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  Midnight Lace Phone Fright
Year: 1960
Director: David Miller
Stars: Doris Day, Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall, Herbert Marshall, Natasha Parry, Hermione Baddeley, John Williams, Richard Ney, Anthony Dawson, Rhys Williams, Richard Lupino, Hayden Rorke, Doris Lloyd, Elspeth March
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Kit Preston (Doris Day) is an American heiress who now lives with her husband Tony (Rex Harrison) in their London apartment, but tonight she is set to get a scare. As she walks home through the fog, she hears a tapping noise approaching and grows nervous, but it is only a blind man and his cane; reassured, she continues on her way but then a voice drifts through the gloom, a sinister, high-pitched one which tells her that he means to kill her. Alarmed, Kit runs in the opposite direction as the voice calls after: is she really in danger, or is it all in her head?

Doris Day was not best known for her thrillers, but she did make a few women in peril movies which granted her fans the chance to suffer along with her as various nasty men tried to take her down. Midnight Lace was one of those, and oddly like her musicals and comedies has gained a camp reputation over the years among those who like old school Hollywood glamour and somewhat absurd histrionics and thrills courtesy of the star. It was a Ross Hunter production, a man best known for his glossy melodramas although he was not aversed to trying other genres, all of them just as high class and strangely daft.

It doesn't help for credibility that there was something artificial about Hunter's confections, so no matter how far Doris goes into hysterics - and she does get one memorable freak out scene when the pressure gets too much for her - you never really believe that her character is in mortal peril. Sure, there are dark forces conspiring against her, as neither are we convinced that it was all in her mind, but you can bet that whatever happens, Kit will emerge a stronger person as a result, tearstained perhaps, but having found a measure of steel in her personality as she is woken up to a world that is not as cosy as she had always thought, or always wanted it to be.

The voice which terrorised Kit in the park begins to do the same when she gets home, via the telephone as she receives crank calls from this nutter that we are not privy to, but can guess that they are pretty depraved. Who would do such a thing to sweet little Doris? The suspects start mounting up, as we grow uncertain of the likes of Roddy McDowall as the shifty, money-grubbing son of her housekeeper (the voice is similar), or Herbert Marshall, one of her husband's business associates who is also looking for easy cash if he can find it. The most obvious suspect, especially if you've seen either version of Gaslight, is Tony, although Harrison plays the role perfectly straight with not so much as a cocked eyebrow to suggest that he may know more than he lets on.

As this was a Hollywood movie set in London, that distinctive flavour of getting foreign climes wrong enters into the picture, as the clich├ęs start to pile up. Tony refers to the fog as a pea souper, someone paints Nelson's Column pink, and everyone goes to see a ballet of Swan Lake which only features two dancers: it's like one of those American sitcoms where the cast travel to England and everyone British who sees it rolls their eyes at the inaccuracies dreamt up by the production team. There's a lot to get over in terms of obstacles such as these, not least John Gavin's dodgy accent which if you were not sure of you would swear he was playing an American if it was not for the dips into the cadence of those across the pond. He plays another suspect, but is obviously so upstanding that in spite of his lapses into mysterious behaviour we understand that Kit can rely on him. Doris's delirium provides some amusement, but with the culprit fairly plain the film does seem overstretched. There are some good laughs to compensate. Music by Frank Skinner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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