Jim McLeod is a hard-nosed and cynical detective. He believes in a strict interpretation of the law and doesn't believe in turning the other cheek. The current object of his zealousness is Karl Schneider, an abortionist responsible for the death of several young women. Schneider's lawyer tells the precinct lieutenant that McLeod has his own personal reasons for going after his client. It turns out that his wife was a patient before they met, although Jim knew nothing of it. His world suddenly turned upside down, McLeod is too late in re-evaluating his priorities.
Kirk Douglas ... Det. James 'Jim' McLeod
Eleanor Parker ... Mary McLeod
William Bendix ... Det. Lou Brody
Cathy O'Donnell ... Susan Carmichael
George Macready ... Karl Schneider
Horace McMahon ... Lt. Monaghan
Gladys George ... Miss Hatch
Joseph Wiseman ... Charley Gennini
Lee Grant ... Shoplifter
Gerald Mohr ... Tami Giacoppetti
Frank Faylen ... Det. Gallagher
Craig Hill ... Arthur Kindred
A normal day inside the 21st precinct, is rather ordinary, in police station terms of course. However, on this particular day, a chain of events would change the lives of a select few individuals, some for the best, and others, for the worst.
Detective McLeod, (Kirk Douglas) a loving husband, with a harsh professional reputation. A Merciless, hard-nosed poignant detective, showing no leniency towards criminals, naming himself, the judge and jury. McLeod has a personal vendetta against a publicized abortion doctor, not knowing, his repulsion towards Doctor Schneider goes much deeper than he could have ever imagined. The abortionist, nicknamed, "The Butcher" just seems to be getting rid of all the evidence against him, piece by piece. McLeod, would soon discover his loving wife, in a way, is connected to "The Butcher", setting off a messy harrowing set of occurrences.
Aside from their perfect marriage, Jim's wife, Mary, has been living with a veiled dark secret, that would crush her husband. Her revelation destroys Jim, both physically and emotionally, the once rough-edged cop...now a wreck. Can their dying love towards one another keep their now broken marriage together, or has Mary's unearthing confession destroyed any chance of reconciliation? Detective Story, features a delightful cast. Detective Brody, (William Bendix) the empathetic detective, Arthur, the remorseful embezzler, and Lee Grant, the frightened intimidated shoplifter. William Wyler, delivers another unforgettable climax.
Adapted from a stage play by Sidney Kingsley, "Detective Story" depicts a day at a New York police precinct in the early 1950's. The film resembles a feature-length episode of "Barney Miller" without the jokes as the detectives bring various shoplifters, petty thieves, and embezzlers into the station for booking. However, the film does not lack humor as a broad hammy performance by Joseph Wiseman and an only slightly subtler take on a Brooklynese shoplifter by Lee Grant lighten up the often heavily dramatic proceedings.
The central character, Detective Jim McLeod, is an unforgiving, by-the-book veteran, who sees the world in black and white, good versus evil, with no shades of gray in between. Kirk Douglas brings McLeod to life in one of his finest, most powerful performances. Douglas's Oscar-caliber work is matched by a fragile, deeply felt performance by Eleanor Parker as McLeod's wife, who harbors a secret from her past that, unknown to either McLeod or his wife, connects back to an on-going police case. The scenes between Douglas and Parker are among the best in the film.
Veteran director William Wyler retains most of the play's action in the central precinct room and only occasionally breaks from the claustrophobic set for a breather. Lee Garmes photographed "Detective Story" in crisp black and white, and some of the shots of New York City could be framed and hung on a wall. With a cast of top character players that includes Gladys George, William Bendix, Frank Faylen, and George Macready, the multi-character, multi-plotted "Detective Story" is a powerful, well-acted film that somehow is less often seen than its quality warrants.
Before coming to the screen, Sidney Kingsley's Detective Story ran in the 1949-1950 season on Broadway for 581 performances. It's hard to believe because Kirk Douglas is so right for the part, but on Broadway the role of uptight police detective Jim McLeod was played by Ralph Bellamy.
Lee Grant, Michael Strong, Joseph Wiseman, and Horace McMahon are the four that came over from the original Broadway cast. These and the others that William Wyler cast for the film, fill their parts almost to perfection. But this one is really Kirk Douglas's show.
Kirk essays the part of a modern Inspector Javert in playing McLeod. Remember that in Les Miserables, Javert was also the son of a criminal and feels he has a burden to live down. Like Javert, McLeod has this maniacal attitude towards the criminal element. The world however is not black and white as McLeod discovers to his thorough destruction. I have no doubt that Sidney Kingsley was influenced by Victor Hugo's classic in writing this play.
Note a lot of the Irish names among the squad, note also the fact that this is 1951 and the attitude about abortion was a whole lot different back then. Douglas's pet peeve is back alley abortion provider George MacReady. Many women died from the hands of such folk as MacReady, this was before Roe vs. Wade.
MacReady is also harboring one dirty big secret about someone very close to Douglas. In his black and white world, the revelation of it breaks Douglas.
Eleanor Parker is Douglas's loving wife who is showed to be less than perfect and neither her or Kirk can deal with his rage. William Bendix in one of his best screen parts, plays Douglas's veteran partner who's tough and compassionate.
Lee Grant as the mousy little shoplifter got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in her screen debut. Unfortunately she fell afoul of the blacklist and didn't make it back to the screen for over fifteen years. After that her parts were anything, but what you see here.
Joseph Wiseman plays the psychotic burglar and you won't forget his character rages either. But Douglas is wound so tight in his role, it's anyone's guess who is the bigger psycho.
Detective Story is a realistic look at an NYPD squad back in the days before Miranda. It serves as the model for other police dramas right up to and including NYPD Blue. It's one of Kirk Douglas's best developed characters on screen. Reason enough to see it.