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Detective Story

DVD cover
Directed by William Wyler
Produced by William Wyler
Written by Story:
Sidney Kingsley
Robert Wyler
Philip Yordan
Starring Kirk Douglas
Eleanor Parker
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Editing by Robert Swink
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) November 6, 1951
Running time 103 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Detective Story (1951) is a film noir which tells the story of one day in the lives of the various people who populate a police detective squad. It features Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Cathy O'Donnell, Lee Grant, among others. The movie was adapted by Robert Wyler and Philip Yordan from the 1949 play of the same name by Sidney Kingsley. It was directed by William Wyler.[1]

An embittered cop, Det. Jim McLeod (Douglas), leads a precinct of characters in their grim daily battle with the city's lowlife. Little does he realize that his obsessive pursuit of an abortionist (Macready) is leading him to discover his wife had an abortion. The characters who pass through the precinct over the course of the day include a young petty embezzler, a pair of burglars, and a naive shoplifter.



The film begins with the arrest of a shoplifter (Lee Grant) and her booking at the 21st police precinct. Outside, Jim McLeod, is sharing a romantic moment with his wife Mary (Eleanor Parker) and they discuss the children they will have. He enters the precinct to process a young embezzler Arthur Kindred (Craig Hill).

McLeod then encounters Endicott Sims (Warner Anderson), a lawyer representing Karl Schneider (George Macready), who's a New Jersey doctor with a revoked license and now wanted on murder charges. Sims informs the precinct's lieutenant, Monahan (Horace McMahon), that Schneider wants to turn himself in without being beaten by McLeod. McLeod expresses his hatred of Schneider and other criminals saying the law "coddles them."

Two burglars, Charley Gennini (Joseph Wiseman, who played the title role in the first James Bond feature film, Dr. No) and Lewis Abbott (Michael Strong), are brought in. With Brody's (William Bendix, best known as Riley in the TV series, Life Of Riley) help, McLeod interrogates the men and turns Lewis against Charley.

When Schneider arrives with Sims, McLeod informs him that his partner, Miss Hatch (Gladys George), has implicated him and will pick him out of a line-up. To McLeod's disgust, Schneider has bribed Hatch with a fur coat, and she fails to identify him in the line-up. Jim explodes and calls Hatch a liar. He admits to reporter Joe Feinson (Luis Van Rooten) that his hatred for his father and "his criminal mind" (who drove his wife to a lunatic asylum) made him crusade against evil-doers.

McLeod then takes Schneider to Bellevue Hospital where a young victim of Schneider's work is being treated. However, McLeod learns that the woman has died, and without her identification, there is no case against Schneider. As they head back to the precinct, he slaps and punches Schneider until he collapses.

Meanwhile, Arthur's boss, Albert R. Pritchett (James Maloney), comes to the precinct to file charges against Arthur. His friend, Susan arrives and gives Pritchett $120 she scraped together hoping no charges are filed against her friend. McLeod calls Arthur a thief and tries to dissuade Susan from helping him, but she pleads with Pritchett, swearing that the funds will be repaid the next day.

Mary McLeod arrives at the station and talks with Lt. Monahan about knowing Giacoppetti (a racketeer, who used to date Mary) and Schneider. She denies knowing them, but when Giacoppetti walks in and greets her, she runs out, crying. Giacoppetti then tells Lt. Monahan that Mary had gotten pregnant while they dated and gone to Dr. Schneider for an abortion.

Mary confesses to her husband, and once alone with him she asks his forgiveness, but he says he'd rather die than find out his wife is "a tramp" and asks if her infertility is Schneider's fault. Stunned by Jim's reaction, Mary leaves in tears.

Mary comes to the station to say goodbye to McLeod and he pleads with her to stay. Mary relents, but after a snide comment made by Sims (Warner Anderson) about Mary's love life, McLeod asks how many men there were before he met her and admits that he cannot wash away the "dirty pictures" in his mind. Calling him cruel and vengeful, she leaves McLeod for good not wanting be "driven to a lunatic asylum." She vows never to see him again.

Gennini, taking advantage of the commotion started when a victim runs into the station yelling she's been robbed, grabs a gun from a policeman's holster and shoots McLeod several times. McLeod, in his dying words, asks that his wife forgive him and requests police colleagues to go easy on Arthur Kindred. McLeod then begins a confessional prayer, Act of Contrition. Brody finishes the prayer as McLeod lies dead. A distressed Brody then releases Arthur Kindred while admonishing him "not to make a monkey out of me."


Critical reception

When the film was released, Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, lauded the film and the casting, writing, "Sidney Kingsley's play, Detective Story, has been made into a brisk, absorbing film by Producer-Director William Wyler, with the help of a fine, responsive cast. Long on graphic demonstration of the sort of raffish traffic that flows through a squad-room of plainclothes detectives in a New York police station-house and considerably short on penetration into the lives of anyone on display...In the performance of this business, every member of the cast rates a hand, with the possible exception of Eleanor Parker as the hero's wife, and she is really not to blame. Kirk Douglas is so forceful and aggressive as the detective with a kink in his brain that the sweet and conventional distractions of Miss Parker as his wife appear quite tame. In the role of the mate of such a tiger—and of a woman who has had the troubled past that is harshly revealed in this picture—Mr. Wyler might have cast a sharper dame."[2]

Critic James Steffen appreciated the direction of the film and the cinematography of Lee Garmes, writing "While Detective Story remains essentially a filmed play, Wyler manages to use the inherent constraints of such an approach as an artistic advantage. The confined set of the police precinct is not simply a space where various characters observe each other and interact; it also contributes to the underlying thematic thrust and ultimately to the film’s emotional power. The staging of the individual scenes, which often plays on foreground-background relationships, is also augmented by Lee Garmes’ deep focus photography. (Wyler, of course, used deep focus photography extensively in the films he shot with Gregg Toland.)"[3]


Video and DVD
In a DVD review of the film, technology critic Gary W. Tooze, wrote, "Absolutely stunning image. One of the best I have seen for a black and white film this year. Superb sharpness, shadow details and contrast. Standard Paramount bare bones release with no extras and a price tag for the frugal minded. The image and price make it a must own for Noir fans and everyone else too. Wyler direction sends the film to upper tier to join the DVD."[4]


Year Award/Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards
1951 Best Actress in a Leading Role Eleanor Parker Nominated
1951 Best Actress in a Supporting Role Lee Grant Nominated
1951 Best Director William Wyler Nominated
1951 Best Writing, Screenplay Philip Yordan, Robert Wyler Nominated
British Academy of Film and Television Arts
1952 BAFTA Film Award Best Film from any Source USA Nominated
1952 Cannes Film Festival
1952 Best Actress Lee Grant Won[5]
1952 Grand Prize of the Festival William Wyler Nominated
Directors Guild of America
1952 DGA Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures - William Wyler Nominated
Edgar Award
1952 Best Motion Picture Screenplay Sidney Kingsley, Robert Wyler, Philip Yordan Won
Golden Globes
1952 Best Motion Picture - Drama Nominated
1952 Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama Kirk Douglas Nominated
1952 Best Supporting Actress Lee Grant Nominated
Writers Guild of America
1952 WGA Award (Screen) Best Written American Drama Philip Yordan, Robert Wyler Nominated




  1. ^ Detective Story at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, November 7, 1951. Last accessed: December 26, 2007.
  3. ^ Steffen, James. Turner Classic Movies, film review and analysis, 2007. Last accessed: February 1, 2008.
  4. ^ Tooze, Gary W. DVD Beaver, review, 2007. Last accessed: December 26, 2007.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Detective Story". Retrieved 2009-01-17.  

External links

Detective Story can refer to the following things:


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