The FBI Story
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The FBI Story isn't quite propaganda, but it also lacks an impartial voice at no point are we led to believe that the FBI can't solve a case, and we also are never told of any mistakes that might have occurred in the Bureau during Hardesty's 30-year career. Furthermore, it's carefully noted that, after Pearl Harbor, the FBI rounded up a lot of foreign nationals and sent them home, but it had nothing to do with Japanese-American internment camps. According to The FBI Story, under Hoover's watch the FBI represents the last line of defense between decent citizens and the killers, crooks, and spies who seek to disrupt the American way of life. And not only are we treated to several short stories featuring Hoover's finest in action, but we also are taken behind the scenes, where experts in fingerprints, handwriting, firearms, and explosives easily shake down a feeble criminal's scheme as if it were a house of cards (crooks are to take notice, while taxpayers can be assured that their money is well spent). If it all sounds terrible, it isn't for starters, it stars a square-jawed Jimmy Stewart doing battle with Klansmen, commies, public enemies, and con-artists, which makes it a very easy film to enjoy. Moreover, The FBI Story is simply a product of its time. In our post-Watergate era, filmgoers tend to expect a little corruption from their cops and politicians. In the age of Sputnik, the opposite was true, and director Mervyn LeRoy does his best to explain why a complex, well-funded, domestic counterintelligence agency lurking in our midst is a very, very good thing. At least Hoover was savvy enough to understand that his message would mean nothing without the right star, and James Stewart proves the right fit (and a sympathetic one, to Hoover; Stewart's anti-communist hawkishness was well known in Hollywood). And the agency's attention to detail means that the story's procedural elements are accurate. Nonetheless, running well over two hours, and with a half-dozen self-contained stories, the film would have been a far better TV series. Such eventually happened, starting in 1965 with Quinn Martin's long-running "The F.B.I.", which also had a measure of Bureau assistance and oversight, right up to J. Edgar Hoover himself. Warner's DVD release of The FBI Story, part of the "James Stewart Signature Collection," features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a nearly flawless color source-print, with the original monaural audio on a DD 1.0 track. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.