Thursday, March 31, 2011

Detective Story (1951)

Mar. 31, 2011

47. Detective Story (1951)

Starring Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Cathy O'Donnell

Produced & Directed by William Wyler

Plot: "On one day in the 21st Precinct squad room, assorted characters form a backdrop for the troubles of hard-nosed Detective Jim McLeod." (from IMDb)

Anybody want to watch a really depressing movie? Not tender tear-jerker type depressing, but one—to quote the film—that makes you want to just "dry up and die"? Well, then I have the film for you!

Maybe I just feel this way because I was expecting a different type of movie (I thought this would be a mystery!). I do think that it is an intelligent film (based on a stage play) and that there are probably some kernels of truth/things of merit in it, but for some reason it just struck a wrong cord with me.

First off, the acting. Kirk Douglas is just a bit much here. I guess it’s mainly his delivery that I’m not a fan of. I like Eleanor Parker in The Sound of Music, but in the films I have seen of hers in the last few months, she seems to play a very tormented type of woman. The way her face paralyzes into this ‘tormented’ expression is, again, just a bit much. Those were the performances that I disliked—feel free to disagree. I don’t want to insult anyone’s favorites if you happen to love Kirk and Eleanor. Please enlighten me! :)

Thankfully, most of the other performances were really good (if a little stage-y). I especially liked Lee Grant (her exit was hilarious and the best part of the movie, in my opinion) and William Bendix. As a side note, it was also refreshing to see a film of this period that featured an African American (albeit in a small part) who was not portrayed as a racial stereotype.

For some reason, I seem to either love or hate a lot of William Wyler movies. I certainly did not love this one. But if you are a fan of film noir, watching characters’ lives unravel, and unhappy endings, this just might be for you.

Trivia and observations:

  • Cathy O'Donnell, who played Susan Carmichael, was producer-director William Wyler's sister-in-law. Her husband, Robert Wyler, co-wrote the screenplay.
  • I couldn’t help but wonder if Lee Grant’s line "will they shave my head?" was a nod to costar Eleanor Parker’s film Caged (1950), which came out the year before. In that film, Parker’s character gets her head shaved. But maybe I am just reading too much into it?

P.S. Tomorrow is the last day to vote in this month’s poll.


  1. I liked this movie. Yes, it's really depressing and you keep wondering if the main characters will remain together or what. I don't know, I think that the actors are great, but I can understand what you say. Anyway, if I had to choose between depressing movies starring Eleanor Parker, I'd pick "Caged", I love that film. I like the ending of this one. And yeah, Lee Grant was a great comic relief :) Great review.

  2. I actually really like Eleanor Parker. She's my 4th favorite actress, just ahead of Grace Kelly. I had only known her in The Sound of Music, and I really didn't like her there. But then I saw "Caged," "Interrupted Melody," and "The Man with the Golden Arm," and I thought she was fantastic. Yes, she was tormented in all of those movies, but I thought the quality of her acting was great. I've also enjoyed her in some more light-hearted flicks.

    And it doesn't insult me at all that you don't care for her. We all have our own preferences, and what works for one doesn't always work for another. (I am one of those that can barely stand Katharine Hepburn, and I hate Rear Window) As long as we always respect others' opinions and agree to disagree, it's okay that we think differently.


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