Detective Story (1954)

I must admit, this one has me conflicted.

Based on Sidney Kingsley’s Broadway play of the same name, William’s Wyler’s adaptation of Detective Story deals with a handful of rather outdated themes that are explored in the most melodramatic fashion that makes modern-day eyes roll. But on the flipside, the statements on these outdated themes surrounding the masculinity, society’s obsession over the morality of abortion, and even what “justice” really means are strong and impactful. These statements do make themselves clear, but the way in which they are stated does not always work, especially by the end of the picture.

"shows its age and not necessarily in a good way"

Fixed on a single location of a police precinct (besides the times we leave the set twice, both very briefly), the film introduces us to a diverse group of varying degrees of criminals: A quirky shoplifter (Lee Grant) who stole a purse; a “four-time loser,” Charley Gennini (Joseph Wiseman), who’s been in and out of jail for various crimes like burglary, rape, murder; a naïve Arthur Kindred (Craig Hill) who embezzles money out of a desperation for love. But the one that consumes the ruthless, self-righteous Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas) with obsession is Dr. Karl Schneider (George Macready), who is suspected of giving illegal abortions inadvertently killing some of them as a result of the then-dangerous procedure. With black-and-white vision, McLeod has his eyes set on bringing the doctor to justice, even if he has to take the law in his own hands.

It being based on a play, it makes sense that, obviously, the dialogue of Detective Story keeps the story on a steady course. The audience stays engaged with its fast, flowing pace. And it leaves much room for the actors to showcase their talents. And with a very eclectic group of characters, we are, if anything, entertained by their diverse dispositions and clashing candor that fill the walls of the claustrophobic precinct.Detective Story (1954)

But of course, the main driving force of the picture is Douglas’s McLeod. The detective’s unwavering character is both the best and worst thing about the film. Let me explain: I will not fault Douglas’s performance. It is a very strong and impressive, no doubt. However, McLeod’s arrogance and inability to show even the tiniest drop of sympathy makes his character so unlikeable that, for me, makes it extremely hard to watch. And even when explanation is given for his unsympathetic nature, it doesn’t ever seem for a valid enough reason. It’s not just his overly aggressive and stubborn demeanor, it’s his hypocritical actions. He has a fervent hatred of criminals, but he himself assaults berates them with a viciousness. It is sad that he only seems to grow an empathetic heart after (spoiler alert) he gets shot and dying in the arms of a fellow police officer.

Now, is McLeod a personification of how obsession and toxic masculinity is dangerous and destructive? I think an argument could be made for that, yes. And in that respect, I do applaud the film. I guess I just struggle with the execution.

As with a lot of films during this era, if you know it was originally a play, that makes it far more enjoyable. You can indulge in the melodrama and everything that comes with it. But it is a film that shows its age and not necessarily in a good way. Though, I try not to fault it too much for that.

Detective Story is now available on Blu Ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

 3/5 stars


Detective Story (1954)

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Kino Lorber
Available on Blu-ray
- November 29, 2022
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
: English SDH
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Based on the smash Broadway hit, the gritty and gripping drama of Detective Story explodes onto the big screen under the capable direction of William Wyler (The Good Fairy, Ben-Hur). Set amidst the hectic activity of a New York City police station, Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory) stars as the principled, rigid detective whose personal code has become twisted from dealing with too many criminals. Eleanor Parker (Caged) is his wife, tormented by a guilty secret. While the business of the precinct swirls around them—from a case involving a frightened shoplifter (Lee Grant, The Landlord) to an amusing burglar (Joseph Wiseman, Dr. No)—the couple’s personal conflict reaches an explosive, unforgettable climax. Academy Award nominations went to Wyler (for Best Director), Parker (Best Actress), Grant (Best Supporting Actress) and the writing team of Robert Wyler (The Big Country) and Philip Yordan (The Big Combo) for their vivid screenplay. Co-stars William Bendix (Lifeboat), Cathy O’Donnell (They Live by Night) and George Macready (Gilda) also give sterling performances in this classic cop noir.


Remastered in HD by Paramount Pictures from a 4K Scan of the original camera negative, this new restoration is quite good. The grey scale has a good balance and depth to is, as far as I can tell. And the clarity and detail of the image is impressive, besides in a few close ups. The only negative is that the print was kind of dirty. There was Nothing too jarring/distracting but definitely noticeable from the outset with specks and fold lines present. But overall, a nice job.


With a 2.0 monoaural soundtrack, everything sounds good and clear. The only slight annoyance is when at moments when characters yell, there’s a harsh buzzing, but I know that is attributed to the age and time period that this film was made, so its not something to really harp on.


With older films such as this, the special features are few and far between. But there is a lovely supporting commentary track that delights cinephiles with interesting facts about the actors, filmmakers, and films of this era.


  • Audio Commentary by Author/Film Historian Alan K. Rode

Special Features:

  • Trailer

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 3/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

3.5/5 stars


Film Details

Detective Story (1954))

MPAA Rating: Unrated
103 mins
: William Wyler
Philip Yordan; Robert Wyler
Kirk Douglas; Eleanor Parker; William Bendix
: Crime | Drama | Noir
The love story of a man whose wife was more woman than angel!
Memorable Movie Quote: "I hate criminals. I don't believe in coddling them."
Theatrical Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: November 6, 1951
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
November 29, 2022
Synopsis: James McLeod (Kirk Douglas) is a stern police detective who has no tolerance for crime. At home, however, he is a loving husband to his wife, Mary (Eleanor Parker). The police are ready to conclude the case of abortionist Karl Schneider (George Macready), who is responsible for the death of at least one patient, but McLeod's hatred for the doctor prolongs the investigation. The detective soon uncovers a dark secret that threatens to destroy his sanity and ruin his life.


Detective Story (1954))