Detective Story

91. Detective Story (1951) [TV-PG]

summary from

On one day in the 21st Precinct squad room, assorted characters form a backdrop for the troubles of hard-nosed Detective Jim McLeod.

directed by: William Wyler

starring: Kirk Douglas

A Trailer


Abortion/Life Content:

Kirk Douglas: I hate to leave you alone, baby. Did you see the doctor?

Eleanor Parker: Yes.

Douglas: What did he say?

Parker: Same as last time.

Douglas: Look, baby, we’re going to have a boy and a girl, if we have to upset the whole medical profession.

Parker: All right, if you say so.

Douglas: I say so.

Horace McMahon: McLeod?

Kirk Douglas: Yessir.

McMahon: Come in here. This is Detective McLeod, Mr. Sims.

Douglas: How do you do.

Warner Anderson: How do you do.

McMahon: He’s an attorney

Douglas: And very clever. I’ve seen him in court.

McMahon: He represents Karl Schneider.

Douglas: Ohhhh… I had the pleasure of arresting your client a year ago.

Anderson: So I’m informed.

Douglas: He’s changed his lawyer since, if not his business.

Anderson: Mr. Schneider is a retired doctor. He has a farm in New Jersey.

Douglas: With a little sideline in New York. A very profitable one. Where’s your boy?

McMahon: He’s ready to surrender himself on the warrant you had issued.

Douglas: Fine. Bring him in.

Anderson: Before I do, I have here some photographs. Now, these were taken only an hour ago.

McMahon: Nudes? Ugly, isn’t he?

Anderson: Well, he’s no Mr. America.

McMahon: No, that he’s not.

Anderson: Now, you’ll observe, there are no bruises or lacerations of any kind. This is the way I’m delivering my client to you… and this is the way I want him back.

Douglas: I should think that any change whatsoever would be an improvement.

Anderson: And I want you to know, I’m not going to allow you to violate his Constitutional rights. You’re not to abuse him physically nor degrade his dignity as a human being. Do you understand?

Douglas: I saw one of your client’s patients last year, in the morgue, on a marble slab. Wasn’t much human left of her, and very little dignity.

Anderson: My client was innocent of that charge. The court acquitted him.

Douglas: Insufficient evidence. But he was guilty.

McMahon: What are going to do, try the case here? Save it for the judge.

Anderson: For over a year, McLeod, you, personally, have been making my client’s life a living nightmare. Why?

Douglas: Because I’m annoyed by criminals that get away with murder. They upset me.

Anderson: That’s your story.

Douglas: Yeah.

Anderson: I’ve investigated and discovered otherwise.

McMahon: What are you driving at, Sims?

Anderson: Nothing, yet.

McMahon: I vouch for every man on my squad, and that goes for McLeod. If you’ve got something to say, say it.

Anderson: When it serves my purpose, not before. Meanwhile, Lieutenant, I’m warning you: Not a hand on my client.

McMahon: What’s he driving at?

Douglas: Ehhh, a fishing expedition.

McMahon: Not without bait. He hinted you’re after Schneider for personal reasons.

Douglas: The Anderson girl is lying in the hospital. Last year, a girl who trusted him died when her baby was born. What happened to her baby, and lots of others, nobody knows. That’s why I take a personal interest in Schneider.

McMahon: This is an impersonal business, McLeod. How many times…

Douglas: He’s a butcher and a murderer. You oughtta visit his farm. Especially the kitchen. It looks like a place where they slaughter chickens.

McMahon: Your moral indignation is beginning to give me a quick pain in the neck. I don’t like lawyers coming in here with photos. It marks my squad lousy. I don’t like it, and I won’t have it. You understand?

Douglas: Yes, sir.

McMahon: Can’t you say, “Yes, sir” without making it sound like an insult?

Douglas: Yes, sir.

McMahon: You’re getting too superior, McLeod. A one-man army against crime. What’s eating you?

Douglas: I hate criminals. I don’t believe in coddling them.

McMahon: Who tells you to?

Douglas: You do, the whole system does.

McMahon: What do you want to do, put Schneider on a rack?

Douglas: No, I want to put him in the electric chair where he belongs, and pull the switch myself.

Kirk Douglas: When I retire I’m going to buy myself a little farm like yours, settle down. Does it really pay for itself?

George Macready: If you work it.

Douglas: Say, how much can a man average a year?

Macready: Varies. $2000, good year.

Douglas: Clear? Boy, that’d take care of me fine. How long you had that farm?

Macready: Five years.

Douglas: Then how did you manage to accumulate $56,000 in the bank, Karl? Huh? How?

Macready: My name is Karl Schneider, I live in Oakdale, New Jersey.

Douglas: Look, I checked. $56,000, that’s a lot of lettuce. You’ve got it in four banks. Oakdale, Newark, two in Passaic. Here are the figures. How’d you get that money, Karl?

Macready: My name is Karl Schneider, I live in Oakdale, New Jersey.

Douglas: You treated Miss Anderson, didn’t you? She identified your picture. Come on, Karl, make it easy for yourself. You’re still operating the old baby farm grist mill, aren’t you? When a doctor gets his license revoked, he can’t let all that talent go to waste. And what was your specialty, Karl? Obstetrics. A girl’s best friend when she’s going to have a baby nobody wants. Takes care of both mother and child for a fee. A fat fee. No questions asked, all very hush-hush, eh, Karl?

Macready: My name is Karl Schneider…

Douglas: I live in Oakdale, New Jersey. Oh, Lieutenant, I want you to meet Karl Schneider. He lives in Oakdale, New Jersey.

Horace McMahon: You still here?

Douglas: Oh, Doctor Schneider fascinates me.

Warner Anderson: Lieutenant, I’m leaving my client in your hands. Is that understood?

McMahon: You’ve made it clear.

Anderson: Remember, Karl, just your name and address.

Douglas: Come on it, Karl. Over there.

Kirk Douglas: Look, evil’s got a smell of its own. A child can spot it. I know, Joe. I know.

Luis Van Rooten: How?

Douglas: I lived with it. I learned it early and deep. My own father was one of them. Every day of my childhood, I saw that father of mine, with that criminal mind of his… abuse and torment my mother and drive her straight into a lunatic asylum. She died there. Yeah, I know it when I smell it. Every time I look at one of those babies, I see my old man’s face.

Kirk Douglas: I ought to fall on you like the sword of God.

George Macready: That sword has two edges. You could cut your own throat.

Douglas: I’m going to give you a piece of advice, Karl. When they let you free again, get out of New York. You butcher one more patient and law or no law, I’ll find you. I’ll put a bullet in the back of your head, and I’ll drop your body in the East River. And I’ll go home and I’ll sleep sweetly.

Macready: You don’t frighten me. Now I’ll give you some advice. I have plenty on you, too. I know why you’re so vindictive.

Douglas: Why?

Macready: Just watch your step. Because I happen to have friends, downtown, with pull.

Douglas: Have you?

Macready: Lots of pull.

Douglas: Well, what do you know? Aren’t you the big shot? Pull. Have you got any friends with push, like that? [Shoves him and begins slapping him]

Horace McMahon: Are you sure a Dr. Schneider never treated you?

Eleanor Parker: Certainly not. I just told you no.

McMahon: Why are you so indignant? I didn’t say what he treated you for. Mrs. McLeod, I’m going to have to ask you a very personal question. Did you ever have a child?

Parker: You know Jim and I have no children.

McMahon: I mean, before you were married to Jim.

Parker: I was never married to anyone but Jim.

McMahon: I know that.

Parker: Then how can you ask?

McMahon: Mrs. McLeod, my job is to find out the truth. Please answer that question.

Parker: You have no right to ask that.

McMahon: I have a right to get at the truth. Did you ever have a baby?

Parker: No, Lieutenant Monaghan, I did not.

McMahon: Does this name mean anything to you? Tami Giacoppetti?

Parker: No.

Gerald Mohr: Hello, Mary.

Parker: [breaks down crying]

Mohr: What is this, Lieutenant?

McMahon: I’m sorry, Mrs. McLeod. Come, rest a while.

Horace McMahon: The woman you said hello to.

Gerald Mohr: That girl’s 100%. I won’t say a thing against her.

McMahon: You don’t have to. This is all off the record.

Mohr: When I talk, it’s for the record, champ.

McMahon: Look, Giacoppetti, I’m Lieutenant Monaghan, I’m in charge here. Keep your tongue in your mouth and we’ll get along.

Mohr: You mind if I call my lawyer?

McMahon: It ain’t necessary.

Mohr: My lawyer gets mad, too.

McMahon: Nothing you say here will be held against you, understand? I give you my word.

Mohr: I won’t hurt that girl.

McMahon:I don’t want you to. She’s only a witness. Sit down, Tami.

Mohr: Okay. Shoot.

McMahon: When did you know her?

Mohr: Seven years ago.

McMahon: Like her?

Mohr: I was crazy about her. She was my girl.

McMahon: What broke it up?

Mohr: She gave me the air.

McMahon: Why? Why’d she give you the air, Tami?

Mohr: I think maybe I better call my lawyer.

McMahon: Look, Giacoppetti, we got a sheet on you. All I got to do is lift that phone and you’re out of action. Capische?

Mohr: Capische.

McMahon: Well?

Mohr: Well, one day she comes to me. She’s in trouble. Now, I got to break it to her I’m married. She’s crying her eyes out. I’d have married her if I could have got a divorce. I tell her I want that kid. I’d go away with her, give her anything she wants. The moon out of the sky, I’d get it for her. Dames, who can understand them?

McMahon: Go on, Tami.

Mohr: That’s the last I see of her. Then I hear she went to some doctor. I find the place. She wouldn’t see me. The baby was born dead. I had a little talk with that doctor. I beat the daylights out of him.

McMahon: What was his name?

Mohr: Some Dutchman, some…

McMahon: Schneider?

Mohr: Yeah…

McMahon: Karl Schneider?

Mohr: Yeah, that’s it.

McMahon: Thanks, Tami.

Mohr: Now, will you tell me what this is all about?

McMahon: Wait.

Mohr: Wait for what?

McMahon: Wait.

Eleanor Parker: Come in.

McMahon: I’ll have one of my men drive you home, Mrs. McLeod.

Parker: He told you, didn’t he?

McMahon: Yes. I’m sorry I had to upset you, but Jim has been persecuting Schneider for over a year and I had to find out why.

Parker: But Jim never knew.

Schneider’s attorney says so.

Parker: I don’t care what he says. Jim never knew. I never told him.

McMahon: Mrs. McLeod, I wish I could believe you.

Parker: You’ve got to believe me. This was my mistake. You can’t punish Jim for it.

McMahon: If Schneider’s badly hurt, the Commissioner will be here, the District Attorney. If that happens, I got to have all the facts.

Parker: Lieutenant, I swear Jim doesn’t know.

McMahon: That’s what I have to be sure of. Now.

Mohr: Well?

McMahon: McLeod.

Kirk Douglas: Yes, sir. Mary! I’ve been trying to call you. What are you doing here?

McMahon: I sent for her.

Douglas: Well, why?

McMahon: That’s Tami Giacoppetti.

Mohr: Hi, champ.

Douglas: Say, what’s this about, Lieutenant?

McMahon: Schneider. Why’d you lie to me?

Douglas: I didn’t lie to you.

Parker: May I please?

McMahon: Go ahead.

Parker: Oh, Jim…

Douglas: Sit down, Mary. What’s wrong baby?

Parker: Jim, the Lieutenant won’t believe that you knew nothing about this.

Douglas: About what, honey?

Parker: About Dr. Schneider.

Douglas: What’s he got to do with you? Tell me, Mary.

Parker: Well, I… I had occasion to see him once. I went to him when I needed help.

Douglas: What?

Parker: It was a long time ago. I was going to have a baby. Long before I met you, Jim. I told you he didn’t know.

Douglas: I see. Okay, diagrams aren’t necessary. I get the picture.

Mohr: She’s a good girl. Cut that out! I don’t have to take thta from you!

Douglas: You touch me again and I’ll tear your arm out of the socket. Do you mind if I talk to my wife alone?

McMahon: Okay, Tami.

Parker: Jim, please forgive me. Oh, Jim, I’m terribly sorry. Please forgive me.

Douglas: My immaculate wife.

Parker: I never said I was.

Douglas: You never said you weren’t. Why didn’t you tell me?

Parker: I wanted to, but I was so afraid of losing you.

Douglas: How long did you go with him?

Parker: A few months.

Douglas: How many?

Parker: About six or seven.

Douglas: Seven isn’t a few.

Parker: No, I suppose not.

Douglas: Did he give you money?

Parker: No!

Douglas: Give you presents?

Parker: Yes, he gave me some presents.

Douglas: Expensive ones?

Parker: I don’t know.

Douglas: What do you mean, you don’t know?

Parker: I don’t know. What difference does it make?

Douglas: This difference. I’d just as soon Schneider died. I’d rather go to jail for 20 years than find out my wife was a tramp.

Parker: Don’t say that, Jim.

Douglas: That’s the word, I didn’t invent it. That’s what they call it.

Parker: I don’t care about “they”. I only care about you, Jim, and it isn’t true. You know it isn’t true.

Douglas: I thought I knew you. I thought you were everything good and pure.

Parker: Don’t judge me, Jim. Try to understand. I was on my own for the first time in a large city. The war was on. I’d only been out with kids my own age until I met this man. He paid me a lot of attention. I was flattered. I thought he was romantic and glamorous. I thought I was in love with him.

Douglas: What happened to the child?

Parker: It died at birth.

Is that why you can’t have any children?

Oh, Jim, I can’t take much more of this. Please try and understand.

What’s there to understand? You went with him, a pig like that. You had a child by him. Then you went to that butcher, Schneider. Everything I hate! What’s left to understand?!

Eleanor Parker: This has been a horrible day.

Kirk Douglas: Yes.

Parker: I’m sorry, darling. Yet I’m glad it’s out in the open. I’ve had such a terrible feeling of guilt all the time.

Douglas: All right.

Parker: I needed help and there was no one. I couldn’t even go to my parents.

Douglas: You didn’t tell them?

Parker: No, I didn’t want to hurt them. You know how sweet and simple they are.

Douglas: You didn’t go home then, after?

Parker: No.

Douglas: Where’d you go?

Parker: I came to New York.

Douglas: How long was that before I met you?

Parker: Two years.

Douglas: Who’d you go with then?

Parker: No one.

Douglas: How many others were there, Mary?

Parker: Others?

Douglas: How many other men?!

Parker: None. What’s the matter with you, Jim?

Douglas: Oh, wait a minute. Wait a minute.

Parker: No. What’s the matter with you?

Douglas: At an autopsy the other day I watched the medical examiner saw off the top of a man’s skull… take out the brain and hold it in his hand. Like that.

Parker: Why are you telling me this?

Douglas: Because I’d give my soul to take out my brain… hold it under the faucet and wash away the dirty pictures you put there today.

Parker: Dirty pictures?

Douglas: Yes.

Parker: Oh, I see. I see. Yes, that would be fine… if we could. But when you wash away what I may have put there… you’ll find you’ve a rotten spot in your brain, Jim… and it’s growing. I know, I’ve watched it.

Douglas: Mary, that’s enough.

Parker: No, let’s have the truth. I could never find it in me to see tiny flaws in you… because I loved you. Oh, I still do. But let’s have the truth for once. 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.

Douglas: I’m not going to listen anymore. I’m taking you home now.

Parker: What for? So you can drive me to a lunatic asylum?

Douglas: Where are you going?

Parker: Goodbye, Jim.

Douglas: When will I see you?

Parker: Never.


from wikipedia:

An embittered cop, Det. Jim McLeod (Douglas), leads a precinct of characters in their grim daily battle with the city’s lowlife. Little does he realize that his obsessive pursuit of an abortionist (Macready) is leading him to discover his wife had an abortion. The characters who pass through the precinct over the course of the day include a young petty embezzler, a pair of burglars, and a naive shoplifter. […]

The film begins with the arrest of a shoplifter (Lee Grant) and her booking at the 21st police precinct. Outside, Jim McLeod, is sharing a romantic moment with his wife Mary (Eleanor Parker) and they discuss the children they will have. He enters the precinct to process a young embezzler Arthur Kindred (Craig Hill).

McLeod then encounters Endicott Sims (Warner Anderson), a lawyer representing Karl Schneider (George Macready), who’s a New Jersey doctor with a revoked license and now wanted on murder charges. Sims informs the precinct’s lieutenant, Monahan (Horace McMahon), that Schneider wants to turn himself in without being beaten by McLeod. McLeod expresses his hatred of Schneider and other criminals saying the law “coddles them.” […]

When Schneider arrives with Sims, McLeod informs him that his partner, Miss Hatch (Gladys George), has implicated him and will pick him out of a line-up. To McLeod’s disgust, Schneider has bribed Hatch with a fur coat, and she fails to identify him in the line-up. Jim explodes and calls Hatch a liar. He admits to reporter Joe Feinson (Luis Van Rooten) that his hatred for his father and “his criminal mind” (who drove his wife to a lunatic asylum) made him crusade against evil-doers.

McLeod then takes Schneider to Bellevue Hospital where a young victim of Schneider’s work is being treated. However, McLeod learns that the woman has died, and without her identification, there is no case against Schneider. As they head back to the precinct, he slaps and punches Schneider until he collapses. […]

Mary McLeod arrives at the station and talks with Lt. Monahan about knowing Giacoppetti (a racketeer, who used to date Mary) and Schneider. She denies knowing them, but when Giacoppetti walks in and greets her, she runs out, crying. Giacoppetti then tells Lt. Monahan that Mary had gotten pregnant while they dated and gone to Dr. Schneider for an abortion.

Mary confesses to her husband, and once alone with him she asks his forgiveness, but he says he’d rather die than find out his wife is “a tramp” and asks if her infertility is Schneider’s fault. Stunned by Jim’s reaction, Mary leaves in tears.

Mary comes to the station to say goodbye to McLeod and he pleads with her to stay. Mary relents, but after a snide comment made by Sims (Warner Anderson) about Mary’s love life, McLeod asks how many men there were before he met her and admits that he cannot wash away the “dirty pictures” in his mind. Calling him cruel and vengeful, she leaves McLeod for good not wanting be “driven to a lunatic asylum.” She vows never to see him again.

Gennini, taking advantage of the commotion started when a victim runs into the station yelling she’s been robbed, grabs a gun from a policeman’s holster and shoots McLeod several times. McLeod, in his dying words, asks that his wife forgive him and requests police colleagues to go easy on Arthur Kindred. McLeod then begins a confessional prayer, Act of Contrition. Brody finishes the prayer as McLeod lies dead. A distressed Brody then releases Arthur Kindred while admonishing him “not to make a monkey out of me.”

part of an article by Ty Burr:

Films have dealt with the subject of abortion in various ways over the years, even during the classic era. The 1934 Clark Gable hospital melodrama “Men in White ” dropped large hints about a nurse’s panicked resort to a back-alley procedure, and 1951’s “Detective Story ” has a subplot about an abortion doctor that’s surprisingly frank. “Love With the Proper Stranger ” was the “Knocked Up” of 1963, but, tellingly, it’s an observant drama that addresses head-on the question of whether Natalie Wood’s character should terminate her pregnancy.

part of an article about Kirk Douglas:

Already haunted by a personal history in which his psychotic father drove his mother into a madhouse, McLeod discovers that his snow-pure wife (Eleanor Parker) had a back-alley abortion years before at the hands of the same slimy miscreant (George Macready) he has been trying to convict and send up the river for good. That’s why she can’t get pregnant, he learns while trying to settle other cases (one of which requires a drop of mercy he constitutionally can’t give) and stave off the abortionist’s prodding lawyer.

McLeod’s low boil accelerates into a raging lava flow when he’s cornered with his wife in a small office and finds himself helplessly torn between his love for her and his soul-deep loathing of what she’s become in his eyes. Douglas uses his whole body in this brutal scene–it threatens to curl up into a giant fist and start pounding the walls. But watch his face, too; it’s a huge lost baby’s puss electrocuted with primal horror. It reminds you of Douglas’s scenes of suffering in Spartacus and Champion, but here it’s all coiled inside, ready to split him open.

Douglas knows just when to pressure-crack his voice (“I’m warning ya!”), though nothing he does ever seems calculated. He is American cinema’s last angry man, more at home with desperation, angst and violence than any other actor. “Touch me again and I’ll tear your arm out of the socket,” McLeod growls from between clenched teeth to the lowlife who knocked up his wife, and Douglas delivers the line with such white-hot intensity you’re surprised the room doesn’t burst into flames. Every moment Douglas is on the screen feels like a crime of passion.

part of a review from “digitally Obsessed”:

Based on the play by Sidney Kingsley, Detective Story chronicles a day in the life of New York’s 21st Precinct, and how the various cases on McLeod’s plate not only push him to the breaking point, but also force the cocky detective to confront both external and internal demons. His lieutenant (Horace McMahon) sarcastically calls him “a one-man army against crime,” yet McLeod lives and breathes law enforcement, passionately pursuing offenders, and chiding his superiors for coddling them. Known to rough up suspects on occasion, McLeod is ordered to treat Karl Schneider (George Macready), an unscrupulous “doctor” (1950s euphemism for abortionist), with kid gloves. He complies at first, but when the case collapses, McLeod literally goes for the jugular, angering Schneider’s lawyer, who, in turn, drops hints about a long ago connection between Schneider and McLeod’s wife, Mary (Eleanor Parker).

Abortion was a favorite subject of Kingsley (who also explored the issue in his 1933 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Men in White), and though the Hollywood production code prohibited the movie from addressing the topic by name, the innuendo comes through loud and clear. As a result, Detective Story gains a powerful social angle that goes far beyond the crime-doesn’t-pay moralizing of most police dramas of the period. The film also treats premarital sex and adultery with surprising frankness, and effectively juxtaposes the tales of a shoplifter, embezzler, and serial burglar within its framework. (They all may be thieves, but their personalities and motivations couldn’t be more diverse.)

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