The movie charts the history of the Bureau from its lowly beginnings in the twenties to modern times and its all seen through the recollections of aging fastidious agent Chip Hardesty (James Stewart) as he relates his investigative experiences - in flashback - to a class of budding young agents. But it's all very long-winded and episodic! And as it progresses it begins to look like a TV mini series instead of a major movie production as the young Hardesty runs the American crime gamut from taking on such notorious criminal figures as "Baby Face" Nelson, Ma Barker, Dillinger etc. to sorting out nefarious organisations like the Ku Klux Klan, Nazi spy rings and the Red Menace. And here it has to be said that only for the screen presence and appeal of its star THE FBI STORY would probably have ended up a forgotten disaster. Moreover, this is another problem with the picture - Stewart is left to carry the entire movie almost on his own! With the exception of Vera Miles - who has the thankless role of being his long suffering but devoted wife - he is surrounded by a cast of minor players! Throughout you find yourself half expecting someone like Robert Ryan, Jack Palance or even Raymond Burr to make a welcome entrance as a mobster or a police chief or whatever. But nothing quite as imaginative as that ever occurs! Pity!
The film does however manage to give a good look inside the workings of the Bureau! With the help of Stewart's narration we learn about the thousands of men and women who work for the organisation which includes the hundreds of agents in the field. And we are also treated to a peek inside headquarters which houses the gigantic records section and we also get a glimpse of the chemists and fingerprint experts meticulously going through their daily chores.
Another plus for the movie is Max Steiner's remarkable score! Heard over the titles is a powerful, rousing and determined march while for the picture's gentler moments there is an attractive love theme. But quite ingenious is the menacing and ominous march theme for the Ku Klux Klan sequence. And better still is the rhythmic Latin-American music the composer wrote for the South American scenes especially the exciting Fandango like orchestrations for the arrival of the Federal troops on horseback. THE FBI STORY was one of five scores the composer wrote in 1959 which included Samuel Bronston's naval epic "John Paul Jones", the charming Rom-com "Cash McCall", Delmer Daves' seminal western "The Hanging Tree" and Daves' "A Summer Place" from which derived the Young Love Theme - which was to become a major hit tune for Steiner better known as "Theme From A Summer Place".
THE FBI STORY just about passes muster as a movie thanks to Biroc's rich colour Cinematography, Steiner's wonderful music and of course Jimmie Stewart who makes anything watchable!
Classic but implausible line from THE FBI STORY............. As the bland Nick Adams (who has just blown up a plane with 43 people on board, including his mother) is being led away handcuffed he turns to the arresting officer and blurts: "In case I get any mail you can send it to Canyon City prison for the next month or so - after that you can send it to HELL". Wow!