Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Detective Story (1951)

I approached DETECTIVE STORY with great interest. It was directed by the legendary William Wyler and has a fine cast headed by Kirk Douglas as a hard-nosed detective and Eleanor Parker as his wife. I was recently charmed by Parker's performance in THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, and I've enjoyed watching some police dramas of that era in recent months, including CROSSFIRE and THE RACKET.

I have to admit, though, that despite DETECTIVE STORY's reputation as a classic, it really didn't work for me. At all.

The film's police station set felt quite "stagebound," and although the grungy, gritty police station may have been somewhat groundbreaking in its day, that kind of setting has been done a million times since then, such as in HILL STREET BLUES. Normally I would still appreciate the film's style in the context of its times, but I was so (unexpectedly) disinterested in the film's plot that it was hard to appreciate much else about the film.

The episodic storyline, weaving a bunch of oddball crooks' tales around the problems of Detective McLeod and his wife, left me flat. Douglas and Parker offer fine performances, but when I got to the end of the movie, which has to be one of the most depressing in Hollywood history, I thought "I sat through this film in order to get to this?!" I was pretty much thunderstruck by the ending's one-two punch.

Longtime readers know that I'm normally someone who focuses on whatever good a film has to offer, as I love movies so much. But this movie really struck me the wrong way. I don't know if it caught me on a bad day, or if this kind of dark film -- with a total lack of uplifting themes or redemption -- just isn't my thing. I was frankly surprised, as I was expecting to enjoy it quite a bit.

DETECTIVE STORY was filmed in black and white by cinematographer Lee Garmes. It runs 103 loooong minutes. It received four Academy Award nominations, including Eleanor Parker as Best Actress.

The DVD print is beautiful. Unfortunately, the DVD contains no extras whatsoever, not even a trailer.

The film can also be seen on TCM. The trailer can be seen at TCM's site.


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