The Singing DetectiveNovember 14, 2003
From his hospital bed, a writer suffering from a skin disease hallucinates musical numbers and paranoid plots.
Release Year: 2003
Rating: 5.6/10 (5,037 voted)
Critic's Score: 45/100
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright, Mel Gibson
"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."
Writers: Dennis Potter, Dennis Potter
Robert Downey Jr.
(as Robin Wright Penn)
Chief of Staff
Young Dan Dark
Visiting Japanese Doctor
When it comes to murder, seduction and betrayal he wrote the book. Now he's living it!
Release Date: 14 November 2003
Filming Locations: Los Angeles, California, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $28,324
(26 October 2003)
(1 February 2004)
Did You Know?
At one point, David Cronenberg was in line to direct the film, with Al Pacino in the lead.
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.
[Second hood turns off the car radio]
Hey, I like Patti Page.
Yeah, but does she like you?
Not perfect but interesting at times
When 'The Singing Detective' was first produced as a TV mini series in
1986, it had a cumulative running time of well over 400 minutes. In
this theatrical remake, the story has been pared down to no more than
106. I haven't seen the original – which enjoyed almost unprecedented
critical acclaim in its time – so I have no idea how much of its
quality has been lost in its currently truncated form. Hence, I will
only be talking about this expurgated version, which stars Robert
Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson, both in virtually unrecognizable roles. It
should be noted that the screenplay is credited to the late Dennis
Potter, the author of the original work, so we can assume that director
Keith Gordon simply cut and pasted – though a less charitable person
might say 'bowdlerized' – the much longer teleplay.
'The Singing Detective' tells the surrealistic tale of a writer of
detective fictions who is suffering from a horrifically painful and
disfiguring skin disease. As he lies in his hospital bed, his mind
drifts back and forth between reality and fantasy, a hallucinatory
condition brought on by fever and his own author's imagination. At
times, Dan is acutely aware of his miserable situation in the here and
now, with all its attendant physical and psychological agony. At other
times he becomes lost in re-enactments of key scenes from his gumshoe
fictions, memories of his miserable childhood, and elaborately staged
song-and-dance numbers in which the characters lip-synch to musical
standards from the '40's and '50's.
Because its style and subject matter are somewhat off-putting at first,
'The Singing Detective' takes a bit of getting used to, but eventually
the themes and stylistic elements begin to come together and the film
takes off. The irony is that, for all the razzle dazzle of its form and
style, the film is at its most intriguing in its quieter, subtler
moments when the embittered hospital patient is forced to confront the
demons of his own tormented psyche. Dan Dark is a man who obviously
prefers the world of fantasy to the cold harshness of an often
excruciatingly painful reality. In addition to his debilitating
disease, Dan is also haunted by a failed marriage and an often tragic
childhood that he tries to 'correct' by entering the world of idealized
fiction, one that he can manipulate and control. As the bombastic
hospital psychologist figures out, Dan's illness is essentially
psychosomatic in nature, one rooted in his inability to accept the
realities of life in his own skin. In fact, Dan ultimately discovers
that his disease is as much a product of his imagination as the
scenarios and characters that make up his fiction. The illness becomes
his way of not having to deal with his inner torments. Somewhat
paradoxically, his writing becomes a form of therapy for him, helping
him to deal with all that unresolved bitterness in his soul. The film
is as much about psychological healing as it is about physical healing.
Oddly enough, Dan's confrontations with his wife, psychologist and
other hospital staff are actually far more interesting than what is
happening in his rather puerile imagination. Still, towards the end of
the film, when Dan starts to make some profound psychological
breakthroughs, the fantasy scenes actually do begin to work and the
complex structure pays off.
Downey does a fantastic job bringing Dan to life, conveying both the
physical and emotional anguish the character is undergoing. Gibson has
a great deal of fun playing the part of a paunchy, balding psychiatrist
whose unorthodox methods wind up getting to the root of his belligerent
patient's troubles. Robin Wright Penn, Jeremy Northam, Adrian Brody,
Katie Homes and Alfre Woodard among others all deliver top notch
supporting performances. And special praise must surely go to the large
makeup staff whose work here is nothing short of miraculous.
'The Singing Detective' will probably not satisfy die-hard fans of the
original lengthy mini series. But for the rest of us who have seen no
other version than this one, the film's audacious style and complex
themes help the movie ride up and over its not inconsiderable flaws.