Sunday, June 16, 2013

Detective Story

Detective Story; crime-drama, USA, 1951; D: William Wyler, S: Kirk Douglas, William Bendix, Eleanor Parker, Cathy O'Donnell, Horace McMahon, George Macready, Lee Grant

24 hours in a New York police precinct. Detective Jim McLeod wants to have a baby with his wife Mary, but she has trouble getting pregnant. His colleagues, Detective Lou and Lieutenant Monaghan, have a wide array of arrested people: a girl who stole a bag from a store; a kind lad, Arthur, who embezzled over 400$ from his boss to have some money to impress for his girlfriend; two burglars, Charlie and Lewis, are interrogated and admit many of their thefts. At the same time, McLeod has a personal grudge against Dr. Schneider, who performed illegal abortions and left several people dead, but there are no witnesses. After a while, it turns out that even Mary had an abortion at Schneider, and thus McLeod breaks up with her. He is shot by Charlie, and before his death, McLeod wishes that Mary would forgive him.

One of the unknown classics, "Detective Story" is an excellent example of a thoroughbred, detailed and virtuoso written crime flick that plays out almost entirely on one location - a New York police precinct - and a 'restrained' time scope of only 24 hours. The screenplay by Robert Wyler and Philip Jordan sets up a raw, dark and unglamourous view of the police routine, with a whole kaleidoscope of opulent characters, from the main protagonist Jim McLeod, whose over-eager and rigid stance at life will lead to a personal tragedy, through Dr. Schneider, who performs illegal abortions, something of a 'taboo' breaking theme back in the 50s, up to the almost innocent shoplifter girl, played absolutely brilliantly by Lee Grant, who was rightfully nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress. Director William Wyler leads the tightly written story with a sure director's hand, but at the same time he leaves room for his characters to act. In one of the best scenes, Dr. Schneider's attorney shows up at the precinct and gives McLeod two photos of his client, nude, pointing out that his client must leave the precint in the same shape he came in, and "does not want to see any bruises or scars on him". In another, Lieutenant Monaghan interrogates Mary who is obviously hiding something from him. He asks her is she knows Dr. Schneider, but she says no. Still, Monaghan observes: "When I mentioned Schneider, you looked away." The only flaw is the overly melodramatic ending, that suddenly starts throwing prayers and Gospels around as if Wyler was warming up for "Ben Hur", which is untypically unsubtle compared to the rest of the strong film.


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