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Not perfect but interesting at times
Buddy-5110 November 2004
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.
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Could have been great, but.......
prod748 July 2004
I picked this movie up because I read the story on the back cover and found it interesting and because I like Downey. I was prepared to watch something different (from most movies I watched this year) and in that regard I was not disappointed. The movie was indeed different, the story was interesting, acting was very good (in most cases) the soundtrack was why didn't I enjoy it?

When the movie finished I was left disappointed. I couldn't find any real flaws in any aspect of the film (direction was above average, acting was great, music was very good and appropriate) but still I did not feel like I have just watched a great movie. I did not hate it but I didn't like it either. More than a couple of times I was tempted to hit fast forward.

And after a while I realized what was the problem with this film. Every character (except Downey's character - and then only to some extend) is left undeveloped and every relationship in the film is also left undeveloped. Most parts of the story are left unfinished or are presented in so little detail that they become uninteresting or irrelevant. It almost feels as if the original duration of the film was 4 hours and they had to cut bits and pieces to make it shorter.

All in all, I feel this could have been a great movie, but something happened along the way and the result was an average film. Worth watching it once, if only for Downey and an out-of-character Gibson, but that's it.

P.S. Please excuse any spelling or grammar mistakes. I'm not used to writing in English.
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Comparisons with earlier version unfair
gapple-32 January 2006
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.
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An imperfect film for an imperfect world
artzau12 July 2004
Hey, I liked it. There were good things: Gibson unrecognizable as the shrink, Downey at his best, whacky story, pastiches of film noir, mind mystique, Touches of Freud, Jung... but it's not perfect. Some confusions persist: Downey as the frustrated, nonintrospective, horny writer whose imagination has taken over his life is often whining. His round-heeled mother has few redeeming features, the shifts between real and irrealis is jerky..., and so on. It's easy to find fault with a complex tale and one in which there are so many loose ends and ravelings but what do you take away with you when it's all said and done? Reading through the comments here, I came across the usual "I didn't like this..." and "I didn't like that..." comments. OK. Not every one likes pistachio ice cream. I love to see, hear and consider other views because it makes me reexamine my own impressions. Of interest to me was the recurring theme of confusion in these commentaries. I shared much of that because of the less than smooth transitions in the switches to irreality and the flashbacks. In films where the observers are given admittance to the inside of the performer's head, must be a melange of images, themes and mini-scenes because, alas, that's the way the mind works. So, from an audience perspective, it works for some and won't for others because, alas again, that is the way OUR minds work. Sorry to wax so psychiatrically but films like this one, as imperfect as it is, can tell us a lot about ourselves.
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The Passion
tedg2 February 2005
Ten years ago Ang Lee made a terrific little movie. It had depth and resonance. Eight years later, some hack remade the movie in English, changing the Chinese family to a Mexican one. Using almost precisely the same script, it turned into a horrible, horrible little film. Soulless.

Now turn to this. The original "detective" was one of the best film projects in history. I have it on my list of films every living person should see. It is the only thing I have ever seen from TeeVee that is worth watching. Its construction is ineffable and deep: three realities, each of which co- creates the others.

Now shift to the mind of Mel Gibson, the fellow behind this project. He is incapable of understanding or even seeing depth, surely in projects like this. What he has done is take a story about stories and storytelling, about parallel interwoven realities, about the nature of creation, about the origin of invention in sex and pain...

... and replaced it with something that looks the same and has the same events, but which has all the nuance and life bleached out of it. Now, we have a completely understandable narrative about a man who imagines and remembers things. All is clear, all is simple.

This is the same man who at this same time was doing the same thing to a similarly rich and deep and inscrutable story, the one about Jesus.

This is a travesty, a pure travesty. I recommend the original, but not this.

Just as a side matter, the threads that tied the realities together in the original were the women. The redness of their hair mattered. A lot. There's a little tinkering here with red, not-red, but it is done clumsily, without intent.

Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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It's an offbeat film with style.
jdesando26 November 2003
The 1984 'Singing Detective' miniseries had Michael Gambon as a misanthropic novelist confusing himself with his pulp-fiction noir detective. Although no one could approach Gambon's startling portrayal, no actor I see can match Robert Downey Jr.'s ability to bring back this character with his own demons to recreate hallucinations and '50's musicals in dreams lurid, colorful, and downright Freudian.

His debilitating skin and bone infection of extreme psoriasis have landed him in the hospital but provide him with the opportunity to dream about his choleric mother and tramp wife as well as place the hospital staff in cheesy '50's musicals.

In Keith Gordon's 'Singing Detective,' Downey brings his own life of addictions, which have truncated his career and left him dangerous to hire. He seems at home here as Dan Dark, emerging into the light of sanity by exorcizing his demons and dealing with the unreality of seductive nurse Katie Holmes attending to his skin and bone in reality and dream only as a writer could envision.

It's an offbeat film with style, similar to Woody Allen's lyrical 'Everyone Says I Love You' and Bjork's depressed 'Dancer in the Dark.' It's not quite as good as either but a charmer nonetheless.
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A musical for cynics. That's not an easy accomplishment.
rooprect17 April 2014
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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An Outsider's View
mstomaso7 June 2005
I have neither read the novel nor seen the original mini-series. A relative was enthralled with both, so seeing this listed on my cable guide I decided to give it a shot. I knew only the basic premise - that the film would be centered around a writer of pulp detective fiction who fantasizes about the lives of his characters as a way to escape his debilitating chronic skin disease. This was a good impression to enter this movie with, though far from complete. The 'singing detective' is the main character in Dan Dark's first novel, and an imaginary alter-ego existing in a seedy film-noir world of pulp fiction, in which Dark has encoded all of the traumas of his emotionally disturbing life. Meanwhile, Dark himself lies in a hospital bed incapacitated by some form of chronic leprosy and spreading a message of hate to everybody who dares to try to help him. The film focuses - though rather impressionistically - on Dan Dark's psychological journey during a prolonged hospital stay.

Without the background most viewers of this film might approach it with, I can only view it as an outsider, judging it only on its own merits. There are a few major problems which immediately come to mind. First - The Singing Detective is slated as a comedy. While I suppose some people might see it as a dark comedy, I am afraid that I found none of it funny whatsoever. Obnoxious, mean-spirited verbal violence does not amuse me. Second - though I do not have the insider perspective needed to support this idea (I haven't even read any IMDb reviews of this film), I suspect that the film leaves a lot of the development of its basic theme - of healing - out. Paradoxically, this problem seems to develop because of the nearly exclusive focus on Downey's deeply disturbed and paranoid character Dark, and his hospital antics. Yes, he's a very difficult patient - we get that right away - but is it necessary to drive it home scene after scene after scene? Downey's Dark is a blend of Woody Allen and Dustin Hoffman's Rainman, while his "Singing Detective" is a cold-fish hybrid of Humphrey Bogart, Bob Mitchum and all of the other noir detectives ever seen on the big screen. And he sings (this is a fact which is neither explained nor well-developed, but I am sure that the silly 1950s RnR tunes are the only venue for positive emotions the character allows himself). Downey's performances are, as usual, good, but they fail to sustain the entire film (which they are, unfortunately, asked to do). Mel Gibson, playing the hospital psychoanalyst, steals the show, despite his decidedly minor though important role. The rest - the pretty young nurse, the ambiguous wife, and the characters inhabiting Dark's fantasies and later his hallucinations are all well written and performed, but fail to compensate for the somewhat dull development of the central theme.

Good films based on unfamiliar literary works always make me want to read the original material (Master and Commander, The World According to Garp, and Bladerunner are some examples). When I see a good film based on a book I am familiar with (LOTR, Cider House Rules, Minority Report, The Shining, Solaris, for example) I approach it with a head full of expectations. With this film, I had only a palm full of expectations, and, though my review may sound negative, I was pleasantly surprised. The film dove unexpectedly deep, but in the end, came up a little empty-handed for me. Nor did I expect the film to be as breezily entertaining as it was. Balancing breezy entertainment and deep psychological drama (not to mention literary comedy and plenty of music) is a difficult task. Though The Singing Detective ultimately fails in this ambitious goal, it is still worth seeing, if nothing else, as an appetizer for the mini-series - which I will borrow from my relative post-haste.
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Great Cast and Direction Drive Compelling Update of Dennis Potter's Classic
dtb9 April 2004
The 2003 film version of THE SINGING DETECTIVE is by turns funny, scathing, and poignant, a woefully underrated look into a writer's psyche. If you don't have time to watch Dennis Potter's landmark TV miniseries (also available on home video), Potter's screenplay for this movie version (written 2 years before his untimely death) does a great job of condensing the story of novelist Dan Dark's (Robert Downey Jr.) battle with severe chronic psoriasis and personal demons. Throughout the movie, the bitter, suffering Dark weaves in and out of reality and delirious re-imaginings of the people and events in his life as they'd appear in the titular novel starring Dark's tough private eye alter ego. Actor-turned-director Keith Gordon stages this wild ride through Dark's mind with a style that owes as much to David Lynch and the Coen Brothers as it does to Potter. The British miniseries' lip-synched 1940s musical set pieces are retooled as American 1950s rock 'n' roll numbers -- call me a Philistine, but I think the updating works even better than the original (and believe me, I loved the original)! As a writer, I found THE SINGING DETECTIVE to be a fine example of how one's life and experiences creep into one's writing no matter what genre you write in. Each and every member of the stellar cast is letter-perfect, with particularly good, sharp chemistry between Downey and, respectively, Robin Wright Penn (I've always loved her name; it's especially appropriate for someone playing a writer's wife :-), and producer Mel Gibson (as Dark's seemingly goofy but astute and compassionate therapist, Gibson is all but unrecognizable in bald drag; Greg Cannom's F/X makeup serves both Gibson and Downey well). It's a shame THE SINGING DETECTIVE didn't do better with critics or at the box office, or Downey probably would've been a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. I could empathize with Downey as the bitter, clever, pain-racked (physically and emotionally) Dan Dark even when he wasn't acting particularly likable. The versatile Downey could be a Bogart for the Aughties if he could keep his own personal demons under control. I also enjoyed seeing our household fave Adrien Brody in a relatively lighthearted (for this film :-) role as one of a pair of Dark's fictional hoods with a bumbling streak. Jon Polito completes the pair; he and Brody are like an amoral Abbott & Costello. Their repartee cracked me up, especially their "Patti Page" exchange early in the film. Give this new SINGING DETECTIVE a try next time you're in the video store and in the mood for something different. If you rent the DVD and like it, watch it again with Keith Gordon's commentary track on; he has lots of intriguing and entertaining things to say about the making of the film, particularly about the cast and how he and his crew got those great surreal effects on a low budget.
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Downey does for Humphrey Bogart what he did for Chaplin!
rickconrad11 June 2004
In "The Singing Detective" there are moments of pure "Yes!" as Downey incredibly resurrects Humphrey Bogart. He did not 'do Bogart' as anyone and their brother can do, (mine usually works..), but it seemed instead he must actually have been doing what Bogart himself did: focusing on difficult issues, maintaining deep courage and principles, and finally acting richly with his whole being. I have seen nothing to compare with it since the original immortal performances. We are talking superbly transcendent character acting, (as when Downey did Chaplin). Oscars? Schmoskers! Downey deserves a Nobel Prize; and why not give such an honor? Is literature ever to be held in greater esteem than cinema? BTW... Mel Gibson did what I thought was his personal best job, and the rest of the cast's acting was crisp and gifted. If some felt that the plot was the weakest element, consider the plot in "Chicago". A good vehicle does what it must. I liked the whole thing, with all its vivid medical depictions, coarse direction, and unfiltered displays of human dysphoria.
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Creative and Amazing
Johnny1014 March 2006
I enjoyed nearly every moment in The Singing Detective. I immensely enjoyed the developed chacters and the creativity that was put into this great film. The Singing Detective is a dark comedy and chacter study, and throw in a couple musicals. The Singing Detective might not be for everyone, it is a strange and has an odd sense of humor.Although for me i thought the comedy was clever and the story and dialog were creative in every way. in conclusion, if dark comedies and some really good acting (Robert Downey Jr. never lets me down with his amazing performances and this movie, explains why he is so damn good), and pure creativity is your cup of tea then, i strongly suggest The Singing Detective.
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Downey Impresses, Holmes Shines... Gibson Works Miracles
gavin694231 December 2006
A detective author, trapped in a hospital due to some unusual psychosomatic disease, comes to terms with his stories... realizing they are based more on his own life than he ever thought before. The story parallels between the real world and the one of fantasy, though the line is not always distinct.

Some films are just made the way movies should be made. This is one of them. The director (who I don't recall at the moment) really hit the nail on the head, giving off exactly the right aura for this sort of film: the right characters, the right actors, the right music, the right lighting. This struck me as one of those movies where you really felt like you were inside the film, a feeling that movies can rarely achieve (though books may succeed).

The plot is simple after you figure it out, but like the characters will constantly tell you, there are more clues than solutions. You will become more and more confused until finally you "get it" -- this moment makes the whole thing pay off. Sort of like "The Prestige", though not really.

Robert Downey is such a fine actor and a respectable singer (in the scenes he actually sings). Unfortunately, he is better known for his drug problems than his acting. Directors, cast this man in your movie! He has the charisma and the capability to pull off what you want him to do! Katie Holmes, best known as Joey Potter from "Dawson's Creek" or as Mrs. Tom Cruise, is alright in this. I've always considered her a weak actress, not able to express much range beyond the innocent look. Her character here is innocent, so I suppose that's fine... but if I never see her in a movie again, that's fine (admit it, she's the weak spot in "Batman Begins").

Mel Gibson, who I am not a big fan of, surprised me here... mostly because I didn't recognize him under all the makeup. Great role, great acting, well done (and I suppose to be a supporting actor to Downey when you're as well known as Gibson takes some work). One of Gibson's best! Conclusion: this film slipped through the cracks in 2003 and has disappeared. Pick it up, check it out... maybe I'm wrong, but this seems like the kind of film that might come back years later as a cult favorite. Be the first on your block to realize how sweet this one is.
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Worst Movie I've Seen in Years
chron19 November 2005
I am pretty stingy with my 10 ratings and I have enough respect for the effort and complexity of movie making that I rarely rate a movie a 1. This movie got a 1.

I rented the movie based on my appreciation with the work of Robert Downey. With such a strong supporting cast - real A list actors - I thought this would be a good movie in spite of the relatively low IMDb rating. I now appreciate Downey less and IMDb viewers more.

The writing was bush league. I think it was trying to be a campy spoof of the 1940's film noir, but it was just bad. The direction was weak as well. There was film-school shots that would make George Romero cringe.

Run, don't walk, away from this disaster of a movie. If you like Robert Downey, go rent "Chaplin" again, but don't waste your time on this dog.
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I'd Rather Watch This Than Another Transformers or Fast & Furious
slightlymad225 February 2017
The Singing Detective (2003)

Plot In A Paragraph: From his hospital bed, Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr) a writer suffering from a skin disease (he calls himself a "human pizza) hallucinates musical numbers and paranoid plots.

I can't talk about this movie, without talking about the casting of Robert Downey Jr. Long before Downey Jr cleaned up his act and landed the Ironman gig, there was a time when he was damaged goods and yesterday's headlines.

Following a troubled past, at the turn of the decade, Downey Jr was on the rise again. He'd been nominated for an Emmy, and had won a Golden Globe for his superb work in Ally McBeal, and he was praised as being responsible for a boost in the shows ratings, but he was fired from the show by FOX, after his latest drug related incident, it also forced Mel Gibson to shut down his planned stage production of Hamlet with Downey Jr in the lead role and he also lost the John Cussack role in American Sweethearts. That seemed to be that. Nobody would touch him, let alone offer him a decent movie role. Enter his Air America co star Mel Gibson.

However it wasn't plain sailing, Gibson had to pay Downey Jr's insurance, after the studio balked at the cost of insuring someone deemed an unreliable actor, due to the last five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapses. Gibson dug in to his own pocket to ensure Downey Jr was cast.

This movie is certainly not to everyone's taste, and I can see why!! But it's filled with great performances from Downey Jr, Robin Wright Penn, Katie Holmes, Adrian Brody, Saul Rubineck, Carla Gugino and a barely recognisable Gibson. Its soundtrack is filled with songs almost everyone over a certain age should recognise, and personally I'd much watch something original like this, than another Transformers or Fast & Furious movie.

I'm not sure why Downey Jr's singing voice was dubbed for this, as he has a good singing voice. I even own his album.

The Singing Detective was a flop, it did not finish the year in the the top 100 highest grossing movies of 2003. Which (even for a supporting role) was unheard of for a Gibson movie back then.

It's funny how their respective careers went from here. Downey Jr had supporting roles in movies such Gothika, Scanner Darkly and Zodiac whilst nabbing the lead in Shane Blacks Kiss Kiss Bang Bang before being cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Whilst Gibson made The Passion Of Christ and all hell broke lose..... and it was pretty much down hill from there for a long time.
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Time is not on our side
travis_iii19 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If it weren't for the original TV series I fancy that this version of Dennis Potter's 'The Singing Detective' would be regarded as an unusual and interesting film, maybe with something of a cult following. But inevitably it is compared to the original series and can't help but shrivel in its illustrious presence.

So why remake the 1986 TV series as a feature film? The original is one of the best works ever made for TV and it runs to almost seven hours. It could be that the producers wanted to bring the piece to a wider audience and that is laudable, but the time constraints mean that much of the original narrative is stripped away and with it goes most of the emotional power, leaving a peculiar and spare story about a bitter, misogynistic man who is hospitalised with psoriasis and who is haunted by feelings of guilt concerning the death of his mother. This means that fresh audiences of the story will probably see it as a piece of rather clichéd psychodrama made interesting only by its visceral dialogue and quirky dream sequences, rather than as the masterpiece it is.

Maybe if the producers were really committed to the work they would have added another 30 minutes to the film to give it a better chance of success as a work of art. I suspect a half-hour more running time wouldn't have saved it but it would have allowed more material from Dan Dark/Philip Marlow's childhood to be included, for that is where the emotional core of the work lies. The fantasy sequences are meaningless without reference to the real emotions that Dan Dark has left behind. This lack of context drains the film and its characters of meaning and it is left just being quirky and slightly interesting; a sort of puzzling crime scene. The question being: who stole the story's soul, and where has it been stashed?

In parts, RDJ's performance is very good (he excels hamming it up as the fictional detective of the title), but in parts it slips, and generally the acting comes across as more mannered than the British TV original (makes one appreciate just how great that cast were). In particular Mel Gibson , in dodgy prosthetic comb-over, is rather grating.

The finger-prints of the Hollywood studio can be found all over the cinematic crime-scene. The songs should have stayed in the 1940s. Shifting them to the 1950s seems like an attempt to make them have more commercial appeal and perhaps allow RDJ to look a bit more cool when lip syncing - which rather misses the point of the songs. He gives the game away when he actually sings a song over the end credits - I bet Dennis Potter didn't put that into his screen adaptation - more likely it was RDJ's agent. It has the effect of eradicating any lingering sense that you've been watching a drama. Of course by the time the credits are rolling you've already been served up an ending even more anodyne than the problematic ending of the original, with RDJ strolling out the hospital looking like he's just got back from a two-week vacation in Florida.

There are some well crafted scenes but ironically the film looks rather small and studio-bound compared to its TV predecessor. I think this is partly because of the originals' brilliant direction by Jon Amiel. It was shot in film often in wonderful locations such as the Forest of Dean and so even cinematically it was a hard act to follow.

So many considerations make one realise what a doomed artistic enterprise this was. Potter was at his most brilliant when writing about the things he was most familiar with, especially the Britain of the 1940s and 1950s with its repressive class system, and his childhood in the Forest of Dean. Removing this cultural setting (along with 5 hours of complex interwoven imagery) renders The Singing Detective impotent. I can't help but think he knew this - and I'd also like to believe that any adaptation he handed over was hacked to pieces in the making of this film. It may also be that he wanted to leave an extra financial legacy to his family, and handing over his most celebrated work to Hollywood was the best way of accomplishing that end.

My plea to first-time viewers of The Singing Detective is: do not be put off by this feature film version. Please, please watch the original! It's breadth is enormous and it will make you think and weep like the best art should.
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It's separating the pieces of jigsaw puzzles to fit into the perfect picture...
janyeap4 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
This is a masterpiece of puzzles that gives way to a truly quirky and complex film to watch – almost with a combined stylistic approach of Goddard and Fellini. Freudian psychology floods the film throughout, serving up a large platter of interplay between fiction, reality and representation. A warning: it may not be the type of film for all for it's not always easy to separate fantasy from reality in this film. It carries, with it, overlapping scenes from 3 eras – the 1930's film-noir fantasy (from a novel Robert Downey's Dan Dark wrote) with the 1980's contemporary times of the adult Dark's hospital stay, and with his 1950's childhood memories (young Dark had witnessed his mother's adultery.) The audience is left to judge and associate the characters. Not an easy task! Even the hooker takes on the appearance of Robin Wright Penn's Nicola at times, and Carla Gugino's Mrs. Dark at others. It's even tougher to assess who the ‘Jon Polito and Adrien Brody' goons are till the end.

The film features great performances from a stellar cast and Downey, Jr. is simply AWESOME in his role(s). The hospitalized Downey, Jr. character looks alarmingly like a man inflicted with a severe case of measles. As the crooning Detective, he's rather attractive. Mel Gibson is almost unrecognizable with his incredible make-up. His Dr. Gibbons is as relevant as Downey's lead role and he does it superbly. It's through their interacting dialogue that the events begin to make sense. Jeremy Northam gets to conjure up a lot of hocus-pocus too. It's fun watching the characters break into the 1950's songs at unexpected moments. My guess is that they're Dark's favorite songs during his growing years! Try determining whether the singing voices do belong to the actual actors. This also helps to define whether their characters are real or fantasized. I've found this film very intriguingly fascinating. I'm unsure whether it's the sort of flick that'd interest those who dislike warped and messy plots and sub-plots in films. B+

*** SPOILERS*** The story is structured as a detective story on many levels. First we have the 'fictional' detective uncovering the murderer of the body in flooded street, secondly there is the detective work of the psychiatrist, Dr. Gibbon's, to unravel Dark's childhood trauma. Obviously there's Dark's self-voyage of discovery into his past. The film-noir fantasy is from Dark's novel, ‘The Singing Detective' in which Dark sees himself as the detective who moonlights as a nightclub crooner. Sex and death are somewhat linked throughout Dark's mind. Dark's psoriasis infliction is, perhaps, a metaphor of his psychological trauma and his physical manifestation of his childhood guilt. The dialogue and events, in the scene in which his mother notices his skin disease, seems to support this. Dark brings memory of the biblical ‘leper' having his mental sins and poisons manifested into the skin. The word association game between Dr. Gibbons and Dark offers telltale signs of how to approach this film. Perhaps too, his terrible infliction is just a manifestation of his sexual disgust – a possibility for this reference is the scene and dialogue of Dark and Nicola with the hospital mirror reflection. This film appears to echo that sexual promiscuity destroys relationship. Is Dark's journey to recovery, physically and mentally, also equated with the process of his writing a novel? The final camera shot of ‘Dark' with Nicole seems to suggest that. There's one particular scene (with Kathie Holme's Nurse Mills giving hospital treatment to Dark) that is so hilariously naughty and wicked!
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Not the TV version but well worth it!
NYCDude5 November 2003
I am familiar with the 6 tape TV version, and I was skeptical that a movie version could do that masterpiece justice. I was pleasantly surprised. For one, this version has Robert Downey Jr who is superb in the role. Without giving anything away, the movie nicely weaves the hero's present condition, his current delusions, and his history. It's a little more explicit than the original TV version in many cases, so it was easier to separate these. However, reading various reviews (many highly negative), it's clear that this wasn't explicit enough for many viewers. The acting was fine throughout, and especially noteworthy was Mel Gibson in an uncharacteristic role for him.

For those who know the original version, I note that the relationship with his father is essentialy omitted, as well as his experience with his horrible grade school teacher. But it was thrilling to get a new take on the detective, even if it was abbreviated.

All in all, a very worthwhile picture. See it - it will no doubt become a cult classic.
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Impressions of "The Singing Detective"
4-nelson11 September 2003
Warning: Spoilers
The Singing Detective (Spoiler)

During the first five minutes of this surrealistic film noir, surprisingly steeped knee deep in reality, we watched principal character, Dan Dark/Robert Downey Jr, literally ravage against hospital staff members, hurling verbal obscenities and dishing out caustic abuse at random. There was no mistaking from the get go, Downey is back where his talents were first discovered, which is on the big screen and he is more than comfortable wearing this skin. Dark's only weapon is his acid tongue as he's rendered useless, while laid flat out, trapped inside of a body covered by lesions, symptomatic of a debilitating form of psoriasis. Not only is his body stiff, but his hands are curled, with limited, rigid movements and that doesn't begin take into consideration the restless turmoil existing inside of his mind. This is the place where he feels most imprisoned and helpless. A sort of pergatory, where he dwells while waiting for his fate to unfold.

Before the Toronto screening began, Robert Downey stood on stage after having been introduced by the director of the Toronto film festival, Piers Handling and jokingly made mention that we, the audience, should be mindful to respond to his character's vast range of emotions. He requested that we were to laugh when he was funny and to emit sadness when he was unhappy. Within minutes of watching Dark execute such intense suffering on screen, it wasn't a difficult task at all to follow Downey's suggestion and instantly become caught up in his pain. Not easy to look at during the first hour onscreen, except for the hallucination sequences, Dan Dark was a disgusting sight to behold. Unleashing his self-loathing onto others seemed to serve as a temporary release for his pent up hurts, but certainly did nothing to endear him to the people who were there to attempt to assist him in his recovery from that torture.

Having enjoyed the mini-series, I appreciated the many ways creator, Dennis Potter interjected and interwove characters and scenes, in and out of the starkness of the hospital setting, to the tainted, inner workings of the detective novelist's mind, as bedridden Dark lay haunted by unresolved memories from his emotionally abusive youth. After engaging in a sordid affair, Dark's mother uprooted herself and her little boy to go to work as a prostitute, while doing little to shield her child from her new vocation. These actions resulted in Dark having little faith or trust in women and subliminally projected those beliefs, in conjunction with his anger, onto the female characters in his stories. And onto his wife who becomes the recipient of most of his venom. All of this occurs concurrently with another one of his detective stories, while he envisions himself as the hard-boiled hero of his novels. Trying to solve crime inside of the pages and simultaneously attempting to get a grip on the unspeakable hurts from his past, still existing within his fertile mind. During Dark's journeys into his vivid hallucinations and his childhood, 50's song and dance routines spring to life as he works towards uncovering the root of his illness, aided by the unconventional methods of one Dr. Gibbon, uniquely portrayed by Downey's long time friend, Mel Gibson.

While watching the revised film, which was also written by Potter himself, I couldn't help but think perhaps the original was a little lengthy. I believe director, Keith Gordon did a splendid job of utilizing Potter's initial recreation to the fullest without losing the integrity of the plot or needlessly compromising the images and emotions projected on screen by the film's key players. This comedic version is not as dark as the mini-series and that is how Potter wanted it. As an audience, we were led on a fascinating journey while wondering every so often what was fact and what indeed was fiction, which for me was part of the magic of the film's concept. I enjoy being challenged when I watch a movie and don't like things to be too contrived or to be hit over the head repeatedly with obviousness. Not convoluted like the original, this revised film was delightful to watch and just when some of the heavier scenes started to make me squirm, something humourous would occur from out of the blue. Not only was Dark being chased by his own shadow and two thugs, but he also suffered from acute paranoia, believing his wife was after his money and it was hysterical at times watching him try to distinguish his demons from his angels.

In addition to a wonderful performance by Mel Gibson, who shares some brilliant scenes with Downey, each supporting cast member is terrific and important to the story and it's merit. Robin Wright Penn and Downey have excellent chemistry and Katie Holmes, who is featured as Dark's sexy but benevolent nurse is oh, so sweet . Carla Gugino's dual role as Dark's mother and the victim in his novel is equally memorable, with Adrian Brody providing light-hearted support as one of the `bad' guys. A criticism would be that I would have enjoyed seeing Holmes character receive more screen time, but her role was certainly key to the story and provided levity and sexual fantasy to Dark's brooding mental state.

The concept of the film is different and doesn't conform to rules or a formula often utilized by Hollywood studios, but it's refreshing and people felt uplifted when it concluded with Downey himself singing a soothing rendition of Gene Vincent's `In My Dreams' as the credits rolled across the screen. Clearly and unequivocally, this film belongs to Robert Downey Jr., as he literally consumes and lives within the soul of the movie. He is absolutely outstanding in the role of Dan Dark as he moves seamlessly from physically and emotionally crippled patient with the razor sharp wit, to street smart detective, to heartbreakingly handsome crooner of the after hours clubs. He's bright. He's funny. He's poignant and he can make you cry at the drop of a hat while he reminds you in every single scene just what a damned good actor he is. Downey's secret is that he pulls out all of the stops with a natural and effortless flair. It's been a long time since I've laughed that frequently or my emotions have been toyed with so shamelessly while being transformed from my comfort zone to a new kind of Twilight Zone. Money well spent for an evening of guaranteed entertainment.

Sarah Howell
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Pyschological stuff
nogodnomasters22 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Robert Downey jr. plays Danny Dark, a writer of pulp fiction novel called "The Singing Detective." He is hospitalized with a skin disorder which apparently is psychological. His shrink is played by Mel Gibson, in an unorthodox role for him. Dark's novel is based on events in his childhood, making characters from people he had met. Danny is delusional and imagines things in the present, confounding the people in real life with the characters in his book. The dialogue in the movie is excellent. If you enjoyed the dark humor of the Joker in the Dark Knight, you will enjoy the ramblings of Downey early on. The real problem with the movie is that you realize that all the action in the film is delusional. As far as real action and plot, the film moves along as a one man play. Bad language, simulated sex, no nudity.
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intriguing failure
SnoopyStyle31 May 2016
Detective story writer Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) is hospitalized suffering full body lesions. The pain is causing hallucinations of hard-boiled detective characters. He is treated by Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson) and nurse Mills (Katie Holmes). He is demanding to have his novel 'The Singing Detective' from his wife (Robin Wright). He is hounded by two detectives in his dreams as well a vision of his mother (Carla Gugino) who took him from his father to live in rundown L.A.

It's an intriguing idea. It may even work if the surreal dreamscape makes any sense at all. The dream work becomes a lot of nothing with bits of really interesting childhood recollections with his mother. After awhile, the hallucinations get repetitive and it ultimately goes nowhere.
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Difficult but watch it for Downey
ramsri0074 October 2015
The Singing Detective is surely not an easy movie to watch. Downey's cracked up skin makes it all the more difficult visually. Robert Downey Jr. plays the main character, Dan Dark. Dan is a writer of cheap, lurid detective novels, who is hospitalized for a severe case of psoriasis. He is shown to be in immense pain and is almost disabled from going about his normal routine due to the painful lesions. In the process he hallucinates to an extent that he cannot decipher the real from illusion due to which he is almost on the verge of losing his mind. He often lapses into a fantasy world in which he is the main character in his own novel. But soon the characters from the novel start to appear in the real world. We are taken on a journey into Dan Dark's dark & unpleasant mind? Downey, as always leaves his imprint as an actor par excellence.

We meet Dan's wife, played by Robin Wright. Mel Gibson plays a rather strange psychologist who may well be able to help Dan if only Dan actually wanted to be helped. Doctor Gibbon helps Dan Dark deal with his bitterness that seems to have consumed him since he fell ill. Gibbon gets an insight into Mr Dark by reading his book, he then uses this to help Mr Dark on the road to his mental recovery. The movie is about how Dan Dark fights the demons he has created for himself and overcomes them to go on with his life.
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See it for yourself
hall89524 April 2015
The Singing Detective is a movie which defies description or explanation. Any attempt at a summation of the plot would be futile. It's a comedy, it's a musical, it's a mystery, it's film noir. Well, it has elements of all of those things anyway but the end product does not fit neatly into any category. Structure? The movie really has none. This means that, while it may be interesting, it often comes across as somewhat incoherent. Much of the movie seems to take place inside the main character's head. But that character is the most unreliable of narrators. He doesn't have any grasp on what is real so how can the audience? This is a movie you just have to try to figure out for yourself.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays the main character, Dan Dark. Dan is a writer of cheap, lurid detective novels. Right now he finds himself laid up in the hospital with the worst case of psoriasis you've ever seen. He's in terrible pain, pretty much completely incapacitated and quite possibly losing his mind. He lapses into a fantasy world in which he is the main character in his own novel. But characters from the novel start to appear in the real world. Or do they? Are we still inside Dan Dark's mind? If so, how do we get out because inside Dan Dark's mind is not a particularly pleasant place to be.

This carries on throughout the film, real world and fantasy worlds colliding. Even what seems obviously real may not be. We meet Dan's wife, played enigmatically by Robin Wright. She's cheating on him. Or does Dan just think she is so that is what is presented as reality? In flashbacks Carla Gugino plays Dan's mother. But then she shows up as an entirely different person in Dan's delusions. Mel Gibson plays a rather strange psychologist who may well be able to help Dan if only Dan actually wanted to be helped. Maybe Dan prefers to retreat into his own mind, into his fantasy world. Does this all come together in the end? Not really. You're left largely wondering what in the world it was that you just saw. But confusing though it may be the movie still manages to be pretty entertaining. Downey turns in an excellent performance. Wright and Gibson are very good as well. Adrien Brody and Katie Holmes are among the performers who are solid in smaller roles.

The movie is well-acted all around and the story draws you in. But as you go deeper and deeper there is the sense the movie spirals a little bit out of control. Some structure would have helped. But if told in entirely straightforward fashion the story would not have been nearly as interesting. This movie is unique. Some will love it. Some will hate it. It is a movie which was an interesting experiment. Maybe you'll appreciate what was attempted here, maybe you won't. Everyone is going to have their own unique personal reaction to this movie. To each their own.
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An interesting story and point of view. Worth a watch.
MariaEWilliams5 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
RDJs Acting – Robert said in the interview on the extras that he was scared about playing that kind of noir gangster character as they are always so cool. Well Robert it is very safe to say you pulled it off. Playing two characters in a film can be quite confusing for some actors but Robert Downey Jr takes to it like a duck to water. In the words of the singing detective "am I right or am I right?"

Doctor Gibbon - Another notable character is that of Doctor Gibbon played by Mel Gibson. Doctor Gibbon helps Dan Dark deal with his bitterness that seems to have consumed him since he fell ill. Gibbon gets an insight into Mr Dark by reading his book, he then uses this to help Mr Dark on the road to his mental recovery.

Dan Dark – He can seem spiteful and evil with his seemly random outbursts of violet verbal abuse directed to who ever is nearest to him at the time but, he is aware of this change in his personality and doesn't like it. There are moments when you see the person he used to be before reverting to the hatred spitting being he portrays so well. He is offered medication to help him deal with the pain of his condition. This medication is tranquillizers, the pain is at such a high level but he refuses. Lets just take a moment to admire the man for this. That takes courage and so much strength, to make it though each day with such a high level of pain when ever you move a single muscle.

By the end of the film Dan Dark does reassemble himself into a different person personality wise. Perhaps he takes some of The Singing Detectives personality qualities and some of his original ones. I personally like to think he is a mixture of the two characters he portrays all the way thorough the film. As if to prove this point Dan Dark puts on a hat that we see The Singing Detective wear at the end as he walks out of the hospital he has called home for the past months.

Nicola Dark – Some credit has to go to Dan Dark's wife Nicola for sticking by him through his illness and those violet verbal outbursts. Although she doesn't visit him at the start of his treatment, this is understandable because she doesn't want to get into a verbal match with him or just stand there while he shouts horrible statements at her. As the film progresses and his treatment, both physical and mental, is working his wife starts to visit him more and their relationship gets back on track. I am sure that having his wife present also helps with his recovery as he seems happy in her presence.

The one thing that I was disappointed about upon watching the film was the fact that we don't get to hear Robert Downey Jrs lovely voice singing in the film at all (he does however sing the song "In My Dreams" over the credits) I do understand however what look the director (Keith Gordon) was going for. I think I would have made the same decision as he did as the overall look of those songs fitting into the film does work. If you think about it from Dan Dark's point of view he would use the songs in his hallucinations as he knows them, that's with the original singers singing them not himself. Still I can't help but feel disappointed at the missed opportunity to hear RDJ singing.
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The Singing Detective
jboothmillard25 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I had heard about the leading actor starring in this film, and then I found out that it was based on a popular six part television series with Sir Michael Gambon, but having seen Bewitched, The A Team and Charlie's Angels I don't think it mattered that I hadn't seen the television version before the film. Basically Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) is suffering from the terrible conditions of arthritis and an extreme case of psoriasis, but he is also going through paranoia and bad writer's block. With his fever and mental condition dwindling, to escape his pain and concerns he has a habit of going into his own fantasy world, where he confuses himself with the leading character of the story he plans to write, The Singing Detective. In this fantasy world Dan is an undercover detective in a 1930's setting, and he often goes into a musical number, and this also happens sometimes when he sees people in the real world, he sees them doing it too. His love interest/wife Nicola (Robin Wright Penn) comes into the hospital often to see if he is improving physically and mentally, and he is often seen by psychologist Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson) who tries to get through to him and make him see reality, and stop obsessing about his writing. Dan does have his skin condition improve, but his mental state is not so much the same, and it comes to the point where his fantasy world may be coming into or taking over reality, until by the end he has almost become his title character, but it does not seem to matter to Nicole. Also starring Jeremy Northam as Mark Binney, Katie Holmes as Nurse Mills, Adrien Brody as First Hood and Jon Polito as Second Hood. I can see what the critics mean that Downey Jr. overacts some of the scenes, but he's not too bad, Wright Penn could have had a bit more time on screen, and Gibson certainly does make an impression as the doctor, he is almost unrecognisable. This is based on the work of Dennis Potter, who suffered the same conditions as the leading character, but I am sure that the critics are right that the original version did not need a remake film, despite some good costume and lavishly lit sequences, but I did find the musical numbers catchy, and overall, I didn't think it was a terrible period musical drama. Okay!
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An exercise in comparison
Igenlode Wordsmith17 March 2012
Hard to know how this would have come across without having seen the English version first; as a comparison after the recent BBC re-broadcast, I found it fascinating (and was interested to discover at the end that Dennis Potter was apparently responsible for his own adaptation).

It's an exercise in transpositions, from a resonant period in English history and myth (the 1940s) to an equally mythologically resonant American era (the filling station; the desert; the gumshoe; rock'n'roll): a decade later, but it might almost as well be a generation apart. It's hard to tease apart the changes necessitated by Hollywood (younger, prettier, more sympathetic protagonists) and those required by the change of format from TV serial to cinema and the drastic cut in running time involved.

Some changes work better than others. The main plot weathers the transposition amazingly intact, given the necessary omissions: this is achieved both by drastic cuts to the flashbacks (Potter's original tends to flash back to the same scene four or five times before the full sequence of events is revealed) and by excision of sub-plots, both of which can be done fairly painlessly. By moving the sick man to a private room rather than an NHS ward all the material relating to the other patients can be automatically removed, although this does require the relocation of the final shoot-out!

Having young and beautiful protagonists doesn't work so well (apart from anything else we lose the killer plot twist where Nicola is told that she is too old for the part), and a middle-aged dance-hall crooner makes for a more plausible undercover detective than the thrashing lead singer in a boy band. But Los Angeles is a neat fit for London as the city of dreams that symbolises a escape from working-class drudgery, and of course the private eye set-up is heavily drawn from American thrillers in the first place, so the 'mean streets' are simply coming home. I was amused to note that in this version the two hit-men get to enjoy a gun each (cue for much squabbling in the original) -- it being presumably unthinkable for their American equivalents not to be tooled up -- but of course this makes the accusation of 'murder' rather a strained one to sustain in the culminating scene.

I don't think the famous song and dance sequences (in which various supporting characters break into surreal dance routines) work so well in this version, unfortunately. The music may simply be less well suited to the treatment, or the characters more photogenic to start off with and the transformation thus less grotesque. At any rate it wasn't so funny and/or touching and didn't seem so effectively done either: much more obviously mimed.

Robert Downey Jr is nonetheless very effective as the eponymous detective and his alter ego -- and of course we now have fascinating parallels with his recent stint as Sherlock Holmes, of which there are hints in his performance here.
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