On a Sunday afternoon, at Prescient 21, New York City, an assortment of coulourful characters, from crooks to thieves to innocent first time offenders, swarm around, waiting to be booked. One such character is a shoplifter, played by Lee Grant, witnessing all the crazy goings-on, in the squad room. Lee Grant reprises her well received role, in her film debut, in Detective Story (), for which she won the award forBest Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, in 1952.

Lee Grant in Detective Story (1951)

As the movie begins, Lee Grant arrives in a not-so-well maintained car, dragged by a shabby looking cop. She’s taken upstairs into the squad room of New York’s Prescient 21. Her crime – she picked up a purse, due to a kleptomaniac impulse. A bag she didn’t even like. And it seems this was a first time offense, or at least the first time she got caught. Naive, innocent, stressed and nerve-wrecking, she is more worried than she should be. In fact, the cop tells her, that it’s not as if she committed a murder, she most probably will be acquitted, with no charges; and it will all be a waste of his time.

When she is asked to call a lawyer, she’s apprehensive, the only lawyer she knows is married to her pregnant sister. But as things start to heat up in the squad room, she finally asks her brother-in-law for help. Meanwhile, we see what a good heart she has, and what a social person she is. She innocently tries to comfort a young girl, whose sister’s ex-boyfriend, is being booked for embezzlement. She tells one of the detective’s he is quite handsome, and doesn’t look like a cop. She is amused with a watch in a comic strip, and compares it to the wristwatch worn by the cop that arrested her. This shoplifter, might have accidentally committed a crime, but is a very genuine person. More genuine, than most cops. Of course, the cops here treat her well. When one brings her food, she is truly grateful. As Grant’s shoplifter leaves the station, she bids adieu, to all the detectives at Prescient 21.

Lee Grant is superb as a nervous wreck, a foolish and somewhat comical shoplifter. A bit of an oddball nut-bag. A very naturalistic twitchy portrayal of a scared little kitten, feeling guiltier than she should be. Grant learnt the weird New York accent, she uses in the play and movie, when she heard two girls on a crosstown bus. Yes, she eavesdropped on total strangers, not because she wanted to know what they were talking about, but to study their mannerisms. A true testament to great acting.

Based on a 1949 play by Sidney Kingsley, Detective Story, and directed by William Wyler, the movie comprises of a superb cast, including Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, Joseph Wiseman, William Bendix, Craig Hill, et al. Set in a single day, the main plot of the story, however, is about a tough cop (played incredibly by Kirk Douglas), who doesn’t believe in second chances, with a temper he can’t control. As the movie progresses, he learns of a past mistake by his elegant wife (gracefully played by the beautiful Eleanor Parker), which he finds difficult to accept. He is not a forgiving man. Detective Story, is a brilliant movie, with many a sub-plots. Lee Grant is seen through most of the movie, and is well fashioned with a scarf over her shoulders (it’s worth checking out some of cool ties and suits worn by some of the male cast, as well, including Douglas and Wiseman). Basically the movie is, out and out, a Kirk Douglas venture. He is the protagonist, the only lead character of the film. The rest are all supporting characters, revolving around the main plot within Prescient 21. So it is baffling, why Lee Grant, won an award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, the following year. She was no doubt superb, yet she was a supporting character; as was the cop’s wife, Mrs. Mary McLeod (played by Eleanor Parker). Parker received a Best Actress Oscar nomination, along with Lee Grant, for Best Supporting Actress‘, at the Academy Awards. In fact, with just over 20 minutes appearance, Eleanor Parker’s performance is the shortest role, to ever be nominated for aBest Actress Oscar. Like Grant, Parker ought to have been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, as well. The movie garnered two more nominations, including one forBest Director, for William Wyler. Detective Story lost out at the Oscars, but happens to be among greatest study of varied character-sketches, on film.

Lee Grant in a scene from Detective Story (1951)

Despite the accolades, Lee Grant received for her unique Oscar nominated performance, in Detective Story, she found it difficult to find work for the next decade. In 1952, she refused to testify against her husband at the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings, and thus was blacklisted. This was during the notorious McCarthy era, under which the Hollywood Blacklist began, in 1947; where famous people were being persecuted for supposedly having ‘Communist’ beliefs. Sadly many great influential personalities lost work during this period, including Hollywood celebrities, such as Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Dalton Trumbo, to name some. Lee Grant was removed from the blacklist, in 1962, after which she rebuilt her career in film and television.

From playing a shoplifter in her first movie, her last Cinematic appearance was in a film titled, Going Shopping (2005). She hasn’t worked in films for the last 13 years, but she did appear on stage, where it all began, in a revival of Donald L. Coburn’s 1976 play, The Gin Game, in 2013; directed by her daughter, Dinah Manoff.

Detective Story (1951)
My Rating: Pure Excellence – 10/10 !!!!

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

This write-up, is my contribution, for The Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon, hosted by Gill of of Real Weegie Midget and Chris from Angelmans’s Place!!

Thank you Gill and Chris, for inviting me to join this Blogathon.

Nuwan Sen

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