Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Detective (1968)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Detective (1968)

Director Gordon Douglas' frank and adult-oriented, socially-conscious, neo-noir crime drama, with themes of police brutality, homosexuality, and corruption was based on the 1966 best-selling Roderick Thorpe novel. The dark crime drama's star Frank Sinatra had just finished another seedy private eye film, 20th Century Fox's caper Tony Rome (1967), and was planning on soon making its sequel Lady in Cement (1968). Its tagline was:

An adult look at a police detective.

With the adoption of the MPAA ratings system on the immediate horizon in late 1968, The Detective was able to push various taboo topics farther than ever before. The film was controversial for its portrayal of homosexuality (and its repression) and a female's sexual sickness known as nymphomania (it was one of the first to deal openly with these two subject areas, although has since been considered slightly offensive and dated), the use of the words "penis" and "queer," and the character of the detective's flawed, sexually-promiscuous ("nymphomania") and estranged wife Karen (Lee Remick) - in the film's romantic side sub-plot. The film was sidelined by numerous flashbacks that destroyed the even flow and continuity of the main plot.

When considering the portrayal of all the deviant gay characters (that ended up dead, disgraced or both) in the negatively-stereotyped film, they were either perverted self-loathing killers, suicidal, or psychotically-insane nut cases.

The main title character was:

  • Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra), a dedicated, hard-boiled, tough NYPD Police Sergeant-detective working within a homophobic and partly-racist police force; his motto was clearly stated: "I believe in live and let live"

It told about the case of a murdered/mutilated wealthy homosexual man named Theodore "Teddy" Leikman, Jr. (James Inman) - the son of a politically-connected department store owner. The opening scene of the gruesome discovery of the body after a violent hate crime was graphically described - including both knife-mutilations of the body and five or six killing blows to the head:

"Male Caucasian lying nude on floor. Penis cut off. Lying on floor of living room. Side of skull smashed in. Cuts on face and chest. Fingers shredded. Index and thumb of right hand missing."

Leland also noted "Semen stains on the sheets" and it was surmised that Leikman was gay: "Junior there was a homosexual...Mutilations were caused by some kind of knife....Lovers' quarrel. This is the way they settled it." He was working the case with a rookie cop named Robbie (Al Freeman, Jr.) and another faithful partner Dave Schoenstein (Jack Klugman). Neighbor Carol Linjack (Dixie Marquis) described Teddy Leikman's roommate, a possible suspect, as "an unsavory character. Medium build. Long sideburns, like an actor." A magazine and weights in Leikman's bedroom identified the victim and/or his roommate as a bodybuilder.

In the meantime, Leland remembered - in flashback, how he met his wife Karen (Lee Remick), before their marriage began to dissolve and break up and they parted ways. She was a future Sociology professor who revealed she was a foster child when they first met. She also undressed down to her black bra and panties, and then unhooked her bra before embracing Joe after telling him: "Let's just enjoy each other...I want this to be different." Later at a football game, she told him he should be wary of her: "I've been around and you've been around. We're both kind of set in our ways and everything...Are you wacky enough to take on me?" But then added that they should marry: "If I don't marry you, I'm crazy."

Joe's Nymphomaniacal Wife Karen (Lee Remick)

Back in the present with the Leikman case, the cops made a nighttime raid - they drove up to a truck-trailer in the meat-packing district jammed with preppy, white males (wearing pastel-colored sweaters) kissing each other. Treated with harrassment by the authorities, the gays were lined up and harshly questioned by bigoted cop Nestor (Robert Duvall) - to find out whether they knew either the murdered Leikman - derogatorily called "one of your kind" - or his roommate shown in a sketch drawing. The case led investigators to "all the Ys - the body-beautiful places, weightlifting joints, and the gyms" where the roommate used to hang out: "Maybe that's where he met his roommate."

The chief suspect was identified as a "strange one" - a short-term, live-in roommate/lover and drifter named Felix Tesla (Tony Musante). He was arrested after a chase at his beachside hotel and brought to police headquarters. The psychologically disturbed and clearly-psychotic Tesla made odd faces and cringed in the police interrogation room during intense pressure (when he was brutally asked: "What did you do with the knife, you fag!"). He admitted to Leland that he hated Leikman who had ridiculed him for being uneducated, and called him names such as "bull" and "stud." Their short time together led to a deadly argument about whether Tesla could stay on as a roommate.

Under coercion by Leland, Tesla quickly confessed to a "violent and savage" murder. Even Leland became upset by the feverish frenzy that surrounded the clearly insane Tesla: ("What a gorgeous little circus. Everybody out to fry the little fag, including me...he's a psychotic and they're gonna burn him, that's why I'm upset"). The trial resulted in a rapid conviction and execution (in the electric chair), and Leland was rewarded with a promotion to Lieutenant in the police precinct.

In the meantime, Karen's infidelities became an insurmountable problem in Leland's marriage. She admitted to her addictive tendency to want sex with strangers: "You know what's the matter with me. You've known it for a long time....There's something wrong with me....I couldn't sustain a relationship. I was scared to death of that. Do you know what sex was like for me? I'd walk down the street or go into a bar or anything. Meet somebody. Anybody. Someone I never knew before. And I'd have an affair with him. It was the only way I could do it." Afterwards, they separated. Later during another conversation, Karen asked herself:

"God, what's the matter with me? Why can't I grow up? Why is that thrill so important? That, that deep, dirty thrill."

In his work life, Leland had second thoughts about the resolution of the Leikman murder case after a second unrelated case of suicidal death was reported to him. He received an office visit from Norma MacIver (Jacqueline Bisset) - the lovely wealthy widow of a CPA-accountant named Colin MacIver (William Windom). She suspected that her husband had been murdered related to a conspiracy (involving the Rainbow Corporation) when he died after a "jump" or fall from a race track's grandstand roof during a race (seen from his POV). With undue pressure placed upon him to not pursue the already-concluded MacIver case (including an attempt on his life), Leland knew that he must conduct his own underground investigation after he discovered a disturbing and shady connection. MacIver had arranged payouts to several members of the Rainbow Corporation (whose stockholders were all members of the Borough Planning Commission) - Leland realized that he had stumbled upon corrupt land speculation in slum properties, political payoffs and police kickbacks to keep everyone quiet. Leland realized that his actions would ruffle many feathers: "We're sitting on something pretty dangerous."

During Leland's sleuthing, he began to suspect that MacIver's slick psychiatrist, an LSD-promoting Dr. Wendell Roberts (Lloyd Bochner), was concealing evidence about his involvement in Rainbow, and more importantly about MacIver's sexual orientation. In Roberts' office, Leland found cassette tape recordings of one of MacIver's therapeutic visits to the doctor. Leland ordered Roberts to play the tapes of MacIver's revealing confession.

In an overwrought, melodramatic flashbacked sequence (narrated with MacIver's cynical voice-over on the tape), middle-aged, tormented homosexual-in-denial Colin MacIver remembered how he had been recognized as gay by other homosexuals: "You're a faggot. A dirty queer." He worried that he was a "homosexual without conviction" during a session with Dr. Roberts:

(To Dr. Roberts) You said there was no such thing as a bisexual. You said there were only homosexuals without conviction.

MacIver drove to the grungy and dark waterfront docks in search of a homosexual connection in the gay "underworld," where he found sinister-looking individuals lounging around and snuggling. MacIver believed (wrongly) that he could get his homosexuality purged or forever denounced, in order to restore his heterosexuality intact:

(voice-over) The thought of turning, turning involuntarily into one of them frightened me and made me sick with anger. I went down there. I had heard about the waterfront. People giggle and make jokes about it. I had had only two experiences before, once in college and once in the Army. I thought I had gotten it out of my life, but I hadn't. I looked at them. Is this what I was like? Oh God, twisted faces, outcasts, lives lived in shadows always prey to a million dangers.

People don't realize what we go through. I was raised in a family that would not even admit that there was such a thing as a homosexual in this world. And here I was and I couldn't do anything about it. I couldn't stop.

I thought if I could have just one night - I could get it out of my system. Just one more time.

He couldn't control his detestable urge to enter a gay bar and hook up with a gay man (Leikman). The recordings proved that Leikman had picked up the closeted MacIver at a bar and took him home for sex.

Homosexual Connection Between MacIver and Leikman Established in a Gay Bar and Then in Leikman's Apartment

Afterwards, the self-loathing, conflicted, and guilt-ridden MacIver became anguished and homicidal when Leikman told him he couldn't hide that he was gay: "You're a shy one, aren't you? You're a closet queen. You're the kind that thinks he's fooling people. Forget it. I knew you were gay the moment you walked into the bar....We know each other. Something about the way you walked. Something about the eyes." The seething MacIver attacked Leikman, bashed him in the head with a solid ashtray, and murdered him. The recording ended with MacIver's stunning realization:

I killed one man, and another was about to die for something I did. When it was announced that Tesla was executed, I should have felt something, I know. I was responsible now for the deaths of two men. But I never did feel a great deal. You see, I felt more guilty about being a homosexual than a murderer.

Leland had uncovered the lurid relationship between MacIver and Leikman that had led to the murder. The anguished MacIver was triggered to murder Leikman and then committed suicide a few weeks later by throwing himself off the racetrack roof. As Leland later explained: "A man committed a murder because he didn't want it known he was a homosexual." Leland also recalled how the wrong man Tesla had been executed for Leikman's death, and admitted he was partially to blame: "I knew that poor bastard was a psychotic. Hmm. He didn't know real from unreal. But I saw a chance for a promotion." As in a number of similar films in the 60s, the homosexual characters met terrible fates.

Despite pressure to not turn over the tapes and cover-up the Rainbow scandal, Leland made the responsible choice - he made public MacIver's CPA records proving corruption. He then resigned from the department for lofty reasons: ("There are things to fight for and I can't fight for them while I'm here"), turned over his gold badge to his boss Captain Farrell (Horace McMahon), and exited. He mused with Norma MacIver:

"I spent 20 years of my life with the department. Now I'm gonna start living for myself."

Leland's Description of Leikman's Gruesome Murder ("Penis Cut Off")

The Crotch of Leikman's Corpse Was Hidden by a Fern Plant

Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra)

Homosexuals in the Back of a Truck Making Out

Nestor (Robert Duvall) Questioning One of the Gays

A Gym Filled with Beefcake Body-Building 'Homosexual' Males - Possible Suspects

Sketch Drawing of Suspect Felix Tesla

The Police Interrogation of Tesla

Karen Admitting Her Infidelities to Leland

Electric Chair Execution of Tesla

Norma MacIver (Jacqueline Bisset) Questioning Her Husband's 'Suicide'

MacIver's Visit to Homosexuals at the Dock and In a Gay Bar

MacIver's Attack and Murder of Leikman After Homosexual Encounter

Leland's Recollection of Wrongly-Convicted Tesla's Execution


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