Detective, The (1968): Gordon Douglas’ Crime Thriller, Starring Frank Sinatra and Lee Remick (LGBTQ, Homophobia)

From Our Vaults:

Gordon Douglas directed The Detective, a neo-noir crimer burdened by strong homophobic elements, based on the 1966 novel by Roderick Thorp.

The Detective
Film Poster for The Detective.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The film stars Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Jack Klugman, William Windom and Robert Duvall,

The script was penned by Oscar-winning writer Abby Mann. The book’s rights were owned by Robert Evans, who was to produce before he was hired to run the Paramount studio.

The Detective was billed as a more “adult” approach to depicting the work of a police detective while confronting, for one of the first times in mainstream cinema, previously taboo subjects such as homosexuality.

Detective Joe Leland is trying to juggle marital issues with a murder case that is more complicated than expected.

Teaming with Douglas

The Detective was Sinatra’s fourth collaboration with director Douglas, having worked together on Young at Heart (1954), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Tony Rome (1967), and later Lady in Cement (1968).

Sinatra plays New York police detective Joe Leland, called to the home of a murder victim who has been beaten to death, head crushed with his genitals removed.

Puzzled and disgusted, the police are left bemused, but Leland holds things together with his no-nonsense approach.

The victim’s sexuality and personal interests warp the ideals of the officers assigned to the task. Leland tries to remain focused on the case while dealing with the breakdown of his marriage to Karen (Lee Remick).

The victim’s (initially absent) housemate, Felix Tesla (Tony Musante), is tracked down by Leland and his mate. When Tesla cracks down, Leland coaxes a confession out of him.

This results in extensive publicity, a promotion for Leland and the electric chair for Tesla, which upsets Leland who holds that Tesla is insane.

Meanwhile, across town, a man kills himself by jumping from the rooftop of a racetrack. The case goes unnoticed until the younger wife of the dead man, Norma MacIver (Jacqueline Bisset), asks Leland to look into it.

Leland and partner Dave Schoenstein (Jack Klugman) follow leads, like the psychiatrist Dr. Roberts (Lloyd Bochner), who knows more about the dead man, Colin MacIver (William Windom). The therapist also is familiar with Karen Leland, whose infidelity is putting strain on the detective’s, distracting him from work.

Leland gradually realizes that certain powerful city agencies do not want him to ask questions. But the incorruptible detective presses on, risking his career and life, as he discovers a lurid relationship between the man’s suicide and the previous murder.


It turns out that MacIver had met the victim after going to a gay club to “get homosexuality out of my system.” MacIver then proceeded to murder him after the victim’s threats to make known MacIver’s homosexuality. (He is a closeted homosexual, who later kills himself, less motivated by being a murderer than by being a gay man).

The Detective hit theaters in May of 1968, five months before the release of Bullitt, a similarly-themed, but a far better, more enjoyable, and more commercial private-eye thriller.

Sinatra wished to have his then-wife Mia Farrow cast as Norma MacIver, a role that eventually was played by Jacqueline Bisset, due to the fact that Farrow was still shooting Rosemary’s Baby. This was the last straw for Sinatra, who had the divorce papers publicly served on Farrow on her film’s set. Their divorce became final in August 1968, ending short-lived romance of two years.

Released on May 28, 1968, The Detective was a box office success, becoming the year’s 20th highest earning film, with $6.5 million in box office rentals, against $4.49 million budget. The film required $8,800,000 in rentals to break even, and by  December 1970 had made $10,275,000, generating a modest profit,

Sequel to Novel: Die Hard Franchise

In 1979, Roderick Thorp wrote a sequel to his novel “The Detective,” called “Nothing Lasts Forever,” in which Leland is trapped in a Klaxon Oil Corporation skyscraper after it is taken by German terrorists and must rescue his daughter and grandchildren. The novel was adapted into the 1988 Fox film Die Hard, in which Joe Leland’s name was changed to John McClane, the object of his heroism was changed from his daughter to his wife, and Klaxon became the Nakatomi Corporation.

That movie launched a successful movie franchise, Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis, which ran until 2013.

Frank Sinatra as Det. Sgt. Joe Leland
Lee Remick as Karen Wagner Leland
Jacqueline Bisset as Norma MacIver
Ralph Meeker as Det. Curran
Jack Klugman as Det. Dave Schoenstein
Horace McMahon as Capt. Tom Farrell
Lloyd Bochner as Dr. Wendell Roberts
William Windom as Colin MacIver
Tony Musante as Felix Tesla
Al Freeman, Jr. as Det. Robbie Loughlin
Robert Duvall as Det. Nestor
Pat Henry as Mercidis
Patrick McVey as Officer Mike Tanner
Dixie Marquis as Carol Linjack
Sugar Ray Robinson as Kelly
Renée Taylor as Rachael Schoenstein
James Inman as Teddy Leikman
Tom Atkins as Officer Jack Harmon
George Plimpton as reporter in squad room
Joe Santos as reporter in squad room [uncredited]


Directed by Gordon Douglas
Screenplay by Abby Mann, based on The Detective, 1966 novel
by Roderick Thorp
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Cinematography Joseph Biroc
Edited by Robert L. Simpson
Music by Jerry Goldsmith

Production company: Arcola Pictures Corporation

Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: May 28, 1968

Running time: 114 minutes
Budget $4.5 million
Box office $6.5 million (rentals); about $14.0 million