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Film / Detective Story

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Detective Story is a 1951 Film Noir film directed by William Wyler and starring Kirk Douglas. It tells the story of one day in the lives of the various people who populate a police detective squad incorporating heavy elements of Police Procedural. The story is based on the 1949 play of the same name written by Sidney Kingsley.

In the 21st Precinct of New York, criminals are booked after being arrested: a shoplifter is brought after stealing a purse in a department store; two burglars with extensive criminal record are captured by a policeman; the small time embezzler Arthur Kindred, who is primary and without any resistance. The tough Detective McLeod (played by Kirk Douglas) is an honest detective with strong principles and code of honor, who loves his wife Mary. He is near to conclude a case against an abortionist, Dr. Karl Schneider, with the testimony of a witness that is coming to identify Dr. Schneider. However, the woman is bribed and the upset McLeod hits Schneider, and he insinuates to McLeod's chief, Lt. Monaghan, that the problem is personal and gives the name of Mary McLeod. Lt. Monaghan invites Mary to come to the precinct for investigation, when deep inner secrets are disclosed leading to a tragedy.

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This film provides examples of:

  • Black and White Insanity: McLeod views the world this way, even refusing to give a break to a man who embezzled a small amount of money despite the victim not wanting to prosecute. He tells them that he'll commit another crime and another until he's like the gibbering idiots they've also arrested. His world collapses when he finds out his saintly wife knew men before him, became pregnant and had an abortion.
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: Arthur does this after getting his handcuffs removed.
  • Da Chief: Lt. Monaghan.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The story spans one 8-hour shift at the police station.
  • Freudian Excuse: We learn that McLeod turned into such a bitter and cynical person because of his experience with his psycho father who drove his mother into insanity. Mary later points out how Not So Different he has become over the years.
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  • The Grovel: After calling her names McLeod makes up with his wife. It only works for a couple of minutes until he ruins it again with his Hair-Trigger Temper.
  • Hardboiled Detective: McLeod.
  • Laughing Mad: The four-time offender is this.
  • One Phone Call: Generously, the lady shoplifter is granted three calls.
  • Perp and Weapon: The final scene. Not exactly played straight as it leads to the death of the hero.
  • Police Brutality: McLeod gives Dr. Schneider a good beating when they are alone in the police car.
  • Police Lineup: Done to convict Schneider but it turns out the witness was bought and doesn't recognize Schneider in the line up.
  • Police Procedural: The movie shows the everyday routine of the 21st Precinct, the issues they have to deal with, from petty complaints by citizens, to minor felonies, to major crimes.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: There is no score besides opening and closing credits.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Before leaving him for good, Mary gives this speech to McLeod about his vile nature which she has overlooked for so long:
    Mary: You think you're on the side of the angels? Well, you're not. You haven't even a drop of ordinary human forgiveness in your whole nature. You're a cruel and vengeful man. You're everything you always said you hated in your own father.
  • Slut-Shaming: What McLeod does to his wife which causes her to walk away.
  • Suicide by Cop: Suicide by criminal. While it could be seen as a Heroic Sacrifice, McLeod's main motivation for confronting the criminal at the end was rather an act of desperation after Mary left him. note 
  • Tragic Hero: McLeod is a good guy but his Dark and Troubled Past has made him a cynist with a Lack of Empathy and has paved the way to his doom.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Lampshaded by McLeod when he asks Lt. Monaghan if he wanted his badge when being called into his office.
  • Ultimate Job Security: McLeod's violent behavior should have gotten him fired long time ago, but Lt. Monaghan keeps him hired for being a good at his job.
  • You Do Not Have to Say Anything: Schneider's lawyer advises him to say no more than his name and address.

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