Today’s movie is Detective Story (1951). Let’s get right to the hardest issue. iMDB.com tags this movie as a Film Noir while Rottentomatoes.com does not. I generally go with the more liberal classification of iMDB. This movie is certainly not a classic Film Noir. There is no strong femme fatale, and the lighting is rather bright. Let’s just say it’s a stage play with noirish elements or as they cool kids say noir stained.
This film was based on a successful Broadway play written by Sidney Kingsley. It was ably directed by William Wyler. This film received four Oscar nominations; Best Director for Wyler, Best Actress for Parker, Best Supporting Actress for Grant, and Best Writing for Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler.
On November 7, 1951, New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said:
“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.”
Other critics commented on how Wyler let the action flow making the film not seem like a play.
Gladys George was cast as Miss Hatch. George was covered in Episode 100 – The Maltese Falcon (1941) where she played the role of Archer’s wife.
Pat Flaherty had a small uncredited role as the Desk Sergeant. Flaherty was covered in Episode 40 – Key Largo (1948).
Lee Grant played the Shoplifter. She was really the passive watcher of all the action. This was Grant’s first movie, and oh man, she was young. I didn’t recognize her until halfway through the film. Grant was first covered in Marooned (1969).
Eleanor Parker played Mary McLeod, the lady with a secret past. She was born in Ohio in 1922. She began studying acting at 15 and was offered a screen test early on. However, she turned this opportunity down to gain experience on the stage. After high school, she began studying at the Pasadena Playhouse. While sitting in the audience of a play, the young redhead was spotted and offer another screen test, which she again declined. After spending a year at the Pasadena Playhouse, she approached and was given a screen test by Warner Brothers.
He first film was Busses Roar (1942). She received an important role in the pro-Soviet Mission to Moscow (1943) with Walter Huston. The Soviet was our ally during World War II, but that did not matter in the communist hunt crazed days of Sen. Joe McCarthy and the un-American House Un-American Activates Committee (HUAC) of the next decade.
Parker was on track making a lot of movies, including a few good Film Noirs. These films include Crime by Night (1944), Pride of the Marines (1945), a remake of Of Human Bondage (1946), the Film Noir Caged (1950) where she had to shave her hair for the prison scenes and received an Oscar nomination, Detective Story (1951) where she was also Oscar-nominated (I don’t see it), Scaramouche (1952), Valley of the Kings (1954) where the archaeologists beat their crews, The Naked Jungle (1954), Interrupted Melody (1955) where she was nominated for her third Oscar, the absolutely fabulous The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Return to Peyton Place (1961), Madison Avenue (1961), The Sound of Music (1965) playing the role of the Baroness, See You in Hell, Darling (1966), The Tiger and the Pussycat (1967), and Eye of the Cat (1969). Parker retired in 2003 and died in 2013.
Cathy O’Donnell played the role of Susan Carmichael. O’Donnell lived in Alabama until she was 12 and her family moved to Oklahoma. That’s going from hell to double hell. After college O’Donnell earned enough money to travel to Hollywood. She quickly obtained a contract with MGM. They worked on her southern accent by sending him to train at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He first credited role was in the epic The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Based on the strength of her performance, she was immediately given more roles. Her next four films were the Film Noirs Bury Me Dead (1947), The Amazing Mr. X (1948), They Live By Night (1948), and Side Street (1950). At the age of 23, she married Robert Wyler, the brother of director William Wyler. Samuel Goldwyn objected and canceled O’Donnell’s contract. She continued to make movies and notable of these independents are Detective Story (1951), The Story of Mankind (1957), and the epic Ben-Hur (1959), which was her last film. She continued in television for a few more years. Sadly, she died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 46.
William Bendix played Det. Lou Brody and partner of Det. McLeod. Bendix was born in 1906 in New York City. He had an early acting role in a 1911 silent film when he was five. Bendix dropped out of school when he was 15 and became a bat boy for the New York Giants and Yankees. He was supposed to be a favorite of Babe Ruth, who he later played in a movie.
He later worked as a singing waiter and joined the Henry Street Players. Bendix got married in 1927 and went into the grocery business. The store failed during the Great Depression. He next joined the Federal Theater Project and worked with the Theatre Guild.
Bendix, who was built like a tank, was noticed by Hal Roach and given a studio contract. He had a lot of Film Noir roles, comedy roles, and war films. He was uncredited for a bit part in They Drive by Night (1940), The Glass Key (1942), Wake Island (1942) for which he received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination, Guadalcanal Diary (1943), Lifeboat (1944) which had him losing a leg without painkillers, The Blue Dahlia (1946), The Dark Corner (1946), The Babe Ruth Story (1948) as the Bambino, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), Cover Up (1949), Johnny Holiday (1949), Streets of Laredo (1949), The Big Steal (1949), Kill the Umpire (1950) where he had double vision, Detective Story (1951), Submarine Command (1951), Battle Stations (1956), The Deep Six (1958), and The Young and the Brave (1963).
He may be best-known for “The Life of Riley Radio Show” 1944-1951, The Life of Riley (1949) movie, and “The Life of Riley” television show 1953-1958. Bendix died at the early age of 58 in 1964.
Set at the 21st Police Precinct in New York City. Detective Dakis (Bert Freed) is bringing in a very young shoplifter (Lee Grant). Det. Gallagher (Frank Faylen) has to deal with a crazy lady that thinks her foreign neighbors are making atomic bombs. What year is this set in?
A lawyer, Endicott Sims (Warner Anderson) comes into the see Lt. Monaghan (Horace McMahon) about a client he represents, Karl Schneider (George Macready). Schneider wants to surrender, but he doesn’t want to be handled by Det. James McLeod (Kirk Douglas) because he doesn’t want the rubber hose treatment.
McLeod comes in with a young collar. He is stopped outside by his wife Mary McLeod (Eleanor Parker). They jump into a cab and are very happy to see each other. Mary is troubled because she can’t get pregnant.
McLeod goes back into the station. The man McLeod had arrested for theft is Arthur Kindred (Craig Hill). McLeod finds a girl’s number, and when he calls it, he gets the sister, Susan Carmichael (Cathy O’Donnell).
McLeod is called into the Lt’s. office to meet the lawyer. The lawyer has brought in photographs of the man that will surrender to show that there are no bruises. Schneider seems to be an abortion doctor, and the lawyer intimates that McLeod has a vendetta.
McLeod’s partner Det. Lou Brody (William Bendix) is talking to Arthur but is rebuffed by the young thief. About this time two bandits, Charley Gennini (Joseph Wiseman) and Lewis Abbott (Michael Strong), are brought in. In the play, they are a gay couple. Immediately, the detective, separate the men to work them against each other. They use good cop/bad cop.
The shoplifter calls her brother-in-law, who is a lawyer to come help her.
Susan Carmichael comes in to find out about Arthur. McLeod tells Susan that Arthur has been stealing. She is clearly in love with her sister’s boyfriend.
McLeod begins to leave for home when lawyer Sims brings in Dr. Schneider. McLeod begins grilling Dr. Schneider about the money he has in the bank. Sims talks to the Lt. and says the doctor’s assistant, Miss Hatch (Gladys George), plans on testifying against the doctor. They make a line-up and McLeod goes down to get Mrs. Hatch. She is wearing a new fur coat. She fails to identify the doctor that she worked for. McLeod blows up at the lady until the Lt. makes him stop.
A crime reporter Joe Feinson (Luis Van Rooten) that hangs around the precinct goes to talk to McLeod. McLeod says his father was a criminal and he drove his mother to the insane asylum. He sees his father in every criminal.
Since the first id failed, McLeod decides to take Dr. Schneider to Bellevue Hospital where the latest victim of the doctor is in critical condition. McLeod is riding in the back of the paddy wagon with the doctor when the driver lets him know that girl in the hospital has died. Sensing that Dr. Schneider is going to escape justice, he threatens to kill him. The doctor threatens back. McLeod beats the doctor until he falls to the ground.
When they get the damaged doctor back, he tells the Lt. about McLeod’s desire for revenge and a racketeer named Tami Giacoppetti (Gerald Mohr) and a mystery woman before he passes out. The Lt. tells McLeod to wait and he sends to have Giacoppetti picked up.
Lawyer Sims comes into the office where the Lt. and McLeod are waiting. The lawyer says McLeod has personal motives. They send McLeod out, and the lawyer says maybe the answer will come from McLeod’s wife. After the lawyer leaves, the Lt. asks McLeod what the beef between him and Dr. Schneider is. The Lt. calls McLeod wife.
They bring in the evidence to convict Charley and Lewis. The start giving Charley the business. Charley says Lewis is a mastermind and a killer. When they find out that Charley is wearing stolen clothes, they make him take them off. They borrow a pair of pants for the cleaning man, Willie (Burt Mustin).
The Lt. sends one of the detectives to keep Mary McLeod downstairs until he calls for her.
Albert Pritchett (James Maloney) comes in about the money that Arthur stole from him. McLeod tells him that the money was not recovered and he is ready to press charges. Susan comes in with $120 and says she will pay all of the money back. She says she will sign a promissory note for the rest of the money. Arthur tells that he was spending extra money trying to keep dating Susan’s sister. Det. Brody speaks for Arthur and his war service.
The Lt. sends McLeod on a wild goose chase look for an old file. With McLeod out of the way, they bring in his wife, Mary. The Lt. tells about the assault and then questions her on whether she knows Dr. Schneider. She says no, but it seems she does. He asks her if she has ever been pregnant. She is evasive and indignant. The Lt. then asks if she knows Giacoppetti. She says no but is acting like a rat caught in a trash can. The Lt. brings in Giacoppetti and Mary breaks down crying.
McLeod comes back and Det. Brody tells him that the charges against Arthur are being dropped. McLeod said it is his case and he will charge him. The two bandits, Charley and Lewis, are led away to be booked. McLeod tells Susan that he doesn’t give criminals a second chance. Pritchett is talked back into pressing charges. Susan runs after.
The Lt. tells Giacoppetti that everything is off the record. Giacoppetti says seven years prior they were dating and Mary got pregnant. When she told Giacoppetti, he had to confess that he was married. Mary got an abortion from Dr. Schneider. Giacoppetti beat the doctor senseless.
The Lt. tells Mary what he has learned and she says McLeod never knew about her past life. The Lt. calls McLeod into the room with Giacoppetti and Mary. The Lt. thinks McLeod is persecuting Dr. Schneider because of Mary. Mary tells McLeod the story, and he had no idea what had happened. Giacoppetti and the Lt. leave the room.
McLeod calls her a tramp, and she begs for forgiven. He says she can’t have a baby now because of the abortion. No second chances are given by McLeod. Mary can’t take the attack and runs out crying.
The Lt. tells McLeod that Dr. Schneider is going to be okay. McLeod breaks down and cries.
That evening, McLeod is rocking some hip tortoiseshell glasses. He is processing Arthur when Charley and Lewis are brought back in. The shoplifter talks to Susan about finding a good man to marry. The shoplifter is taken away to court. Susan tells Arthur that she and he should be in love.
Det. Brody begs McLeod to let Arthur off because he reminds him of his son that was killed in the war. McLeod gives no second chances.
Mary comes into the station and tells McLeod that she is leaving him. He suddenly starts begging her to say. Finally, she agrees after he begs. McLeod goes into the station, and lawyer Sims is there. They have words, and McLeod’s is driven back to hate. He starts asking Mary how many other men there were. He can’t get past the dirty pictures he sees in his mind. Mary says she is leaving McLeod for good before she is driven insane like his mother. She says he is just like his father. He realizes it is true.
Mary leaves, and McLeod is in the station when someone runs in yelling that she has been robbed. While all the attention is focused in that direction, Charley grabs a gun from one of the detectives. McLeod starts walking towards Charley until the bandit fires hitting McLeod 3 times.
McLeod is dying. He asks for a priest. He asks them to let Arthur go. He asks for forgiveness from Mary. He begins that last rites and dies. Dt. Brody finishes the prayer.
Dt. Brody releases Arthur and tells him “not to make a monkey out of him.” Susan and Arthur promise that he won’t, and they leave. As McLeod lays dead on the station floor, Susan and Arthur walk across the street hand in hand.
World-Famous Short Summary – like Elsa, let it go, let it go
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Beware the moors