Detective Story (1951) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Jim McLeod is a hard-nosed and cynical detective. He believes in a strict interpretation of the law and doesn't believe in turning the other cheek. The current object of his zealousness is Karl Schneider, an abortionist responsible for the death of several young women. Schneider's lawyer tells the precinct lieutenant that McLeod has his own personal reasons for going after his client. It turns out that his wife was a patient before they met, although Jim knew nothing of it. His world suddenly turned upside down, McLeod is too late in re-evaluating his priorities.

  • Jim McLeod is a police detective at New York City's 21st Precinct. He has a black and white view of the law, where he does not tolerate anything considered criminal. If he could, he would act as judge and jury for any case in which he is involved, prosecuting to the max. As such, he, if the case was his, would probably prosecute the naive young woman caught shoplifting, she who is waiting at the precinct to be processed for night court. He definitely has it in for Charley and Lewis, two burglary suspects each with a long rap sheet. And he even persuades a victim to press charges against a remorseful young man for a first offense of theft, even though the victim, under the advice of Jim's more compassionate partner Lou Brody, was going to drop the charges since he knows the man, knows him to be basically good, understands the reason for the crime, and was going to be reimbursed for the amount of the theft. Jim has caused issue for the precinct chief, Lieutenant Monaghan, for his heavy handed approach to dealing with his suspects, and even witnesses who can't or won't support his cases toward his end goal of prosecution. The latest target for Jim is Karl Schneider, who the courts have previously acquitted for lack of evidence, but who he is certain has committed criminal acts. But the case against Schneider takes a turn when Jim's loving wife Mary is brought in, she who is implicated in those acts. The question becomes whether Jim's view of the world will change if Mary was indeed involved, regardless of if it was for good reason.

  • A day in the life of New York's 21st Precinct detective squad. Shows their everyday routine, the issues they have to deal with, from petty complaints by citizens, to minor felonies, to major crimes. At the centre of the action is James McLeod (played by Kirk Douglas), a hard-nosed, hot-headed detective who always gets his man, one way or another.

  • On a day in the life of the 21st Precinct detective squad, we meet a batty old lady; petty embezzler Arthur, and the wonderful girl whose unrequited love may redeem him; a pair of blustering, but dangerous, burglars; a charmingly naive shoplifter who observes the activity with timorous interest; and Detective Jim McLeod, self-appointed crusader who has no mercy for lawbreakers. He little suspects his obsessive pursuit of an abortionist is leading him to personal disaster.

  • In the 21st Precinct of New York, criminals are booked after being arrested: a shoplifter is brought after stealing a purse in a department store; two burglars with extensive criminal record are captured by a policeman; the small time embezzler Arthur Kindred, who is primary and without any resistance. The tough Detective McLeod is an honest detective with strong principles and code of honor, who loves his wife Mary. He is near to conclude a case against an abortionist, Dr. Karl Schneider, with the testimony of a witness that is coming to identify Dr. Schneider. However, the woman is bribed and the upset McLeod hits Schneider, and he insinuates to McLeod's chief, Lt. Monaghan, that the problem is personal and gives the name of Mary McLeod. Lt. Monaghan invites Mary to come to the precinct for investigation, when deep inner secrets are disclosed leading to a tragedy.

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


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Detective Story (1951) is classified as film noir, telling the story of a single day in a police detective squad room. It stars Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Cathy O'Donnell, Lee Grant, George Macready, and others.

    The movie, an adaption of the 1949 play of the same name originally created by Sidney Kingsley, was directed by William Wyler. Robert Wyler and Philip Yordan edited the original play to become the film version we know today.

    Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas), A hardened, bitter man, leads a precinct of characters in their grim daily task with the city's lowlife. Little does he realize that his pursuit of an abortionist, Dr. Karl Schneider (George Macready) will allow him to discover his wife's terrible secret.

    The film begins with the arrest and booking of a shoplifter (Lee Grant, her film debut) at the 21st police precinct in NYC. Outside, Detective Jim McLeod, is romantically engaged for a moment with his wife, Mary (played by Eleanor Parker), and talking about their future and future children. Jim enters the precinct to process a young embezzler, Arthur Kindred (actor Craig Hill).

    McLeod meets one Endicott Sims (played by Warner Anderson) who is the lawyer representing Dr. Karl Schneider (George Macready), a New Jersey doctor. Schneider had his medical license revoked and now wanted on murder charges. Mr. Sims informs precinct Lieutenant Monahan (Horace McMahon), that Dr. Schneider wants to turn himself in without being beaten by Detective McLeod. Jim McLeod expresses his vehement hatred of Schneider, and other criminals, by saying the law "coddles them."

    Two burglars, Charley Gennini (Joseph Wiseman) and Lewis Abbott (Michael Strong), are interrogated by Detectives Jim McLeod and Lou Brody (William Bendix), and successfully turns Lewis Abbott against Charley Gennini.

    When Karl Schneider arrives with his lawyer Endicott Sims, Detective McLeod informs him that Miss Hatch (Gladys George), the doctor's accomplice, has implicated him and plans to identify him in a line-up. Dr. Schneider bribes Miss Hatch with a fur coat. Of course, after that, she fails to identify the doctor in the line-up. Jim McLeod erupts and tells Miss Hatch she is a liar.

    Later on he admits to a reporter, Joe Feinson (Luis Van Rooten), he hated his father who possessed a "criminal mind". His father eventually drove his mother into a lunatic asylum. This past is what made McLeod hunt for and put away evil-doers.

    Detective McLeod must take Karl Schneider to Bellevue Hospital. A young victim of Dr. Schneider's handiwork is there. Sadly, when they arrive at the hospital, McLeod discovers the woman has died. With the woman dead, and no eye witness identification of the doctor having done the procedure, there is no case against Dr. Schneider. On the way back to the police precinct, Jim literally beats Schneider until he collapses.

    Meanwhile, Arthur Kindred's employer, a man named Albert R. Pritchett (performed by James Maloney), comes in the precinct. He fully intends to press charges against Arthur Kindred for embezzlement. Mr. Kindred's friend, Susan Carmichael (portrayed by Cathy O'Donnell), arrives to help him. She has worked hard to gather $120 to go towards Mr. Pritchett, hoping against hope no charges will filed against her friend Arthur. McLeod calls Mr. Kindred a thief trying to convince Susan that Arthur isn't worthy of her help, but Susan pleads with Mr. Pritchett. She swears the rest of the money will be in Mr. Pritchett's hands by the next day.

    Later, Jim's wife, Mary McLeod, arrives at the station. She speaks with Lt. Monahan about whether she knows Giacoppetti (a racketeer) believed to have dated Mary a long time ago. Also, if she knows Dr. Schneider. She denies ever knowing either of them, but when Giacoppetti walks in and greets her, she is surprised and runs out, crying. Giacoppetti then tells Lt. Monahan that Mary had gotten pregnant while they dated and had gone to Dr. Schneider for an abortion.

    Mary confesses to her husband, Jim, about the pregnancy and abortion she had to endure by Dr. Schneider many years ago. Later, when she is alone with Jim, she begs his forgiveness for her past transgession. He brutally states he'd rather die than find out his wife is "a tramp". He then demands to know if her infertility is because of the abortion Schneider performed. Feeling hurt and humiliated by Jim's reaction, Mary runs out in tears.

    Some time after, Mary returns to the squad room to inform McLeod she is leaving. He proceeds to plead with her to stay. She relents, but after a nasty comment made by the doctor's lawyer, Mr. Sims, (Warner Anderson) about Mary's love life, Jim boils over. He demands to know how many men there were before he met her. He says he cannot wash away the "dirty pictures" in his mind. Mary, hurt anew and shocked by what he's said, calls him cruel and vengeful. Mary decides to leave Jim for good, not wanting be "driven to a lunatic asylum" like his mother was by his father. She vows she never wants to see him again.

    A victim runs into the police station yelling she's been robbed. Gennini, playing to the confusion of the moment, grabs a gun from a policeman. He shoots Detective McLeod several times.

    As Jim McLeod lays dying, he asks his wife to forgive him. He then tells his fellow police officers to go easy on Arthur Kindred. McLeod then begins the Act of Contrition, a Catholic confessional prayer, dying before it is completed. His partner, Brody, finishes the prayer.

    A distressed Brody then releases Arthur Kindred while admonishing him "not to make a monkey out of me."

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