Sunday 4 March 2018

Movie Review: Midnight Lace (1960)

A psychological suspense thriller, Midnight Lace is reasonably effective but also repetitive and predictable.

Kit (Doris Day) is an American living in London and recently married to Tony Preston (Rex Harrison), a senior executive at the investment company that carries his family name. Walking home alone in the thick fog one day Doris hears a menacing voice threatening her with death. Soon she starts receiving harassing phone calls. With Tony always busy work, neighbour Peggy (Natasha Perry) tries to help, and the arrival of Aunt Bea (Myrna Loy) for a visit provides some comfort, but the threats continue.

Kit and Tony reach out to Scotland Yard and Inspector Byrnes (John Williams) starts to investigate. Contractor Brian Younger (John Gavin) is working on a construction site next to the Prestons' apartment and seems to have his eye on Kit. Malcolm Stanley (Roddy McDowall) is the good-for-nothing son of the Prestons' housekeeper, always on the lookout for money. And a mysterious man in a black suit and black hat is continuously hovering in the neighbourhood. But when no suspects are apprehended, Kit starts to question her own sanity.

An adaptation of the play Matilda Shouted Fire by Janet Green, Midnight Lace is directed by David Miller and features glossy sets, lavish costumes and handsome London locations. The film shows no signs of being held captive by the stage origins, and Miller along with script writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts conjure up a good-to-look-at and fairly engaging mystery. The cinematography is dynamic, and Miller is alway on the lookout for the more interesting angle to shoot from.

But despite the gloss, the story carries echoes of Gaslight, and once the premise is set, the film stumbles with repetitive scenes of Kit receiving the next threat and reacting with hysterics. Miller makes a couple of mistakes: the voice on the other end of the phone is rarely heard, and while this is intended to raise doubt as to whether Kit is dealing with reality or not, the muting of the aggressor defangs the suspense level. Doris Day can only widen her eyes and scream so many times before tired duplication sets in.

The other misstep is in the pacing, and as much as the middle section of the film sags, the ending is rushed, unbalanced and clumsy, featuring the unnecessary traversing of construction scaffolding but not enough exposition to tidy up plenty of loose ends. Some characters disappear, others are introduced in a late muddle and what was a relatively cerebral plot deflates.

There is enough in Doris Day's performance to suggest her career would have benefited from more dramatic roles, and Rex Harrison is sturdy as the husband torn between work duties and an increasingly frantic wife. The supporting cast is unusually strong but also underutilized. Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall, John Gavin and John Williams could all have benefited from having more to do.

Midnight Lace may not carry its momentum all the way through, but although the tension diminishes, the sleek packaging endures.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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