Monday, May 11, 2020

Detective Story (1951)

Based on a play by Sidney Kingsley, this William Wyler film shows its theatrical roots but is imbued with a strong degree of realism. Set almost entirely inside a New York City police station and centered around the revolving group of characters who come and go throughout the day, it offers a first-rate showcase for its powerhouse ensemble cast headed by Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Cathy O'Donnell, and standout performances by newcomers Lee Grant and Joseph Wiseman.

This was right around the time that Douglas was essaying some really dark, intense roles (notably ACE IN THE HOLE), and his Jim McCleod here is one of the best of those. McCleod is angry and vengeful, uncompromising in his tough-as-nails attitude toward crime. He is anchored only by his love for his wife as his growing bitterness threatens to destroy him both personally and professionally.

The set design of the police station perfectly captures the claustrophobic atmosphere and the resulting high tensions of all who work within it. Special mention should also be made of the fine cinematography by Lee Garmes and John F. Seitz. Screenplay by Robert Wyler and Philip Yordan from Kingsley's 1949 play of the same name.

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