The Singing Detective

  • Film
  • Drama
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The first thing that hits you is Dan Dark's festered, red-raw, blistering head. We're going to be spending quite some time in that head, and it's not an easy place to be. Dark, a two-bit pulp writer, has been hospitalised with crippling psoriasis, although there's a hint that it might be psychosomatic. Certainly Dan's paranoid hallucinations aren't helping. Perhaps hospital shrink Dr Gibbon can stem the stream of rancour, bile and R&B oldies pouring out of his contaminated consciousness. Hard to imagine how strange this must look to anyone unfamiliar with Dennis Potter's work. To those who experienced 415 minutes' worth of the 1986 BBC series, on the other hand, it won't seem strange enough. Potter Americanised the material, but inevitably the chief difference between the film and the TV series is length. Truncated and abbreviated, this Singing Detective is all skin and bone; Dark's remission is too quick; the script's recourse to flashback therapy all too quack. Similarly, Dark's kitsch noir fantasies lack mystery; the signature lip-synch song 'n' dance routines feel rote and lifeless. Against all that, Downey is remarkable as Dark, and his producer, Gibson, is surprisingly engaging as the shrink. To their credit, the makers haven't diluted Potter's misogynist diatribe. Indeed, the film is in some ways a harsher, bleaker, artier curio than the original. But it only works in fits and starts.

Release details

Duration: 109 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Keith Gordon
Screenwriter: Dennis Potter
Cast: Robert Downey Jr
Robin Wright Penn
Jeremy Northam
Katie Holmes
Carla Gugino
Adrien Brody
Jon Polito
Saul Rubinek
Amy Aquino
Alfre Woodard
Mel Gibson
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