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The Singing Detective

84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From his hospital bed, a writer suffering from a skin disease hallucinates musical numbers and paranoid plots.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Robin Wright, Mel Gibson, Jeremy Northam, Katie Holmes
  • Directors: Keith Gordon
  • Writers: Dennis Potter
  • Producers: Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey, Jane Potter, Kevin Lake, Robert Potter
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Paramount
  • DVD Release Date: March 23, 2004
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0001AW04I
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,928 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Singing Detective" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on May 20, 2006
Format: DVD
Few if any reviewers here indicate having watched Keith Gordon's director's commentary on this DVD. I think it would alter some of their judgements. As Gordon explains, the film script was in fact written by Dennis Potter, whose original "Singing Detective" ran as a much longer miniseries on British TV 20 years ago, and the changes to an American setting with 1950s American pop music were really Potter's own ideas. If the transition to feature film format loses something in the translation, it is in part due to his reconceptualization of his original creation.

As the commentary reveals, much of the inventiveness in this new version is not apparent in a single viewing. While it may seem to truncate and over-simplify the lengthier TV version, there is still complexity and ambiguity enough to entertain and engage a thoughtful viewer appreciative of good screenwriting and wonderful performances. Robert Downey's dual role as the embittered writer and the Bogart-style detective of the title reveal the mercurial range of this amazing actor, and his scenes with Robin Wright Penn, who plays his wife, are a brilliant portrayal of two people equally matched in their struggle to preserve a relationship and, at the same time, the integrity of themselves as individuals.

Strong cast. Interesting contrast of visual styles. Rated R for a wide range of disturbingly graphic and lurid visual imagery, including the main character's horrific skin condition. Granted, this "Singing Detective" is no substitute for the original, but seen on its own merits, it still stands up well on its own.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cilly on September 2, 2008
Format: DVD
This movie didn't seem to get very good reviews. After seeing it myself, I'm stumped. It's malevolent and weird, but it certainly isn't dull; it's surreal, but not to the point that you can't tell what's going on. Plus, the acting is great and the concept disturbing. As unpleasant as parts of it were, I'm going to watch it again.
Part of the problem is, this movie is a remake of a much better TV series. The TV series ran 7 1/2 hours, and this movie has *somehow* been cut down to 2. Okay. You can guess what happened. In an attempt to trim off fat, they whittled the plot down to an incomplete skeleton. But it all still makes sense, and I enjoyed doing my own job of guessing and reconstruction.
I think the other problem is that people see the title, and expect a fun, flashy crime story. This movie is not what you'd call "fun", unless you love a good Lynch or Cronenberg marathon.
Also, if you want to ogle Robert Downey Jr.--and that's a good and admirable pastime, I applaud it--this movie will bother you. He spends most of it looking like he's in the last stages of radiation poisoning. His dreamworld alter-ego is handsome, but played as a flat-voiced, shiny-eyed Invasion Of The Body Snatchers doppelganger. I had to remind myself that it was only an actor in makeup; the illness portrayed here is horrible seems very real. Downey is ferociously good, filled with rage and scorching the paint off the walls, and it's disturbing.

Yeah, Downey is great in this; he goes from a sick, vicious, venomous invalid in the first half to a slightly-less sick, more charming, more frightening nut case in the second half. More frightening, as he becomes less insane? Absolutely.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jasun Horsley on August 16, 2006
Format: DVD
The film is a strange animal, all right, a work sans genre, and at times Gordon seems to have overreached himself, grasping for effects he isn't quite able to achieve. The various styles, moods, and genres give the film a slightly garish, amateurish feel, yet in the end (perhaps consciously on Gordon's part) this very awkwardness works in the film's favor. The Singing Detective is a remarkably ingenuous work, fresh and daring, almost childlike in its lack of pretension, and easily one of the most original American movies of the last twenty years. Above all, it showcases Robert Downey Jr.'s raging, embittered psoriasis-afflicted pulp writer, inside whose head the whole movie (more or less) takes place, and Downey gives an inventive, powerful performance, what may be the apotheosis of his enormous talent. Praise for Downey notwithstanding, on its release Gordon's film met with a wall of critical resistance, a veritable consensus of contempt. This may have been due in part (in the UK at least) to a fondness for Potter's original TV series; but it was perhaps due even more to the basic incompatibility of Potter's idiosyncratic, scathing vision with mainstream (critical) tastes. Whatever the case, the movie once again tragically failed to find its audience.

As with his previous adaptations, Gordon respected the source material without revering it, and as a director, he has a rare gift: the ability to fuse his own sensibility and talents with his subject at a fundamental level. In the case of The Singing Detective, it was a somewhat less seamless fusion; Potter's vision (his bizarre blend of musical fantasy with bleak psychological realism) was so startlingly original it required another sensibility at least as strong and eccentric to fuse with.
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