The FBI Story is an interesting flick, but not always for the right reasons. Made with the support of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, the final product has that whitewashed, diluted feel to it. Hoover apparently ran roughshod over the making of the movie, and it shows. Some things stand out, but for the most part, it's one big dull pat on the back.
Working as a field agent in the infancy of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Chip Hardesty (James Stewart) proposes to his long-time girlfriend, Lucy (Vera Miles), and agrees to resign his post. His timing could not be worse as the FBI is making drastic changes to become a more effective, more efficient government office. Chip maintains his status as an agent right as the U.S. is heading into some of its most tumultuous times in its young history. Chip sees all the good that he is able to accomplish through his work -- even with the danger -- while Lucy worries away at home with their growing family.
The biggest fault this movie has is that J. Edgar Hoover had any involvement at all with it. The FBI director apparently ordered film director Mervyn LeRoy to re-shoot certain scenes, insisting they show the FBI in a more positive light. So while Hoover attempted to make a movie that showed his agency for all its heroism and righteousness, the end result is a disgustingly positive "look" into the inner workings. These are Superheroes! G-Men! Infallible and can't be touched. The potential is there -- seeing the 1950s crime scene techniques, the depths an investigation will go to -- with some cool scenes, but it has an incredibly fake, forced feel. I can just see Hoover smiling like a nut thinking 'Oh, audiences will love this," almost like he's holding a door open to let us see. Nice try, Mr. Hoover.
In terms of the story, think of this movie as The FBI Story: The Forrest Gump Version. From when he joins the FBI in the mid 1920s, Stewart's Chip takes part in just about every important, watershed moment in FBI history. The Ku Klux Klan, murdered Native Americans for oil rights, shifty Communists, the gangsters of the 1930s, Axis agents in WWII, this guy does everything. The problem? In a 149-minute movie (a very long 149 minutes), none of these events are given their due. 'Story' covers 30-plus years in history, glazing over the most important -- and usually entertaining -- portions with broad strokes. All of those things are worthy of a movie on their own, but here we're treated to little windows, just snippets, of what was going on. Again, maybe chalk it up to Hoover trying to show everything the FBI has ever done? Who knows for sure.
Unfortunately, the solution to the above-problem is simple. Yes, it's a 149-minute long movie. I would guess anywhere from 90-100 minutes is actually about the FBI. The rest? As one IMDB reviewer so eloquently put it...."Father Knows Best: With Guns." Mindlessly tedious scenes with Chip, Lucy and their family are painful to watch. It even makes the FBI snippets insanely exciting (and they're really not). Chip goes on assignment. Lucy complains, buckles and lets him go. Chip goes on assignment..........and repeat eight or nine times. It's not interesting the first time so time No. 8 isn't any better. To top it off, Stewart and Miles (one of my least favorite actresses) don't have a ton of chemistry. She comes across as shrill, and Stewart to quirky-goofy at times in their home scenes.
Any more problems? Sure, why not! Other than Stewart and Miles, 'Story' has little in the way of star power. The movie doesn't call for a cast of thousands, all big name celebrities, but on the other hand, some more recognizable faces couldn't hurt. Murray Hamilton is good if underused as Chip's partner, Sam Crandall, who climbs the FBI ladder with him. Larry Pennell plays George Crandall, Sam's son who grows up wanting to be an FBI agent like his father. Also look for Nick Adams in a small part early as a mentally unhinged individual who plants on a bomb on a commercial airliner. Unfortunately, no one else truly stands out. Disappointed here overall. You know it's bad when even Jimmy Stewart can't save a movie, but this FBI-backed story just has too many holes and flaws.
The FBI Story (1959): **/****