Monday, June 24, 2013

Detective Story

Tonight being the final Monday in June, we have one more night of TCM's Star of the Month Eleanor Parker. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Detective Story.

The star of the movie is Kirk Douglas, playing Det. James MacLeod, a police detective at New York's 21st precinct, in one of the less glamorous parts of town. Parker plays his wife Mary, and she'll have a bigger part to play later in the movie. But for now, Detective story looks on its surface to be one of those "slice-of-life" movies about a day in the life of a police precinct, with all the nutty people who come in and out of the precinct station. Indeed, the movie starts off with a small-time crook who embezzled some money from his business. But things pick up fairly quickly when the lawyer for Karl Schneider (George Macready is Schneider) shows up. Schneider is a shady "baby doctor" who Jim knows has to be a criminal in some way. And Jim hates the guy, in part because he and Mary have been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby of their own. Schneider's lawyer knows about Jim's hatreds, which are apparently well-known in general, because he's been the subject of quite a few complaints of police brutality, enough that his superior, Lt. Monaghan, has to warn him not to do anything violent. Which, of course, means that we'll be waiting all movie for Jim to blow his stack.

It almost comes when Jim thinks he's about to get Schneider because he's got a witness who will pick him out ot a lineup. That is, until Schneider bribes her not to pick him out. And then there's a victim of one of Schneider's botched "procedures" who could also identify Schneider. Except that she dies in hospital before she's able to finger Schneider. It's enough to make Jim want to smack Schneider, and that leads to Mary getting called in by Monaghan. There's a good reason Mary hasn't been able to get pregnant, and part of the reason why -- although Jim doesn't know it -- involves Schneider. The Production Code limits what the script is able to talk about, and I'm even more trying not to give too much away, but even with this limited description you should be able to put two and two together.

Meanwhile, there are all the other subplots going on in the station. Cathy O'Donnell plays the sister-in-law of the embezzler we saw at the beginning of the movie, and she's trying to help repay some of the embezzled funds, because the guy only did it for her sister. Joseph Wiseman, who would later play Dr. No, is a small-time burglar. William Bendix plays Douglas' detective partner. And Lee Grant shows up as a shoplifter. Even though the main forus of the movie is the conflict between MacLeod and Schneider, all of these supporting characters are quite good at bringing color to the proceedings.

Kirk Douglas is intense, as always. Some people may find his acting style too intense, but in Detective Story, I think any problems aren't with Douglas' acting, but with the script, which makes Douglas be this violent. I don't know if the motivations given for why Jim is such a firm believer in the law, and why he's so quick to get violent about it. Sure, there's a lot of police brutality in real life, which is in contrast to the normal portrayal of police during the Production Code era. But Jim MacLeod is the sort of person who in real life would probably be a criminal himself, with only the uniform giving him free rein to commit his violence under color of law The fact that we give government so much power naturally draws in people who have a predisposition to want to use such powers. A fundamentally good guy whose simply overzealous? I don't think so.

But, whatever flaws Detective Story has, they're relatively minor. On the whole it's an excellent movie and one that's well worth seeing. It's also received a DVD release if you should miss tonight's showing.

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