Detective Story

DetectiveStorySuggested by Brad Nelson • Jim McLeod is a hard and cynical detective. He believes in a strict interpretation of the law. The current object of his zealousness is Karl Schneider, an abortionist responsible for the death of several young women.
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9 Responses to Detective Story

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In our wimpy, politically correct culture where people run for “safe places” at the mere mention of an uncomfortable word, it’s hard to imagine this movie being made today. Not only is abortion a central topic but the slant is (more or less) toward anti-abortion. Yikes. If you are under the age of 35, please go to your safe place now before reading on.

    But if you are an adult, and one who loves old movies, read on because this is a very good film. The only thing keeping it from being great is that I think they tried to pack too much into the ending.

    Kirk Douglas, in yet another fine role, plays a Javert-like detective who holds scrupulously to the letter of the law, particularly because he has been burned badly in the past by being lenient.

    His wife, Mary (Eleanor Parker), is a devoted one but she has some complicating circumstances that arise. This is a gritty drama, based on a stage play (I believe), and it is like a window into the world of this police precinct. You watch the day-to-day goings on much as the Shoplifter does (Lee Grant) who is one of the day’s first catches and who sits and watches the daily grind of life in a gray precinct house with dirty floors.

    Grant is exceptional in this role. And this really is personality-driven movie rather than a plot-driven one. It’s a character study of a number of interesting characters. Ultimately, I think they fail at resolving the Kirk Douglas character. But one must remember this is libtard Hollywood where an anti-abortion foe must get his comeuppance. But if you can look past this, Douglas shines as the outstanding police officer.

    Sure, he may be a little pedantic and hard-nosed at times, but you get the idea he has seen it all. It’s not so much that he’s cynical. He’s just wizened. And he rightly views it as his job to punish the guilty and protect society from the miscreants. But this attitude is subtly sneered at as Douglas is turned into a rough caricature by the end.

    Again, remember that in the 50’s, or perhaps even earlier, the idea that “society,” not criminals, were at fault was certainly taking hold. And I think you see some of that here. But this movie will hold you from start to finish. The fine points I mention about the politics and the culture will not spoil this picture. But you at least have some context going in. Kirk Douglas fans should not miss this one.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I’m not familiar with this movie, but I will note that in the 1950s abortion wasn’t so much a partisan issue. There were plenty of pro-abortion conservatives (such as, quite possibly, Barry Goldwater) and anti-abortion liberals (note that Byron White was a JFK appointee). For that matter, this movie could be made today (a pro-life group is doing a documentary about Kermit Gosnell, after all), but it would be very unlikely that a major studio would do it or major starts would get involved.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Despite my quibbles, it’s a terrific movie. Watch it and see if you think they maybe laid it on too thick at the end. Can’t say more without giving anything away.

      Maybe the Kirk Douglas character was the inspiration for Danny Reagan of “Blue Bloods.” They seem a lot alike.

      The movie I watched just before this was “High Sierra” with Humphrey Bogart. I didn’t feature it on the VideoShelf because I didn’t think it was good enough. Where “Detective Story” was a gritty, adult-like story, carefully crafted, “High Sierra” was a typical stamped-out movie full of goofy plot points. The foreshadowing of the dog was heavy-handed. There was nothing particularly artistic about this movie.

      And I have no idea why Ida Lupino was billed over Bogart. First off, who is Ida Lupino? I don’t think I’d ever heard of her and she has very little oomph on the screen. Arthur Kennedy is good as one of Bogart’s co-conspirators. But the rest of the cast is from central casting.

      Henry Travers (“Clarence”) is fine as the father of Velma. But these two story arcs (the robbery and the sympathy for the cripple) are not woven together very well. It’s not-too-subtly hammered over our head that Bogart isn’t really as bad as a man as it seems. Like everything else in this movie, it’s over-played or simplistic.

      Still, it is Bogart. And “High Sierra” is worth watching, if only for that. Just don’t expect too much. Good for rainy-day viewing.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Ida Lupino was a relatively important star, obviously, or she never would have co-starred with Bogart. She did get to be the villainess Dr. Faustina on The Wild, Wild West, bringing dead bodies back to life to be used as the ultimate suicide bombers.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here are a couple more capsule reviews. Neither of these movies is Shelf-worthy but both are quite watchable:

    The Petrified Forest

    Betty Davis, Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, and Ida Lupino (just kidding) star in this one. Bogart plays the leader of yet another criminal pack that is on the run after pulling a big job, but he doesn’t enter into the picture until at least midway.

    Bette Davis is the isolated daughter and budding world traveler who longs to return to her birthplace of France where she can flex her painting and other artistic muscles. Leslie Howard is the somewhat cynical, but likable, intellectual who is casting his net of mental angst across the country as he searches for meaning in his dreary existence. He has hitchhiked his way to this outpost in the desert.

    Sparks begin to develop between Davis and Howard. I’m not a big fan of Leslie Howard, although he was masterful in “Gone with the Wind.” He is interesting for a time but his character begins to wear a little thin. The relationship between Davis and Howard is forced, at best.

    Dick Foran plays the mimbo (male bimbo) who is all muscles and very little brain. He’s after the hand of Davis.

    Well, it all comes together at this “last stop” road stop diner and gas station when Bogart and his gang finally barge in on the run from the cops. You get a little witty repartee. Bogart is bad. Howard is fatally wistful. And Charley Grapewin sprinkles the movie with some charm by playing a funny, crotchety, boastful old-timer. This is well worth watching but just short of very good.

    The Roaring Twenties

    I don’t recall every seeing a film with both Bogie and James Cagney in it. Bogie plays a very one-dimensional character of not much interest. A shame. However, this is somewhat made up for by the role of Cagney as a rags-to-riches-to-rags ex-army man who finds it tough to find a job after coming home from The Great War.

    Fortunately, Prohibition is just starting and that opens up some job opportunities for the slightly unscrupulous. Cagney gets involved in bootlegging and grows his business to quite a large one. You also get some nice back-story and context on Prohibition itself via narration. In the meantime, Cagney gets involved with a pretty girl who he helps with her career and he mistakes gratitude for affection. She’s not really all that interested in him, but she’s trying to climb the greasy pole herself.

    The first third of this movie — the build-up — is terrific as it takes you from a shell-hole in France to Cagney first getting involved in the underworld and meeting such interesting characters as Panama Smith, played by Gladys George. It’s all somewhat friendly mischief at first. People want to drink and guys like Cagney are providing the booze. His buddy, Frank McHugh (Crosby’s priest friend in “Going My Way”), is a nice guy who hangs on the periphery of this illegal venture but who otherwise drives a taxi during the day. The bootlegging business is all just good fun with a lot of money to be made in various hidden speak-easies where the patrons are having a good time.

    But then the clock starts to turn on this movie and we jump in steps here and there. Before you know it, Cagney’s bootlegging business is rather large and he eventually (of course) runs into Bogart again who was an old army buddy of his. Well, not only does the larger enterprise raise the level of seriousness but so does bringing in the much harder-edged Bogart as a partner. And soon Cagney is trying to protect his old buddy, played by Frank McHugh, from the harsher aspects of the trade.

    I think had they not been so ambitious in showing the entire scope of Cagney’s life, this would have been a more effective film. I think they try to cram in too much and lose a sense of immediacy. But this film is full of wonderful moments and is another movie that is good and just short of being very good. But it’s well worthy watching for old-movie buffs.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In my Kirk Douglas retrospective, I’ve just finished Ulysses. No, not by James Joyce but by Homer. No, not Simpson. That other, older guy.

    This is low-budget camp at its best. They’re all running around in these ridiculous costumes. I haven’t seen that many hairy legs since Caitlyn Jenner’s Tupperware party.

    It’s funny to note the evolving standards of the buffed and the beautiful. You’ve really got to hand it to some of today’s actors who will really shape their body before taking on the role of a hero such as Ulysses. Douglas would have done well to hit the weights.

    This is a mediocre movie with some big names, including Anthony Quinn (who wins the hairy leg contest) and Dino de Laurentiis who is one of the producers.

    Silvana Managano plays a truly forgettable Penelope. Is she made of plastic? It’s difficult to be sure. There really isn’t much here unless you like old gladiator-style films…which I do. The best segment is with Cyclops. And, boy, does Ulysses do some trash-talking with him. He was just begging the gods to mess with him.

    This is a charming movie because it is so obviously of the b-movie type that had a-movie aspirations. It leaks out the quality in so many ways. But it’s still a somewhat fun adventure. Douglas carries the movie with a strong performance that, despite the purely b-movie elements around him, doesn’t make him look out of place…much.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I vaguely recall seeing this. One scene I remember was Ulysses confronting the shade of Achilles and noting that he must be king of the dead — which Achilles considers no great compensation for being dead.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That was a bizarre, almost unintentionally humorous scene. None of the dead seemed particularly happy with being dead. Contrast that with “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” where people quite often were having a grand time in the Elysian Fields (or a worse time of it in Tartarus).

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