed, morally incorruptible Federal crusaders. Walter Winchell, the tabloid ink-slinger of the nightclub era and a character in Private Files, was one of many purveyors of Hoover’s ego, and brokered the FBI’s capture of mob killer Louis “Lepke” Buchwalter. After the passage of the Hays Code, Hollywood generated a cycle of FBI movies, such as the 1935 James Cagney vehicle G-Men. (Only four years early Cagney played the title villain in The Public Enemy.) These movies employed Federally sanctioned scenarios, stock phrases which the Bureau had crafted for household consumption. There were toy guns and G-Men pajamas. The counterculture cartoonist Jules Feiffer noted that Hoover’s authoritarian persona popped up in so many comic books that kids of his generation believed the Director ran the country, second only to President Roosevelt.


According to Mervyn LeRoy, who directed The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart, everybody “from the carpenters and electricians right to the top, everybody, had to be okayed by the FBI….I had two FBI men with me all the time, for research purposes so that we did things right. [Hoover] and his men controlled the movie.” These old FBI movies often cast supporting actor Lloyd Nolan, who in Private Files plays Hoover’s mentor, Attorney General Harlan Stone. Released five years after Hoover’s death, Private Files is the first movie about the FBI made without approval by the Bureau. “I loved those old FBI movies,” says Cohen. “But I never would have been able to make Private Files if Hoover were alive.”



FRAUGHT BY MISHAPS as Cohen’s production was, “the FBI did not interfere at all” when they shot on location in Washington D.C. “And we didn’t have permits to shoot any of it!” he explained. “It was pure brazen gall, guerrilla filmmaking at its craziest. And I’d never done a picture that covered 40 years. But I guess the answer is, we just did it.” Needing cars to recreate the 1930’s and 40’s, Cohen didn’t have money to use Teamsters in Hollywood, which amounted to “ten or twenty thousand dollars for the cars.” So they found a vintage automobile club in Maryland who supplied period cars for local parades, and Larry immediately asked the staff if they and their friends wanted to appear in the movie dressed in vintage costumes. (They did.) Without city permits, the crew shot scenes on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Capitol Building while the actors sat outside in a limo as Cohen figured out the next move. When air conditioners showed up in the background, Cohen told residents they had to take them out, “we are making a movie!” Though it was the middle of summer, the A/C units were removed. Closing off one thoroughfare with makeshift sawhorses, police patrol soon rolled by and “waved at us!” Cohen explains, likening it to a pageant. (“We waved right back.”) “The magic of it is that these things happen. You will it to happen and it happens.”


To raise money, Cohen was able to tout a cast of Academy Awards winners, such as Jose Ferrer, Celeste Holm and Broderick Crawford, who plays Hoover, and who recently won Best Actor as populist Louisiana demagogue Willie Stark in All the King’s Men. Cohen would get $100,000 one week and spend time on the phone drumming up funds for the following. Going through official channels, Cohen was refused access to government interiors when it was discovered the movie was about the FBI. So he shot on his actors on the fly, telling officials at the Justice Department that they were only taking background shots in order to recreate the locales on a Hollywood soundstage. “We had to wheedle our way in.” Cohen finagled access to Hoover’s own house, where the crew showed up and were greeted by Annie Fields, Hoover’s longtime maid (he left her $3,000 in his will). Ms. Fields “assumed somebody said it was OK so we got away with it. Next thing I know I was in his bedroom looking in his closet.” Cohen contrasts his cavalier mode of shooting Private Files with the “more litigious” climate today. “You shoot a scene in a hotel lobby or somebody’s house, and there’re paintings on the wall, you have to get clearance…you could be sued. It makes movies nightmarishly difficult today.”


Having already been denied official access to government buildings, Cohen says “the only reason we got cooperation on this picture was a real fluke.” Cohen shot scenes at the Mayflower Hotel, where Hoover famously ate dinner each evening with Clyde Tolson, portrayed by actor Dan Dailey. A hotel publicist reported the shoot in the newspaper the next day. While despairing that any media attention would derail the surreptitious production, Cohen received a call from the White House. Betty Ford, the President’s wife, was a former chorus girl and a huge fan of 20th Century Fox musicals like Mother Wore Tights and Give My Regards to Broadway, which starred Betty Grable and…Dan Dailey. Having read Dailey was in town for a movie, the First Lady invited the actor to the White House, where Dailey and Crawford lunched with the Fords, Henry Kissinger and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller even offered to lend the production use of his limo.


Cohen was not invited to the luncheon, but used the event to his advantage. He called all the government sites where he was previously forbidden, and when he casually let slip that the stars were presently having lunch at the White House, the tone would change. Suddenly, the government PR people were wholly accommodating, and Cohen gained access to such off-limits locales as the FBI training academy in Quantico, VA. In effect, “Dan Dailey saved the picture.” But only ten days before shooting was scheduled to begin, Dailey failed his physical exam (bad heart) and was refused insurance coverage. Cohen didn’t want to tell the actor he was medically incapable, since he “would never get another job if it’s official.” So he went ahead without cast insurance, “even though we had all these old actors” in the movie. “And you know something, if Dan Dailey wasn’t in it, we never would have got invited to the White House, and we never would have got all those locations.”


Cohen painted a less than flattering picture of Rip Torn, who plays FBI agent Dwight Webb. Arriving for rehearsals with the blustery attitude for which the actor is notorious, initially he and Cohen “didn’t hit it off.” “We got into a terrible argument about something,” Cohen recalled, which Torn wanted to “settle with a fist fight in the street.” Perhaps testing Cohen, who claims to have gamely followed the actor outside, Torn relented and said he wanted to do the movie without any problems, and the to men went back to work. Cohen describes Torn as “psychopathic about his hairpiece,” or hairpieces, one for each for the side of his head. “He wouldn’t let the makeup people handle the hair, and hid the pieces in his dressing room, often later forgetting where he hid them.” At one point Torn refused to work, after someone broke into his car and stole his hair, an incident which baffled Cohen. (“Why anyone would steal such a clump of fuzzy stuff?”) So Cohen put a baseball cap on Torn’s head and resumed the shoot.


“No matter what the catastrophe, there was always some way out of it. Whatever situation comes up there’s a way out of it. Some people close down and send everyone home. If you don’t freeze up and don’t give up.”



THE CHIEF FINANCING came from American International Pictures, headed by Sam Arkoff, who made a career producing shoe-string midnight flicks like High School Hellcats and Blacula, and who Cohen “conned into giving up the money.” Arkhoff invested on the belief that J. Edgar Hoover would be played by Rod Steiger, but when Steiger opted to play W. C. Fields in WC Fields & Me, Cohen tried first for Albert Finney, who wasn’t available, then George C Scott, who had not too long ago won an Oscar for his leading role in Patton. Cohen saw a parallel between Direcrot Hoover and General Patton, who was also “widely thought of as an awful person” yet “had such charisma that they transcended the bad feeling about them.” Though Hoover’s severe abuses of justice weren’t exactly state secrets, he still was invited to social affairs like Truman Capote’s Black & White Masquerade Ball in 1966, where the Director hobnobbed in a black mask with Gloria Vanderbilt, Andy Warhol and Sammy Davis Jr. Cohen wasn’t the first bohemian to take an interest in the image of J. Edgar Hoover. The maverick film director Samuel Fuller had once expressed his desire to make a picture about Hoover, whom he thought was “sick, cruel, dogmatic, stupid, racist… everything I like in a character.”


Private Files invents composite characters and provides the motivation behind historically indeterminate episodes, but Cohen abides by his extensive source material. “I read every book that was out about Hoover.” Cohen interviewed top FBI executives and spent time with William Sullivan, at one time Deputy Associate Director (“the number three man in the Bureau”). After a devoted career with the FBI, Sullivan had a falling-out with the Director over the issue of civil rights. In 1970, on a panel before the UPI, Sullivan denied that communists were responsible for race riots and campus violence. Such an idea defied Hoover’s crusade against as black nationalists as subversive rabble-rousers and a threat to domestic security. Sullivan, however, was no radical, and admitted to Cohen that “he was the one who actually wrote the letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. suggesting he commit suicide. He told me he did it. He was proud he did it.”


Cohen explained that Sullivan had hoped to succeed Hoover as Director and sought favor with President Nixon. There was tension between Hoover and Nixon, who ordered the FBI to wiretap a series of government and press figures after a 1969 New York Times article exposed Nixon’s secret bombing campaign in Cambodia. Hoover performed the illegal surveillance, created logs of the recordings, and destroyed the tapes. The logs were not filed with the Bureau’s central records, and were instead entrusted to the D.C. office of William Sullivan. Nixon grew paranoid that Hoover might exploit the wiretap logs. “Hoover was holding that over Nixon.” Sullivan secretly furnished Nixon with the logs, and was forced out of the Bureau after a resulting blowout with Hoover.


The logs, however, never gave much of an advantage to Nixon, who described their contents as “gobs and gobs [of] gossip and bullshitting.” In light of such subterfuge, Sullivan was willing to talk to Larry Cohen, hoping he would come out good and “Hoover and Tolson not as saintly.” In Private Files, Cohen dramatizes these events between Hoover and Nixon, and William Sullivan shows up as fictional character Lionel McCoy, played by Jose Ferrer. But much of Cohen’s primary research was too sensitive to include in the movie, especially the events involving the Watergate scandal. “What we found out, so many of these things, if you put them in the movie the lawyers would jump in, it’ll cause too much trouble.” William Sullivan had told Cohen that W. Mark Felt, who had replaced Sullivan as the number three man in the Bureau, was the mysterious informant Deep Throat. After Hoover’s death, Nixon had appointed L. Patrick Gray as FBI Director, “a lost soul,” who “didn’t know his way around the Bureau at all” and was simply a “functionary of the Nixon administration.” Gray was soon fired after getting caught destroying FBI files for Nixon. Meanwhile, Mark Felt was “really running the entire Bureau,” and when he tipped off journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, says Cohen:


I guess he was trying to retaliate against the Nixon administration, and following the instructions of Hoover before his death to undermine the Nixon administration, because Nixon was trying to set up his own private FBI, what he called his ‘Plumber’s Units,’ which was going to do break-ins and burglaries and all that stuff, which the FBI had been doing for years for the President, breaking in places and stealing stuff and duplicating files, and getting medical records of people critical of the government, under Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy.


At the time the Watergate story broke, rumors abounded of Felt’s role as Deep Throat, which Felt denied in interviews. Cohen insists that if the FBI, which was “despised,” had been publicly revealed as the leak, the story would not have garnered the sensationalist liberal angle which made Pulitzer Prize-winning heroes of Woodward and Bernstein, who wrote for The Washington Post. The Post was a pro-Kennedy and anti-Nixon newspaper, especially after Nixon’s success in opening China, ending the draft and winning an election “with the highest plurality in modern times.” Cohen claims the Post inflated the Watergate break-in, which was “not a major crime,” and minimized the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident, where Senator Edward Kennedy was behind “a conspiracy that involved killing somebody.” Watergate was “practically a misdemeanor” which “became the biggest hullabaloo in the country,” while ample evidence in Chappaquiddick revealed Kennedy “leaving a girl to die in a car and drown, and getting away with it and moving all the witnesses out of Massachusetts before they could be questioned by the local authorities.” Cohen cites the comparison as “how they can throw the focus from one thing onto another thing.” In Private Files, the character J. Edgar Hoover is shown huffing that “nobody prints anything bad about the Kennedys.”



COHEN TAKES ISSUE with the 1976 movie All the President’s Men. “It’s so dishonest.” The reporters meet Deep Throat in a spooky garage, with footsteps and shadows insinuating that Nixon is tracking them and their lives are in danger. “Never happened!” Cohen insists “they were never in danger, and they never thought they were in danger. That was all bullshit… they put that in the movie to make the picture more dramatic.” The FBI would not have undermined Nixon unless instructed by J. Edgar Hoover. “That’s what my movie said in 1976, but nobody paid any attention to it.”
When asked about how Private Files fits into his oeuvre as a filmmaker, Cohen argues that “there is a semblance of reason behind all these movies.” Cohen finds a pattern of melodrama by “taking symbols of benevolence and turning them into something negative.” He has made movies “about a monster baby [It’s Alive], then ice cream [The Stuff], then an ambulance [The Ambulance], which is supposed to be a vehicle of mercy, but the ambulance is evil.” In a segment for the “Masters of Horror” series on Showtime, Cohen’s script portrays Uncle Sam as a psychopathic killer, as he likewise twists the image of the police in Maniac Cop, written by Cohen. “The FBI fits right into it.” The Bureau was “sold to us for years as perfect guys… straight-shooting American boys,” and was never thought of committing such abuses as ”wiretapping black people or sabotaging the black movement, or whatever… but as American good old-fashion patriots.”
The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover opened at the Kennedy Center in D.C., which was “a terrible mistake.” Because both the Kennedys and Richard Nixon “don’t come off so well” in the movie, neither Democrats nor Republicans reacted positively. “You gotta have one side or the other.” Cohen again cites All the Presidents Men, which was a success because it was conformed to a left-wing agenda and was “definitely pro-Democrat.”


In England, where there was “no ax to grind, the reviews were fabulous, you really thought it was Lawrence of Arabia,” and the movie played a “first run of seven or eight weeks.” Private Files premiered well at The Public Theater in New York, and was hailed as one of the ten best films of the year by Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman. But after dismal distribution, Sam Arkoff pulled the picture and sold it to a tax shelter where the investment could be written off. “From my point of view,” says Cohen, this move “put the picture in profits,” since “they paid for the entire negative cost of the picture, and all the money that came in were profits.” Cohen estimates making “maybe $300,000 or $400,000 off this movie. That’s not bad.”


In 1976, Broderick Crawford hosted Saturday Night Live. “I arranged that,” explains Larry. “In fact I wrote part of that sketch myself.” Cohen had organized a press conference in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to announce the making of the movie. Broderick Crawford showed up in a 1930’s car and hammed-up in the role of Hoover, and the stunt was mentioned in the Sunday Times. Soon SNL producer Jean Doumanian called to invite Crawford as host. During rehearsals, Doumanian contacted Cohen in Los Angeles over problems they were having with Crawford, who “keeps disappearing,” only to be found later drinking in some midtown cocktail lounge. The cast and crew were forced into “babysitting him all day long.” Dan Ackroyd would keep an eye on Crawford for an hour, and then pass the duty to John Belushi, and so on. “You gotta come back” pleaded Doumanian, “and get this guy under control.” Cohen showed up at Studio 8H, maintaining that Crawford will “get you crazy but then when the show goes on the air he’ll know every line of dialogue – you’ll be falling apart but he’ll be cool as a cucumber. Don’t worry about it.” The show included a sketch where Crawford parodies Hoover, but Cohen found it lacking and “rewrote some material.” Because the SNL writers were “very protective” and “would go nuts if someone else wrote for the show,” they credited Jean Doumanian instead with the idea. The sketch ends with Hoover cuddling in bed next to a teddy bear, saying “Goodnight Clyde,” in reference to gay rumors surrounding his intimate relationship with Clyde Tolson. Ultimately, the SNL publicity “didn’t hurt or help us, since the movie wasn’t released until six months later.”



For all these reasons, Private Files quickly fell into obscurity. Though once released on VHS, it was only recently made available on DVD through MGM Archives. The movie screened in 2010 as part of Anthology Film Archives’ “William Lustig Series,” curated by the director of Maniac Cop. This year, interest in the film resurfaced relating to an upcoming Hoover biopic directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio’s company, Appian Way, contacted Cohen requesting a copy of Private Files, and provided Cohen with a working script, by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for Milk. Cohen read the script, spoke briefly with Eastwood’s producing partner, but nothing further materialized.


It might be supposed that J. Edgar Hoover would have approved Dirty Harry to tell his life story. Given Hoover’s supreme vanity and skewed take on reality, the Director might also have been pleased by the choice of clench-browed heartthrob Leonard DiCaprio in the title role. After reading Black’s manuscript, Cohen signed off on a fifteen-page memo that included a lively and provocative rundown of J. Edgar Hoover and the exploitative culture of the FBI, as well as a sustained critique of the script’s distortion and poorly evidences specualtion about Hoover’s alleged homosexuality and cross-dressing habits. “Don’t get me wrong,” Cohen opens, “I’m a great fan of Clint Eastwood’s, and I happen to like the guy…”


Cohen faults the script as a misrepresentation of Hoover both public and private, citing Hoover’s exaggerated role in capturing the kidnapper of “the Lindbergh baby,” as well as scenes of Hoover dressing up in his mother’s clothing after attending her funeral. For Cohen, it is less the subject matter at hand than the corrupting effect on the record of public memory. “The problem,” Cohen argued, “is that whatever Eastwood puts in this movie, that’s what everybody’s going to take as gospel, that will be the history people will accept for the next 50 years.” At a recent dinner with Quentin Tarantino, he told the younger filmmaker that because of Inglourious Basterds “a whole generation of young people will swear to you Hitler was killed in a Paris movie theater by Jewish commandos. Forget about what really happened. Cause they saw it in a movie.” Cohen moralizes that films about history are often a problem because “people don’t like going to movies that make them feel stupid.”



A FANATICALLY PRIVATE man, Hoover nonetheless enjoyed the company of spotlight celebrities like Shirley Temple and Dorothy Lamour, and even went on a few dates with Lelee Rogers, mother of Ginger. But his life-long bachelorhood and puritanical zealousness regarding the bedroom practices of others, whether Martin Luther King Jr. or Eleanor Roosevelt, triggered rampant speculation about his own sex life. Early in his career as FBI Director, Hoover kept the company of young, strapping agents with whom he regularly went to the movies and invited to dine at his home with his mother. But these young bucks were transient companions. In 1928 Hoover recruited Clyde Tolson, a law graduate from Hoover’s alma mater, George Washington University, and described by fellow agents as comporting himself “with icewater in his veins.” Tolson would remain the second in power under Hoover at the FBI until Hoover’s death in 1972. Because Tolson was also Hoover’s sole lifelong personal companion, the dirt-circuit was ripe with word that the twosome were lovers. Yet, besides the rickety allegations set forth in a 1990’s hack biography regarding Hoover giving blowjobs at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, evidence of the Director’s active sexuality remains speculative. Edgar and Clyde were intimate male friends. Hoover referred to Tolson as “Junior,” while Tolson had affectionately gave Hoover the nickname “Speed.” Sometimes, “Eddie.” Because of Tolson, Hoover was known infamously as “The Boss.”


The documented source of Hoover’s alleged transvestism was Susan Rosenstiel, the ex-wife of millionaire whiskey magnate Lewis Rosenstiel, who was formerly involved in providing substantial funds for the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation, incorporated in 1965 to promote the “American Way of Life.” Cohen describes Mrs. Rosenstiel as a source of scant accountability, “an alcoholic and convicted perjurer” who blamed Hoover for her break-up with Lewis Rosenstiel after Rosenstiel hired Hoover to investigate his wife in support of the couple’s divorce actions. According to Mrs. Rosenstiel, Hoover showed up at a party at the Waldorf-Astoria in women’s dress clothes and was introduced to the guests as “Mary.”


In Private Files, Hoover’s understanding of privacy and justice is depicted less as sexual secrecy than self-loathing. When Ronee Blakely, as Carrie DeWitt, is innocently attracted to young Hoover and moves in for seduction, Hoover is at first shy. “I have to do everything, I understand,” she says, “I don’t mind.” Then Hoover grows suspicious of the girl. His lack of self-esteem bursts forth and instead of returning her advances he accuses her of being a spy. “Who out you up to this!” Hoover cannot believe there would be any other reason for her interest in him. A woman’s seduction is portrayed as deception. The FBI were routinely referred to as “boy scouts,” and Hoover’s self-image is of a lone little boy afraid and intimidated by the girls.  The same thing often recurred in the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but these boys never ended up spying on Hollywood communists and persecuting civil rights leaders.


Later in the movie, Hoover discovers Ms. DeWitt has died, and he sits alone at his table at the Stork Club, a schmancy hangout for mobsters and showgirls and gossip-page yammerheads. Hoover is melancholy, and served drinks by his favorite waiter. After casually confiding to the waiter that he knows the man’s daughter belongs to a Communist club, and that his son’s girlfriend is pregnant, Hoover recites his favorite poem, Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” Cohen says it was the poem Hoover always recited to his mother as a boy.


If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on.”


Andy McCarthy blogs at The Shine Box.


The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover is playing at Film Society of Lincoln Center Tuesday August 30th at 6:30. It is followed by an on-stage discussion with Cohen, as well a 9:00 screening of Special Effects. The evening is presented by Film Comment Selects.

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