[Film Review] Detective Story (1951)

Detective Story poster

Title: Detective Story
Year: 1951
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Director: William Wyler
Writers:
Philip Yordan
Robert Wyler
based on the play by Sidney Kingsley
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Cast:
Kirk Douglas
Eleanor Parker
William Bendix
Lee Grant
Cathy O’Donnell
George Macready
Horace McMahon
Frank Faylen
Joseph Wiseman
Michael Strong
Warner Anderson
Gerald Mohr
Gladys George
Craig Hill
Luis Van Rooten
Burt Mustin
Rating: 7.8/10

William Wyler’s cinematic adaptation of Sidney Knigsley’s play depicts life within one day in the 21st police precinct in NYC, our hero is detective Jim McLeod (Douglas), who has an absolute abhorrence of criminals, even for a first-time embezzler Arthur (Hill), a well-behaved young man who conducted the act out of desperation to buy an expensive dinner for his sweetheart. Jim has been fervently intent on bringing an evil doctor Karl Schneider (Macready) to legal penalties. When Karl’s key-witness is bribed and another victim is dead in the hospital, Jim batters Karl out of rage, then when Karl’s attorney Sims (Anderson) mentions Mary (Parker), Jim’s wife’s name, it prompts Lt. Monaghan (McMahon) to arrange a secret meeting with Mary, to find out what is the link between her and Dr. Schneider, which could be the reason of Jim’s steely determination.

Mary’s past is inevitably exposed, not just to the others, but also to Jim, their perfect marriage begins to rupture, yet the culprit it is Jim’s own jaundiced viewpoints and the typical male-chauvinistic pride, his entire belief system is challenged, and soon he will realise he is just turning into the figure he detests the most, his father, this is a destructive epiphany, when he has nothing to lose, he has seized a dangerous situation to be a martyr, the same fate like Douglas in ACE IN THE HOLE (1951), but more tragic, since he is a lawman himself, fighting for justice all his life, yet he cannot run away from his deep-seated prejudice and the most dreadful fear, this is the might of an intelligent play, the salvation is forthcoming but bravely against the grain of its time.

The film is generally considered as a film-noir oeuvre, but with its confined setting, and the cornucopian assortments of police officers, offenders, and other players (lawyer, witness, and citizens), it stands out as an ensemble piece with a sounding character development arc of Jim McLeod, imprints for Douglas’ iconic hard-bitten screen image. Parker is nominated for a BEST LEADING ACTRESS Oscar although her entire screen-time is a little over 20-minutes, a record-holder until today, she is supporting in my book, but it is a poignant achievement, in spite of the sexist quagmire of her character, she is a stunning beauty with a tint of modesty, a wise decision-maker, steers clear of a miserable marriage and Ms. Parker is a marvel in it.

This film is also Lee Grant’s film debut, which won her the first Oscar nomination as the unnamed shoplifter (a reprise of her role in the play), a comic relief throughout the various happenings in the police station, so out of the place with the rest of the gang, but that’s why she is so special although her role has nothing substantial to the plot. Basically, all the supporting character actors are recommendable, thanks to Wyler’s down-to-earth approach to offer everyone copious room to act, a must-see.

Detective Story 1951

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