Roy Cohn spent fifty years in the public eye, first as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and then as the go-to lawyer for high-powered people in trouble, from mafia dons to Donald J. Trump. His life is the stuff of legend, already cemented as such in Tony Kushner’s brilliant drama Angels in America. Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary offers fresh insights into this notorious and fascinating man, thanks to candid interviews with family members who provide context for his sociopathic personality and professional colleagues who catalogue his misdeeds and unbridled arrogance.

A power broker for decades until his death in 1986, Cohn was a canny self-promoter. There was no shortage of newsreel and television footage for Tyrnauer to draw upon. Journalist Ken Auletta even gave the filmmaker access to a remarkably blunt interview that was preserved on reel-to-reel tape.

Although he manipulated the judicial system in the shadows, he was always in the spotlight—and craved the attention. But publicity turned out to be Cohn’s Achilles heel. He says on one TV show that he welcomes being called dirty names; it’s good for business. Until it wasn’t.

I don’t want to spoil the impact of the documentary by revealing all the juicy nuggets it has to offer. I must admit I never appreciated the origins of the Army-McCarthy hearings or the undercurrent of homophobia that ran through those proceedings.

Where’s My Roy Cohn? is a first-rate piece of investigative journalism, a cautionary tale, and a fascinating piece of entertainment, especially if you lived through the period it depicts so well. Those who don’t know anything about this Machiavellian figure will learn all they need to know. I was glued to the screen from start to finish.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024