The year is 1961 and the young and dynamic John F. Kennedy (Robert Pine) has been elected president. While the rest of the nation waits to see how Kennedy will lead, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Jack Warden) is convinced that he will continue to do what he’s always done. As he explains it to his aide and only friend, Clyde Tolson, Hoover is a longtime friend of President Kennedy’s father, Joseph (Barry Morse). Hoover knows how the Kennedys made their money and he also knows that the Kennedys probably stole the election.
Hoover quickly discovers that John F. Kennedy isn’t going to be like the other presidents under which he has served. Kennedy appoints his self-righteous brother, Robert (Nicholas Campbell), as attorney general and Robert immediately sets out to make Hoover’s life unbearable. When Hoover brings the brothers evidence that civil rights leader Martin Luther King (Leland Gantt) is not only associating with known radicals but that he also cheats on his wife, John and Bobby just laugh at him. While John pursues an affair with Marilyn Monroe (Heather Thomas) and Bobby tries to reign in the FBI’s excesses, Hoover continues to collect information for his files and schemes to outlast both Kennedys.
Hoover vs. The Kennedys was a made-for-TV movie, one of the many films that have been made about the conflicts between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover. Since a good deal of the film is made up of Hoover and the Kennedy Brothers snapping at each other on the phone and then telling their closest aides about how much they dislike each other, it seems hyperbolic to call their relationship the “second civil war.” Though the film does go as far as to suggest that Hoover didn’t make much of an effort to investigate the background of Lee Harvey Oswald, it doesn’t go any further when it comes to the theories surrounding John Kennedy’s assassination. As well, the film is one of the rare ones to not speculate that Hoover and Clyde Tolson were more than just friends. Instead, Hoover vs. The Kennedys concentrates more on all of the scandalous stories surrounding the Kennedy brothers. The mob connections. The womanizing. The arrogance. It’s all recreated here. Perhaps because this was a Canadian production, Hoover vs The Kennedys doesn’t portray anyone positively.
The acting is a mixed bag. Nicholas Campbell is believably abrasive as Bobby while Robert Pine was several years too old to be a convincing JFK. Heather Thomas is an adequate Marilyn Monroe while Leland Gantt comes across as too emotional to be a believable Martin Luther King. (In Gantt’s defense, the movie does not seem to know what to do with the character of King, treating the civil rights icon like a prop to be trotted out whenever some Hoover/Kennedy conflict is needed.) The film’s best performance comes from Jack Warden, who plays Hoover as being a puritanical hypocrite who knows that, no matter who tries to push him out, he’s not going anywhere unless he wants to. Hoover outlasted several presidents and Warden portrays him as being the ultimate political survivor.
As far as Kennedy films are concerned, Hoover vs. The Kennedys is okay but it doesn’t offer up anything new. Some of the most important roles are miscast and the movie never goes into much depth, beyond repeating all of the usual rumors. Jack Warden’s a good J. Edgar Hoover, though. The movie is not easy to find but it has been uploaded on to YouTube. And, if you can’t find the movie, you can always order the novelization off of Amazon.