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The Singing Detective (2003)

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From his hospital bed, a writer suffering from a skin disease hallucinates musical numbers and paranoid plots.



(screenplay), (television series)
1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Nicola / Nina / Blonde (as Robin Wright Penn)
First Hood
Second Hood
Betty Dark / Hooker
Skin Specialist
Chief of Staff
Moonglow Bartender
Woman Physiotherapist
Visiting Japanese Doctor


"While hospitalized with an extreme case of psoriasis, novelist Dan Dark reworks his first book in his head. Feverish, paranoid and prone to musical outbreaks, he confuses himself with his protagonist, a detective investigating the murder of a prostitute in 1950s Los Angeles." Written by Mag-Helder Thélot

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


When it comes to murder, seduction and betrayal he wrote the book. Now he's living it!

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong sexual content, language and some violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

14 November 2003 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

El detective cantante  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office


$8,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$28,324 (USA) (24 October 2003)


$336,456 (USA) (30 January 2004)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Dustin Hoffman was initially attached to the role of Dan Dark when the film was in development. See more »


When the First Hood and Second Hood are driving away in their vintage car in the 1940s, you can clearly see the reflection of a lit, modern, Los Angeles skyscraper in the window of the backseat. See more »


Dan Dark: Little men shouldn't sit where their feet don't touch the ground.
See more »

Crazy Credits

During the end credits we see Robert Downey Jr. perform the song "In My Dreams" See more »


References The Maltese Falcon (1941) See more »


It's Only Make Believe
Written by Conway Twitty and Jack Nance
Published by Sony / ATV Songs LLC (BMI)
Performed by Conway Twitty
Courtesy of Universal Records
Under license from Universal Music Enterprises
See more »

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User Reviews

Comparisons with earlier version unfair
2 January 2006 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

I saw this film as part of a process of educating myself about the career of Robert Downey Jr after seeing his remarkable performance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and realising to my shame that I could recall seeing him in Chaplin but not much else. I have been working my way through his films and I am staggered at the range and depth of his talent, even in mediocre films (and he has made a few). But one can only agree with New Yorker critic Anthony Lane who wrote recently 'I'll watch him in anything'.

I disagree vehemently with those who've compared this Singing Detective unfavourably with the earlier version. I saw the original on television here in Australia when it was first screened, and it was indeed a great piece of television (though I preferred Pennies from Heaven which launched the international career of Bob Hoskins and was given a bad Hollywood remake). It's important to remember that Dennis Potter himself wrote this script, specifically for a shorter film version, and was keen to see it made. The dissenters should rent the DVD and listen to director Keith Gordon's commentary if they are in any doubt that it is faithful to the spirit of Potter's intentions and his written word.

The casting of Downey is a stroke of genius. Because he is a younger and very attractive man, the gross disfigurement of his character with psoriasis is infinitely more poignant than when the part was played by Michael Gambon - even when the Dan Dark character is behaving like a total bastard. His performance is extraordinary: the sublety of his mood changes and facial reactions, and the pathos he draws out of this trapped character (without a hint of schmaltz) just leap off the screen (even more remarkable given that for some of the time he was wearing makeup that took hours to apply and initially caused a bad skin reaction;and that he was under threat of returning to jail on drugs charges, which is why the film had to be shot in LA rather than Chicago

  • he was not allowed to leave LA).

I guess Downey's messy private life is one of the reasons he's such an interesting and complex actor. One can only hope that other brave producers will take a punt give him the big meaty parts that his talent deserves.

Don't let the nay sayers dissuade you from seeing this film; it's great. Mel Gibson is (thankfully, for me) unrecognisable and the scenes between him and Downey are terrific. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent.

24 of 32 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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