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Detective Story [1951 film] (1951)

by William Wyler, Philip Yordan (Writer)

Other authors: William Bendix (Actor), Kirk Douglas (Actor), Lee Grant (Actor), George Macready (Actor), Cathy O'Donnell (Actor)2 more, Eleanor Parker (Actor), Sidney Kingsley (Original play)

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1121,546,279 (4.13)None
An embittered cop leads a precinct of characters in their grim battle with the city's lowlife while his wife suffers from neglect. Based on Sydney Kingsley's play.

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Douglas's intense, borderline-insane performance as a detective is at the center of this story, but it is the performances by the women that provide the depth and nuance that makes this film memorable. Eleanor Parker received a nomination for best actress, even though she is on screen for only a little more than 20 minutes, which is apparently some sort of record. She is Eleanor Parker, however, so you can't take your eyes off her when she IS on screen. Lee Grant, in her first film (although reprising her role on Broadway) is the semi-comic relief as a shoplifter who sits and watches everything occur over the course of an evening at the 21st Precinct. She brings an indefinable quality that makes the character much more interesting than might be suspected. More than anyone else, she represents us--the audience. Grant was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Joseph Wiseman stands out for his rather exaggerated performance as a burglar facing life imprisonment due to the number of his previous arrests. Dobie Gillis's father is another of the detectives. Although this film is considered the forerunner of shows like Hill Street Blues, in its constricted setting of a room with a bunch of detectives sitting around, it is much more like Barney Miller. But as the events of the evening transpire, it becomes clear this is no comedy. Not everything ends neatly. Very well done. ( )
  datrappert | May 9, 2022 |
Detective Story (1951)

Kirk Douglas – Det. James McLeod
Eleanor Parker – Mary McLeod

William Bendix – Det. Lou Brody
Cathy O’Donnell – Susan Carmichael
George Macready – Karl Schneider
Horace McMahon – Lt. Monaghan
Joseph Wiseman – Charley Gennini
Craig Hill – Arthur Kindred
Lee Grant – Shoplifter
Gladys George – Miss Hatch

Screenplay by Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler, based on the play (1949) by Sidney Kingsley
Directed by William Wyler

Black and white. 103 min.


I built my whole life on hating my father. All the time he was inside me, laughing.

This tight, tense and talky police drama is about the hectic everyday life in the cramped, noisy and dirty 21st precinct in New York City. The script is not without problems (such as irrelevant shoplifters) and neither is the direction (Wyler almost loses control in a few places), but it’s not hard to see why the original play lasted for 581 performances on Broadway. It still has the power to interest, disturb and move: bigotry, disillusionment and despair are in no danger of becoming dated. Magnificent cast takes care of the rest. Kirk Douglas is imposingly intense as the jaundiced, cynical, self-righteous and violent Detective McLeod for whom people are either guilty or innocent, but never a mixture of both. He has a surprise or two coming to him. It’s a grand performance of a tough and complex character. Eleanor Parker all but overshadows her leading man in their explosive scenes together. The IMDb trivia tells me that Eleanor’s performance, comprising only 20 minutes and 10 seconds of screen time, is the shortest ever to have received a Best Leading Actress nomination. Boy, did she deserve it! The ending has been criticised as too contrived and eager to shock. I can’t say that I agree. I didn’t like the religious angle, but otherwise I found it plausible enough in this context as well as pleasantly stark, sugar-free, no-punches-pulled and even, in a way, tragic. Top-notch supporting cast is a special bonus. The movie takes its time to get going, but then it becomes steadily more gripping until the bleak ending. ( )
  Waldstein | Jun 1, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Wylerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Yordan, PhilipWritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bendix, WilliamActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Douglas, KirkActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Grant, LeeActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Macready, GeorgeActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
O'Donnell, CathyActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Parker, EleanorActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sidney KingsleyOriginal playsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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An embittered cop leads a precinct of characters in their grim battle with the city's lowlife while his wife suffers from neglect. Based on Sydney Kingsley's play.

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