The Detective Hollywood’s Look At NYC Police Homophobia

It was a Saturday night in the spring of 1968 when my folks took me to the Palace movie theater on Main Street in Danbury to see Frank Sinatra’s latest movie.

Had they known in advance the subject matter I’m sure they would have left me home to watch TV.

Fourteen years old at the time and increasingly becoming aware of my sexuality I left the theater with one impression.

The only good homosexual is a dead homosexual, either murdered or one who has committed suicide.

Tough stuff for a teenager and anyone who was gay or bisexual. Herein lies the tale of one of the most gut wrenching films any gay or bi could have seen at the time or even since then in its condemnation of homosexuality. The Detective.

Fast forward 40 plus years later and last evening when I watched the movie for the first time in many years with a new adult and LGBT perspective to see what the movie was, not just a condemnation of homosexuality but with all the stereotypical examples of gay and bi men, how society at the time looked at homosexuality and how homosexuals were treated by those whose job it was to serve and protect, the police.

The Detective based on the 1966 book of the same name authored by Rodrick Thorp with the screenplay written by Abby Mann was released in late May of 1968 a full year prior to the Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village in New York City.

Sinatra had the lead role as a third generation NYC cop, Detective Sargent Joe Leland who was called to investigate the brutal murder of a well to do homosexual. Under political pressure and some of his own making when he announced he would arrest the killer in 48 hours, Leland arrests the wrong man who under considerable interrogation pressure admits to the killing and who is later convicted and then executed for the crime.

So as not to spoil too much for those who have never seen the movie and how Leland comes to find out the truth which comes at the end of this tour-de-force crime drama I’ll stop here in regards to the murder. As a secondary theme of the film it looks at Leland and his ex-wife played by Lee Remick and their relationship from how they met, married and subsequently divorced.

The all-star cast of the time includes Robert Duvall as Leland’s homophobic nemesis, Jack Klugman and Jacqueline Bisset to name just a few.

But what brings the homophobic condemnation to a head for those watching are the gay stereotypes, the raid of trailers in the meat-packing district, the manhandling of the faggots by New York’s finest, even explaining away that there is no such thing as a bisexual and as we call it today in regards to murdering an LGBT, gay panick.

So typical are some of the portrayals and even scenes including one with detectives discussing the case when one of them describes various things regarding homosexuals that the “implied” attitude of the others is “well if you know so much you must be one” that for this writer no other film hits and punches the gay community like this film, either before or since.

I dare say if this film were made today there would be an uproar as there was over the 1980 Al Pacino film Cruising. From what I’ve been able to, or lack of, find there was no uproar of the critically acclaimed film which did well at the box office. Nor any disapproval over the book when published.

If you’ve never seen the movie put it on your A-list of must watch, but be warned even though the film depicts the attitude towards gay and bi men in the 60′s it is tough to watch the homophobic attitude portrayed which must have made gay and bi men who saw the film want to crawl under their theater seat and never come out from under.

It is that powerful a film.

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About Lyndon Evans
Associated Press Award Winner

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