DVDs: Detective Movies

Hammett Paramount
Movie •••• Picture/Sound •• Extras None
Detective Story Paramount
Movie •• Picture/Sound •••½ Extras None
Hammett (1982) had a long and deeply troubled production, with executive producer Francis Ford Coppola eventually reshooting much of what director Wim Wenders had shot. Nevertheless, it stands among the finest hard-boiled detective pictures ever made. Based on a highly fictionalized episode from Dashiell Hammett's life, the film has colorful characters and wonderfully stylized sets. But what makes the movie so special is that it somehow manages to capture the atmosphere and spirit of the great writer's novels - a feat that so many other movies have failed to achieve.

Despite its title, the intermittently entertaining Detective Story (1951) is a weepy melodrama about a New York City police detective battling personal demons and struggling with his shaky marriage. Taken from a stage play, it is set almost exclusively in a single room at a police station, which only emphasizes its inherent claustrophobia and the hopeless overacting of Kirk Douglas in the title role.

Hammett's soft, grainy picture and flat surround soundtrack are a huge disappointment. Detective Story fares better with its detailed, high-contrast black-and-white images and crisp mono sound. Hammett: [PG] English, Dolby Surround; letterboxed (1.78:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual layer. Detective Story: [NR] English and French, Dolby Digital 2-channel mono; full frame (1.33:1); single layer.