Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Lee Grant in Detective Story (1951)

(This post is part of the Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews)

Lee Grant in Detective Story
It is very rare that an actor receives his or her first Academy Award nomination for his or her film debut. Among the very few who have done so is Lee Grant, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Detective Story (1951), the very first film she ever made. She played a small, but impressive role as a shoplifter in the film.

Detective Story was based on the 1949 play of the same name, in which Miss Grant had originated the role of the shoplifter. The 1951 film adaptation would differ only a little from the play, with some changes made so that the movie would conform to Hollywood's Production Code of the time. The film centres on Police Detective Jim McLeod (played by Kirk Douglas). Throughout the day various people pass through his precinct, among them the shoplifter played by Lee Grant and a pair of burglars played by Joseph Wiseman and Michael Strong. Detective McLeod finds himself investigating an obstetrician accused of performing abortions (illegal at the time), a case that will ultimately strike a little too close to home.

As mentioned earlier Detective Story was based on the play of the same name. It played on Broadway for 581 performances, with Ralph Bellamy originating the role of Detective McLeod. Only a few members of the original cast reprised their roles in the movie. As mentioned earlier, Lee Grant reprised her role as the shoplifter in the film. Joseph Wiseman and Michael Strong also reprised their roles as the burglars. Horace McMahon reprised his role as Lt. Monaghan. A few changes would also be made from play to the film due to the Production Code. With regards to Dr. Karl Schneider, it is never explicitly stated that he is an abortionist, although the dialogue is ambiguous enough that audiences at the time probably realised he was.

As mentioned earlier Lee Grant's role in Detective Story is small. What is more, in the original play the shoplifter was conceived as being in her forties. Only about 22 at the time, her question when offered a role in the play was "Can I play the old lady?" She thought all the other female parts in the play were boring. While her part in the film was small, it made for an impressive screen debut. Miss Grant's shoplifter is naive to the point that she is practically a wide-eyed innocent. She clearly has never been arrested before, as Detective Dakis has to walk her through the entire process. As might be expected, she is very nervous. What is more, Lee Grant plays her with a rather convincing New York City accent. Although she is only on screen for a few minutes, it is clear why Lee Grant was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the role

Sadly, despite an impressive film debut, Lee Grant would work very little in motion pictures in the Fifties, and only made a few more appearances on television. Her husband, screenwriter Arnold Manoff, had been a member of the Communist Party. As a result she found herself blacklisted. She then took what roles she could get. Fortunately her career would be revitalised in the Sixties, particularly after a regular part on the night-time soap opera Peyton Place.

Lee Grant would go on to have a long and successful career despite the blacklist. And it all began with a small role in Detective Story, a role she performed so well that she received an Oscar nomination for it.


4 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

The shoplifter is a perfect role for highlighting the right talent, and Lee Grant certainly was that talent. I find Detective Story endlessly fascinating. Each viewing seems to bring a new delight.

Gill Jacob said...

Thanks for bringing this film to the blogathon, Grant sounds a wonderfully inspiring actress wanting the old lady role! Cant think that many actresses at her age would have asked this!

angelman66 said...

Great post--it has been years since I have seen this, and now I am so ready to re-view.
This is the role that began a six- decade film career for this incredible actress!
Thanks for participating in the Blogathon!
-Chris

William said...

Thanks for the background information about the movie and the play it was based on. Interesting that Lee Grant would prefer the more interesting part as opposed to the largest. It's a very good movie, very well directed by William Wyler, always one of my favorite directors.