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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.


Keith Gordon


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



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Downey Jr. ... Dan Dark
Robin Wright ... Nicola / Nina / Blonde (as Robin Wright Penn)
Mel Gibson ... Dr. Gibbon
Jeremy Northam ... Mark Binney
Katie Holmes ... Nurse Mills
Adrien Brody ... First Hood
Jon Polito ... Second Hood
Carla Gugino ... Betty Dark / Hooker
Saul Rubinek ... Skin Specialist
Alfre Woodard ... Chief of Staff
Amy Aquino ... Nurse Nozhki
David Dorfman ... Young Dan Dark
Eddie Jones ... Moonglow Bartender
Lily Knight ... Woman Physiotherapist
Clyde Kusatsu ... 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:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

14 November 2003 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

El detective cantante See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA


Box Office


$8,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$28,324, 26 October 2003, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$336,456, 1 February 2004
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


At one point, David Cronenberg was in line to direct the film, with Al Pacino in the lead. See more »


The position of Dark's gun hand when he chases the goons into the street after they try to kill him in the nightclub. See more »


Dan Dark: When you're dealing with the devil praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
See more »

Crazy Credits

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


Featured in At the Movies: Episode #1.2 (2004) See more »


In My Dreams
Written by Bernice Bedwell
Used by Permission of Song Productions (BMI)
Performed by Gene Vincent
Courtesy of Capitol Records
Under license from EMI Film & Television Music
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A musical for cynics. That's not an easy accomplishment.
17 April 2014 | by rooprectSee all my reviews

It was a dark and sultry evening when Rooprect, gumshoe film critic wannabe, popped in this DVD expecting to see something as pulpy and vapid as the 50s comic book artwork on the cover. "The Shhinging Detectivesh" said Rooprect out of the right corner of his mouth while out of the left corner was a limp cherry Twizzler hanging like the soggy laundry that he forgot to put in the dryer the night before.

And that's where my story writing skills end.

But never fear, the 2003 movie "The Singing Detective" has more than enough going for it to keep your attention for 109 minutes, if not days afterwards. This is one of those deliciously deceptive films that promises a kiss on the cheek but delivers a suckerpunch to the gums. It can broadly be called a musical, a comedy, a crime drama, a psychological thriller, a mind trip, and just about anything else under the sun. But the trick is not to expect any 1 of those. Just be ready for anything.

The story begins in a kind of satirical film noir setting which we quickly learn is one of the nightmarish delusions that plague our hero (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) as he lies in a hospital bed, suffering, disfigured and terminally ticked off at the world. Downey's chilling yet charismatic performance is what sucks us in. His ability to portray the world's worst cynic while eliciting our sympathies (not to mention getting our toes tapping to such hits as "How Much is that Doggie in the Window") is something I haven't seen since... heck, since ever.

The story follows him as he explores his own mind, his past, his present, and of course his cryptic fantasies which play out like Humphrey Bogart with an NC-17 rating. Yes, sexuality is very prevalent in this film, but it's not gratuitous. It can make for awkward viewing (do NOT watch this movie with your parents, and for Pete's sake not with kids!), but there is a clear point to his rude, crude, abusive visions. Some of it is so over-the-top that you'll die laughing, such as the hospital dance number where the doctors & nurses are all but raping their bedridden patients (not too subtle on the symbolism there!). In fact, all of it is very tongue in cheek. Just remember that we are exploring the mind of a seriously damaged human being.

Mel Gibson plays a role I've never seen him play, something so different and so well done that I didn't recognize him for several minutes. He's the nerdy little bald psychotherapist whose job is to crack Downey's mind. And all the while you feel like Downey is ready to crack Gibson's skull if he could only make a fist. The dynamic between these two is absolutely magical.

Robin Wright Penn completes the trio of acting magnificence. She plays the mysterious wife whom we're not sure whether she's a good guy or a bad guy. As she appears in various nightmares that paint her in a less-than-complimentary light (prostitute, liar, swindler), we start to understand the message of the film: that paranoia can taint an entire world. And yet, is it truly paranoia if our suspicions are correct? Watch the film and find out.

Adrien Brody and Joe Polito (the most repulsive and lovable gangster you've ever seen) round out the troupe as two killers hot on the trail of... well, nobody knows. You wonder if they do. Like all the other characters in the film, they are alternately chilling and charming. They disturbed me to my core and made me laugh like I was a kid at a birthday party.

Like I said, be ready for anything because this is a very bipolar film. Nothing is as it seems. But it delivers one of the most powerful experiences I can remember. I highly recommend this film to people who have a dark, somewhat cynical view of the world. I'm not saying it will confirm your misanthropy, nor am I saying that it'll suddenly fill your life with rainbows and unicorns. But it'll definitely make you see the world in a different way. I saw this movie 48 hours ago and I can't stop thinking about it. If you end up seeing this movie, make sure to give it your full attention, absorb every detail, every line (EXCELLENT script, by the way, with chilling monologues that rival anything Salieri ever said in "Amadeus").

I'm not sure how this film slipped through the cracks and received such a low rating on IMDb (5.7), but it's always great to stumble on an obscure gem like this. Don't pass it by, shweetheart.

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