In Ross Hunter's tense 1960 thriller Midnight Lace, effervescent musical star Doris Day becomes the pawn in a cat-and-mouse game when a sadistic man harasses her over the telephone. Tormented by an eerie voice who promises to kill her before the month is out, she is unable to convince anyone that a stalker even exists, let alone figure out who is behind these menacing calls.
Who would want to kill our heroine and why? That's the question viewers are asked to answer and when the film reaches its nail-biting conclusion, the audience is asked to keep the secret mum so that friends can have the fun of solving it themselves, too.
Doris Day is charming as Kit Preston with Rex Harrison as her dashing husband Tony, head of the respected Preston Mining Company. The couple share an elegant London townhouse, designed in a modern taste by Alexander Golitzen and Robert Clatworthy, which overlooks posh Grosvenor Square.
The action begins right away on Kit's way home one day from shopping, when a sinister voice calls out to her in a thick London fog:
"Mrs. Preston. Over here. So close I can reach out my hands on your throat."
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"You'll know when the time comes Mrs. Preston, just before I kill you..."
Understandably frightened, Kit is told that her experience could be that of a prankster and she finds comfort the next day after seeing Lord Horatio Nelson's statue doused in bubble gum pink paint, a result of hooligans running amok in the previous day's "pea-souper", as Tony so aptly puts it.
Kit's peace of mind doesn't rest long after she receives a call, phrased much like the threat in the park and just as terrifying. The couple turns to England's esteemed Scotland Yard for professional help lead by Inspector Byrnes, played most convincingly by dapper English character actor John Williams. Byrnes explores all angles to the case, even questioning Kit's sanity. Perhaps she is making up her assailant as a means to garner attention from her frequently absent husband.
Just when Tony's worries about his wife begin to increase, company accountant Daniel Graham ( Richard Ney ) uncovers a major discrepancy in the account books leading Tony to believe that a member of his staff has embezzled nearly one million British pounds! Could it be Daniel, himself? Or is it company treasurer and close friend Charles Manning ( Herbert Marshall )? He has been losing a lot of money at the horse races lately... Rounding out the cast is attractive Natasha Parry as Kit's dear friend Peggy, Myrna Loy as her sociable and sophisticated Aunt Bee, and Roddy McDowall.
Based on a 1961 two-act play by Janet Green entitled "Matilda Shouted Fire", Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts's witty script included an innocent flirtation between Kit and construction crew foreman Brian Younger ( John Gavin ). His crew is hard at work at a site next to the Preston's townhouse building and he keeps a careful watch over her after a series of unfortunate accidents occur, such as when a darkly-dressed man appears at Kit's doorway soon after another threatening phone call.
"Sometimes I think the Blitz left us with more derelict minds than derelict buildings"
Director David Miller did a fine job giving "Midnight Lace" a Hitchcock flavor. It chugs along at a nice clip and provides a clever twist at the finale when all is revealed. Talented cinematographer Russell Metty, famous for his work on classics like Bringing Up Baby ( 1937 ), Written on the Wind ( 1956 ), and Touch of Evil ( 1958 ), paints a rich picture in Eastmancolor which also serves to showcase Irene's chic gowns and dress suits worn by Doris. A champion of costume design, Irene was nominated for an Academy Award for Midnight Lace, but Arlington Valles snagged home the award that year for his creations in Spartacus.
Doris's real-life husband Martin Melcher, and fellow producer Ross Hunter, had Universal release the film in October 1960 in New York City, though not in London as one would expect with regards to the story's setting. Hunter made his mark in crafting lush Technicolor dramas during the 1950s and 1960s, usually casting Doris, Lana Turner, or Jane Wyman in the lead role. He took a risk making a suspense, but it proved to be a wise move.
The film suited Doris well, allowing her to express her dramatic chops and it was appropriate for her legions of fans. Though one may not consider Universal's Midnight Lace in the same league as the studio's earlier horror classics, it has just the right blend of mystery and glamour to make it a satisfying flick to watch on a Friday night.
Just be sure you don't pick up the phone if it starts to ring...you never know who might be on the other end.
This post is my ( Diana ) contribution to the Universal Blogathon being hosted by yours truly, Silver Scenes. Be sure to check out all of the great posts covering Universal's most memorable classics from the 1910s-1960s.