Detective Story (1951)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1951.  Paramount Pictures.  Screenplay by , , based on the play by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by William Wyler.  Production Design by , .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

A New York police headquarters is the nexus of intense activity in this smooth adaptation of the hit Broadway play by Sidney Kingsley.  William Wyler keeps it stagebound without sacrificing cinematic style in a small world of action, at its head an incorruptible but darkly cynical cop (Kirk Douglas) who sticks to his morals at all costs.  He is obsessed with taking down a shady doctor involved in the deaths of young, unmarried women who have gotten into pre-marital trouble, while at the same time his depressed and lonely wife (Eleanor Parker, classy as always) shows up to reveal secrets of the past that bear a connection with his case.  There’s also a young war veteran whose first offence has beautiful  (who despite the least showy role is, in retrospect, the performance that has aged the best) begging for mercy, and a very early performance by Lee Grant (igniting her career with a Best Actress win at Cannes) as a kooky shoplifter who serves as curious witness to all the action.  Intelligent dialogue and wonderful cinematography make for great drama, and although so much of it is dated, it’s hard to imagine today’s cop procedural dramas without this one to come before it.  The conclusion involves a dark turn of events that the rest of the movie doesn’t earn (its cynicism isn’t really all that complicated), but it’s great stuff all the same.

Academy Award NominationsBest Actress (Eleanor Parker); Best Supporting Actress (Lee Grant); Best Director (William Wyler); Best Screenplay

Cannes Film Festival Award:  Best Actress (Lee Grant)

Golden Globe Award Nominations:  Best Picture-Drama, Best Actor-Drama (Kirk Douglas); Best Supporting Actress (Lee Grant)

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