The Detective is a 1968 color neo-noir crime film in Panavision directed by Gordon Douglas, produced by Aaron Rosenberg and starring Frank Sinatra, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Roderick Thorp.
Co-stars include Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Jack Klugman, William Windom and Robert Duvall, with a script by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Abby Mann.
The Detective marked a move towards — and was billed as — a more "adult" approach to depicting the life and work of a police detective while confronting, for one of the first times in mainstream cinema, previously taboo subjects such as homosexuality. Here, the detective in question is Joe Leland, who is trying to juggle marital issues with a murder case that seemed to be open-and-shut at first, but runs much deeper than he could have imagined.
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 then later Lady in Cement (1968).
New York City police detective Joe Leland (Frank Sinatra) is called to the home of a murder victim who has been beaten to death, head crushed and has had his genitals removed. Puzzled and disgusted, the police on call are left bemused, and Leland holds things together with his direct, no-nonsense approach.
Few leads are found, other than the fact that a house-mate of the victim remains conspicuous by his absence. All the while notions about 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 wife Karen (Lee Remick).
Eventually, the victim's housemate is identified as Felix Tesla (Tony Musante), and he is soon tracked down by Leland and another detective. A psychologically disturbed Tesla cracks until eventually Leland coaxes a confession out of him. This results in extensive publicity, a promotion for Leland and the electric chair for Tesla, which distresses Leland because it is clear to him that Tesla is insane.
Later, across town, a man kills himself by jumping from the rooftop of a racetrack. The case goes unnoticed until the wife of the dead man, Norma MacIver (Jacqueline Bisset), comes to Leland's office and asks him to look into it, believing something far more complex is involved.
Leland and partner Dave Schoenstein (Jack Klugman) follow leads. A psychiatrist, Dr. Roberts (Lloyd Bochner), clearly knows more about the dead man, Colin MacIver (William Windom), than he's willing to reveal. The therapist also is familiar with Karen Leland, whose infidelity is putting a great strain on the detective's home life and distracting him from his work.
Leland soon learns that certain powerful interests in the city do not want him to ask questions. The incorruptible detective presses on, at risk to his career and life, as he discovers a lurid relationship between the man's suicide and the previous murder.
Sinatra originally planned to have his wife Mia Farrow cast as Norma MacIver, a role that was eventually taken by Jacqueline Bisset after Farrow was kept beyond the previously scheduled end of filming for 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, putting an end to a short-lived romance of barely two years.
Released on May 28, 1968 The Detective was a box office success, becoming the 20th highest earning film of the year with $6.5 million taken in box office rentals, exceeding its $4.49 million budget. Critical reception was mostly good while Sinatra delivered one of his most intense and dedicated acting performances.
The Hollywood Reporter would comment: "Sinatra has honed his laconic, hep veneer to the point of maximum credibility." Roger Ebert praised his performance and the concept of the film, stating: "It is pretty clear that Sinatra wanted 'The Detective' to be as good a movie as he could manage. It provides a clear, unsentimental look at a police investigation, and even the language reflects the way cops (and the rest of us) talk."
In 1979 Roderick Thorp wrote a sequel to 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 20th Century 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. Fox was contractually obligated to offer Sinatra the lead role, but he promptly turned it down as he would have been more than 70 years old when filming. The film launched a film franchise that continues into the 2010s.
The Detective was released on DVD by 20th Century Fox in 2005 as part of a boxed set that included Tony Rome and Lady in Cement.