Detective Story

Detective Story (1951)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Police Drama, Crime Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 6, 1951 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

William Wyler's Detective Story was one of the more shocking and compelling dramas of its period, and a film that raised a number of issues for audiences. Anyone who thinks that Hollywood in the 1950s put out nothing but safe, unchallenging movies can start rethinking that notion with this film, whose script is filled with moral mine fields in just about every scene, along with questions about devotion to duty, the role of independent action and free will, and enough ambiguities about right and wrong to make the most rigid personalities start questioning their motives. The script, based on Sidney Kingsley's play of the same name, is potent enough, and Kirk Douglas delivers another anti-hero star turn (in a manner reminiscent of his work in Champion) as the self-destructive police detective. He gets impeccable support from a cast made up of Hollywood veterans (William Bendix, George Macready, Frank Faylen, and Horace McMahon, who landed an almost identical role in the TV version of The Naked City from his work here) and up-and-coming New York theater talent (Lee Grant, Joseph Wiseman) working at their peaks of performance. Audiences expecting a police proceedural or a clean, neat drama instead got the station house equivalent of From Here To Eternity or On The Waterfront. Detective Story's reputation has endured for decades, and it was successful enough in its time to yield a parody by The Three Stooges; it was also one of the sources of the hit TV series Barney Miller 25 years later, which transposed the same setting and dramatic material into a more comic vein.