1951’s Detective Story was nominated for four Academy Awards and it scored Lee Grant a Best Actress award at Cannes. It is directed by William Wyler, who also helmed Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday and The Best Years of our Lives. The movie was critically revered in its time and, as I write this, it has a 7.5 out of 10 on IMDB. But I can form my own opinions independent of anybody else’s, and I thought this was a garbage movie.
The first big problem I had is the script was adapted from a stage play and it shows. It was barely “opened up” in its transition to the big screen. By that, I mean they didn’t take many opportunities to expand it beyond the confines required by a stage production. You know, to make it more appropriate for the medium it is being translated to.
As if that wasn’t enough, the acting here is of a nature better suited for the stage, as the actors all seem to be pitching their performances to the rafters. This is film, people—you don’t need to project like that.
Kirk Douglas, who was always prone to chewing the scenery, plays it farther over-the-top here than I have seen before. I suspect this was partly just to be heard over everybody else, as if he needed any further encouragement.
Also, his character is named McCloud, which is pretty weird. I can only assume there is no connection between him and Dennis Weaver as the titular detective in the 70s show of the same name. OK, supposedly, his character is named McLeod, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound like everybody is saying McCloud.
Anywho, the plot here is one of those “a typical day in some place” kind of affair, as various characters wander in and out of a NYC police precinct office. There’s Lee Grant as a first-time shoplifter, Joseph Wiseman as an unhinged hoodlum, William Bendix as Douglas’s partner, Craig Hill as a young embezzler whom Bendix wants to let off with a warning and Cathy O’Donnell as Hill’s girlfriend, trying to plead his case. Of these, Wiseman is the worst of the lot, wildly flailing and yelling his head off to the extent that not even Douglas can top him.
The main plotline, if one of the many threads could be designated as such, is George Macready as a nefarious doctor Douglas has dedicated his life to putting behind bars. There is a lot of tap-dancing around exactly which laws the doctor is violating. He is at least working a baby market, but I suspect he is also an abortionist. It is really hard to know for certain, given the weird way the script has to talk around whatever the subject is, given the regulations and standards of the time.
Since I simply didn’t like Detective Story, I don’t see any reason to go on any further about it. Obviously, I am in the minority with my negative assessment of it. But if you are the type of person who enjoys exceptionally stagy and overacted melodrama, I just hope you enjoy this more than I did.
Dir: William Wyler
Starring Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Lee Grant
Watched on Kino Lorber blu-ray