June 30th, 2011

Tell Me

The Mind's Sharper Wires



Oh, yeah, my point yesterday was that, unless you're talking in terms as broad as killing innocent people, other people's ideas of what's evil can be silly and/or frightening (see Pat Robertson's stance on homosexuality). And you get situations like the movie I watched last night, Detective Story, a 1951 film noir directed by William Wyler.

The movie's very obviously an adapted play, taking place almost entirely in one location, a police precinct in New York. The filmmakers aim for a gritty, realistic feel, right down to sweat stains on the detectives and the colourful individuals who find themselves handcuffed in the room or there to report crimes. Some of these characters are a bit too broad, like the old woman who complains about foreigners in her building developing an atomic bomb, but perhaps the diversity of life on display helps emphasise the fatal flaw of the protagonist, Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas), whose fanatical zero tolerance for crime makes him seem like a Dirty Harry prototype, though in this case it leads to his downfall.

Kirk Douglas delivers a good, slightly over the top performance but the reason I wanted to see the film was Eleanor Parker, who plays his wife. Sadly, it looks like she'd been starving herself since I saw her in 1948's The Woman in White, providing another piece of evidence that the popular appreciation of curvier women in the 1950s is sadly a myth.



But this didn't apparently impede her performance. I was surprised to see a movie from 1951 dealing with the subject of abortion as explicitly as this one does, and although the abortionist doctor is portrayed as a murderer, Parker's performance, as a woman who had an abortion, gives her dignity and the emphasis is more on the injustice of society's treatment of women who have had an abortion and women who have had sex out of wedlock. Along with the torment Detective McLeod feels as he finds that his uncompromising championing of purity comes in fact from the same spiritual source of cruelty and destruction he'd always hated, the movie ultimately does what all good films noir do, which is to, seemingly almost by accident, reveal the inhumane nature of imposed morality.

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