Friday 18 December 2020

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes a new edition of William Wyler's DETECTIVE STORY (USA, 1951)


Kirk Douglas (above) looks across the police van to "Abortionist" George Macready (below) and mutters, "you must have been kissed by a vulture in your cradle", after learning that another one of his botched "patients" has died in hospital letting Macready once again off a rap. 


Screens are from Wyler's Detective Story released by Paramount in 1951. The picture broke some small ground with the overweening Breen Office, who initially refused to permit any direct assignation of abortionist to Macready's character, but let loose the absurd "baby seeding" smear in some dialogue which makes the character even more obvious. More importantly the picture finally broke the Hays Code ban on showing cops being killed in the line of duty. In part the movie plays with this new trope inspired largely by the Philip Yordan screenplay with its muted but audible concerns about the rise of an authoritarian police state, with officers unanswerable to the law.


The movie also often finds itself cast into the net of faux Noirs, although its antithetical procedural atmosphere and narrative is quite clear. What perhaps leads some viewers to a more poetic reading visually at least is the luscious staging, lighting and close-up photography by the veteran DP Lee Garmes, surely the greatest close-up photographer in American movies, along with Bill Daniels. Interestingly John Seitz, the veteran DoP of so many earlier chiaroscuro Paramount Noirs is uncredited here as second c0ameraman and it's Seitz' work that most likely contributes the few elements of Noir style to the picture. 


The title has been released in a very fine quality transfer from what looks like a new 4K scan from Paramount through the Oz label, Imprint.

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