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The Singing Detective is a 2003 film based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, a work by Dennis Potter. It stars Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson.


Suffering from the skin disease psoriasis and a crippling arthritis, detective novelist Dan Dark is in such pain in a hospital that he begins to delve into fantasy, resulting in several story-lines told simultaneously:

  1. A film noir based on Dark's novel, The Singing Detective, in which a nightclub singer/private eye, hired by Mark Binney, takes on a strange case involving prostitutes and two mysterious men. Nothing is ever solved from this, only a vague plot. Notably, all of the people in the film noir are played by people who are real people in Dark's life; for example, Dark's nurse plays a singer.
  2. The present reality, in which Dark is tormented by incredible pain. Dark interacts with the various people around him, as the doctors and nurses attempt to help, but are dismissed by Dark's anger and bitterness towards everyone. The reality, however, also collapses into hallucinations, as the people randomly sing choreographed musical numbers, such as "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?"
  3. Dark's traumatic childhood in the past, which explains Dark's repulsion toward sexuality (Dark had watched his mother have sex with another man), and his anger.



  • Anachronisms: When the First Hood and Second Hood are driving away in their vintage car in the 1940s, there is the reflection of a lit, modern, Los Angeles skyscraper in the window of the backseat.


Potter's screenplay had been circulating in Hollywood for many years as Potter was enthusiastic about a film version. Robert Altman was at one time attached to direct with Dustin Hoffman in the lead, but financing proved difficult and the production was shelved. It was eventually discovered by an executive at Mel Gibson's production company, who loved it and got Mr. Gibson on board to produce. The screenplay had also been imagined as a movie directed by horror veteran David Cronenberg and starring Al Pacino as the title character.

Differences between the film and the miniseries

The film is mostly faithful to the series, with exceptions such as the setting (the United Statesmarker instead of Englandmarker), the musical numbers (1950s pop songs instead of 1940s jazz standards), the protagonist's name (changed from "Philip Marlow" to "Dan Dark"), the omission of some of the more detailed events of his childhood, and a more upbeat ending.


The score on Rotten Tomatoes was 40 percent, or "Rotten". While some critics, such as Roger Ebert, genuinely liked the film, others, like Joe Baltake at the Sacramento Bee, considered it an "interesting failure".


  1. Internet Movie Database
  2. Rotten Tomatoes website

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