Monday, July 14, 2014

Kirk Douglas Story

I seem to be on a bit of a Kirk Douglas kick right now. At least this is the second Blog post where I have discussed the still-living titan of American acting. I promise the next post will be about a recent movie, and one not starring Michael Douglas's Dad.

I sometimes write these posts thinking, "geez, these really great films, probably most of the people who read film blogs or are members of Google Plus communities have already seen these." Maybe you have, but if you haven't you really do have to check out "Detective Story". This 1951 classic directed by the nearly never bad William Wyler is nearly perfect in its organic unspooling of a story that made the long journey from novel, to Broadway hit (starring Ralph Bellamy) to, finally, the silver screen.

Douglas has rarely been better, and he is at his finest as the eponymous New York City detective working in a room full of his peers. Douglas and company handle the riff raff that walk, lurch and even stumble through a swinging wooden gate (a great touch, by the way) into the den of investigative prowess, moral judgement and bromance-ishness that the story asserts would be a mid-Century police detectives division.

While Douglas's Detective McLeod is not the leader of these not-so-merry men -- that role is superbly taken by actor Horace McMahon as the "L.T." -- he is clearly the engine that drives them. While "Story" plays as an ensemble piece, Det. McLeod has the arc that seems to be so often required to give a film its, what...meaning? Energy? Too, even though the narrative of the film involves several inter-connected sub-plots about suspects in custody, witnesses and others, the primary story line comes to concern Douglas and his treatment of a seemingly nefarious character: a doctor who it is implied has performed unmentionable acts on women 'in trouble'. It seems McLeod and the good doctor have a history, as the saying goes, and the doctor's lawyer appears in the squadroom to meet with the L.T., to prepare for his client's willing surrender for an unnamed crime.

What is revealed is the primary, and it turns out tragic truth about how McLeod and the Doc are connected in ways McLeod is unaware. Without spoiling the plot let me say that the brave script interrogates issues of women, sex, abortion and other tough topics in a way we might not expect of the Eisenhower era. And it doesn't exactly directly address these issues, but more like clearly implies them. Nonetheless, the result is gritty, dark and no-nonsense. Not qualities one would normally associate with Wyler, I don't think.

As stated, the acting, to a person, is superb. Eleanor Parker is a revelation as Douglas's troubled wife, and co-co-star William Bendix is perfect, that is to be expected given his many, many supporting roles. It is hard, though, not to think of Bendix as a "swabbie" out of Central Casting, he played in so many WWII movies set in the Pacific, or as Gangster Number three in an overlooked B noir. Wyler's direction is transparent, letting the acting and the story surface as they need to in this type of film, and Lee Garmes's camerawork is tight, as is the fairly seamless editing, which was I think typical of this era in American filmmaking.

You have probably already seen this noir-ish gem, but if not, might I recommend Amazon Prime? I support the writers in their effort to get fair pay out of Jeff Bezos's monster, and still I love the high quality of print and transfer (this one was in HD) we always get on the Prime-ster. Enjoy...