Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MIDNIGHT LACE 1960

The "woman-in-peril" melodrama is a popular subgenre of film which fell neatly under the banner of the "woman’s picture” of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Early films in this mold (Rebecca - 1940, Suspicion - 1941, Gaslight -1944) combined aspects of the horror film, film noir, and the romance gothic in suspense narratives with female protagonists bedeviled by men who, under usual circumstance, would be considered both dashing and desirable.
In the postwar years, when Hollywood took to aggressively reinforcing more traditional gender roles, these sophisticated romantic dramas became decidedly more domestic in focus (Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm -1951, Doris Day in 1956's Julie - the original "The stewardess is flying the plane!" thriller), and more noticeably fashioned to appeal to a female audience.

The relative drab of these black & white suburban suspense thrillers eventually gave way to the tonier, full-color escapism of a the “posh women in peril” subgenre; which substituted aproned-housewives for moneyed ladies of leisure, and offered the diversion of seeing well-turned-out heroines menaced in plush surroundings. To this latter category belongs producer Ross Hunter’s Midnight Lace, an appealingly glossy, routinely effective, thoroughly predictable woman-in-peril melodrama graced by a persuasively committed performance by Doris Day.

The Victim:
Doris Day as Katherine "Kit" Preston
 Overdressed + Overactive imagination = Patronized 24/7
The Suspects:
Rex Harrison as Anthony Preston
Neglectful husband with one too many last-minute "business" emergencies
Myrna Loy as Aunt Bea Coleman
Oversolicitous matron with a penchant for comic headwear
John Gavin as Brian Younger
Phone-happy, shell-shocked veteran with appalling British accent 
Roddy McDowall as Malcolm Stanley
A Gen-X prototype. The entitled, ne'er-do-well son of the Preston's Dickensesque housemaid.
Natasha Parry as Peggy
Smartly-dressed neighbor with an absentee husband and a too-canny talent for

always being at the right place at the right time
Herbert Marshall as Charles Manning
Avid gambler & worrier possessed of the staggering ability to look guilty absolutely all of the time 
Anthony Dawson as Roy
Silent skulker who might as well wear sandwich board reading "Suspicious Character" 

A Dial M for Murder alumnus
John Williams as Inspector Byrnes
Literally phoning in his identical performance from Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) 

Midnight Lace is the very last of Doris Day's regrettably few forays into drama (a gifted and versatile dramatic actress, Day nevertheless put herself so emotionally through the wringer for this film that she hereafter only appeared in comedies and one musical: Billy Rose' Jumbo - 1962). This high-toned hand-wringer about an American heiress in London who can't get anyone to believe she's being terrorized by threatening phone calls from an unseen assailant who's also making sundry attempts on her life is a suspenser catering shamelessly to the Ladies Home Journal/Women’s Wear Daily crowd. At frequent intervals director David Miller (Sudden Fear -1952) and producer Ross Hunter (Portrait in Black - 1960) find it necessary to pad out events and throw mis-en-scène to the wind in an effort to play up the film's “feminine” distractions:
Thrill at the splendor of the ballet! Featuring excerpts from Giselle, Petrouchka, and Swan Lake! 
Gasp at the divoon frocks and bed jackets designed by wrested-out-of-retirement
"Irene," who earned herself an Oscar nomination for her trouble
Even Don Loper would swoon over the magnitude of millinery on display!
(Although I don't recall if any are in fuchsia and purple)
Midnight Lace is the kind of movie you can imagine Lucy and Ethel taking in at a matinee after luncheon at Schrafft’s (with hats!), then talking animatedly about Doris Day’s gowns and the relative “dreaminess” of Rex Harrison and John Gavin as they take the train back to Westport.
Midnight Lace wastes no time in getting underway, swiftly setting a wobbly foundation of emotional instability for Doris Day’s harried heroine to hurl herself from. As American heiress Katherine Preston, Day plays a newlywed “work widow”: a lonely London expatriate three months married to a British financier (Harrison) whose unforgiving work schedule leaves her with far too much free time. Too much time to roam the unfamiliar city alone; too much time to grapple with the confusing monetary exchange rates; and (as per the plot) too much time to fabricate phantom assailants in an effort to garner the attention of her neglectful husband.

Though the film makes us privy to the fact that she is indeed the target of threatening phone calls and a series of near-fatal mishaps, Kit’s nervous excitability, combined with a septet of vaguely suspicious supporting characters, conspire to create just enough doubt as to whether Mrs. Preston is actually the victim or the agent of her torment.
When one settles down to watch a film like Midnight Lace—the motion picture equivalent of those paperbacks you buy at drugstores and airport gift shops for the sole purpose of reading poolside or on the beach—certain rules must be applied: you either surrender yourself to its contrivance, artificiality, and slavish adherence to form, or else you’re simply better off watching something else.

In movies like this, you buy into the fact that characters never say anything directly when they can confuse and obfuscate with round-robin statements like, “It was the man on the phone! I saw him! I mean…I didn’t actually see him, but I KNOW it was him!” You allow for characters never alleviating another character's fears by announcing their arrival, letting their presence be known, or merely introducing themselves. You accept that all normal fearful responses to unsettling events will be met by the suggestion to “Put it out of your mind,” “Don’t give it another thought,” or the laziest cliché of all, “Get some sleep.”
In order for films like this to work, a ringing phone has to be treated like a summons from the Queen; it simply cannot be ignored. Friends and loved ones know you're being harassed by a phone maniac, so of course they will be placing calls to you at regular intervals.  And it goes without saying that just hanging up on the pervert is never an option. Not when the victim can ask the same question over and over again ("Who are you?!?) certain that the 12th entreaty will yield a result different from the 7th. 

But the necessity to check your brain at the door doesn’t mean one can’t simultaneously marvel at the manner in which the entire plot of Midnight Lace hinges on and is propelled by the Freudian fear (and subsequent dismissal) of the “hysterical woman,” complete with its psychological tie-in to sexual frustration.
Midnight Lace was adapted by two male screenwriters from the play Matilda Shouted Fire by British playwright Janet Green. Green was co-writer of two of the UK’s most influential “social problem” films: Sapphire- 1959 (racism) and Victim -1961 (homosexuality).
I have no idea how closely the motion picture hews to the original play, but I suspect the entire enterprise would clock in at roughly 23-minutes had it dispensed with the presupposition that women are inherently emotional creatures, strangers to logic, and prone to coming unglued under stress. 
Midnight Lace's overweening patriarchal tone—apparent in the galling level of male condescension Day’s character has to contend with—would all seem rather quaint and easy to shrug off with a “That’s how it was back then,” were it not rooted in a “protect women from themselves” cultural mindset that persists today (Google: Roomfuls of men legislating women’s bodies).


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
In spite of its creaky sexual politics, Midnight Lace is a surprisingly watchable little thriller that shares a lot in common with another of my favorites, Elizabeth Taylor’s sole foray into the suspense thriller genre, 1973s Night Watch. In both films a neglected wife’s claims of being terrorized are met with both suspicion and disbelief by male characters. In each film the women are driven to the brink of hysterical madness, suspected of fabricating an emotional crisis out of a neurotic response to loneliness. The similarities in plot and tone are intriguing, but the more contemporary feminine perspective of Night Watch (another film adapted from a play written by a woman) recognizes and incorporates the sexist tropes of the woman-in-peril genre and subverts them to startling effect.
Like a great many genre films, Midnight Lace hews rather religiously to form, but thanks to its sleek production values and old-fashioned style, manages to entertain even while offering few surprises as it wends its way to its conclusion. A conclusion which took me very much by surprise when I first saw this on late night TV as a kid, but which seems embarrassingly obvious to me now. Midnight Lace was released just a month after Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and as with that film, trailers for Midnight Lace encouraged patrons to see to the film from the beginning and not to divulge to friends “the shocking surprise ending!”

Myrna Loy, whose career spanned the silent era through to the 1980s, is a welcome presence 

PERFORMANCES
In the loony disaster film Airport 1975 Karen Black played a stewardess left to fly a commercial jet after the flight crew is injured. The fact that Black played her absurd scenes with the utmost of conviction drew both laughs and criticism at the time, but in a 2009 interview the actress explained that her oft-parodied intensity was a result of having seen the film’s rushes. It seems she noticed the cabin sequences were being played for laughs or soap opera (Midnight Lace’s Myrna Loy is present as a comic dipsomaniac) and none of the characters were reacting to the impending danger of the plane crashing into the Utah mountains. Karen Black’s acting choices for the cockpit scenes came down to “I realized that if I didn’t care that the plane got over the mountain, no one in the audience would.” 
McDowall, Loy, and even Day had little good to say about working with Rex Harrison, his well-documented unpleasantness in this case perhaps attributable to the recent death of wife Kay Kendall

Well, Doris Day pulls off something similar in Midnight Lace. Surrounded by a talented (if decaffeinated) cast giving earnest, stiff-upper-lip performances (Harrison, Parry, Williams) or outright rotten ones (John Gavin), Day being in a near-constant state of distress, panic, terror, and sobbing may come off as shrill to some, but her 100% commitment to the material is the single element providing Midnight Lace with whatever thrill factor it has. In a plot bordering on the preposterous, Day makes the menace believable and her character's emotional disintegration compelling. Doris Day is one of my all-time favorites, and though she's well-respected and beloved by many, has never been given what I think is her due as an actress (WHEN is the Academy going to give her an Honorary Oscar?) 

In Midnight Lace, Doris Day’s natural delivery and grounded, level-headed bearing works miracles with the film’s artificial dialogue and contrived plotting. No matter what histrionics the script requires of her, Day's innate practicality prevents her character from appearing neurotic or unhinged. Indeed seeing such a healthy, uncomplicated screen persona crumble under pressure give her scenes of torment an  unsettling authenticity. No pretty "movie star" screaming here. Day cries, wails, and lets out with guttural sobs that are positively heart-wrenching. The movie itself may be a tad overwrought, but I find nothing lacking in Doris Day's impeccable performance. 
In her memoirs, Doris Day recounts that for this scene she channeled memories of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her first husband. So successful was she at working herself into a state of  near-hysteria, Day actually suffered something of a breakdown and the production had to be briefly shut down. 

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Midnight Lace is an old-school Hollywood “movie” movie at its best. If you have a taste for such things, these last-gasp studio entries before Hollywood shifted to experimentation and naturalism can offer many amusing diversions. For instance, I was surprised to learn that the film was actually shot in England (unless IMDB refers to second-unit work), for everything looks as though it was filmed on a soundstage. 
Similarly, for a film of this period, I was impressed with the color photography. At a time when flat, overlit sets were the order of the day, Midnight Lace’s cinematography (Russell Metty, Oscar winner for Spartacus) has a richness and depth that makes marvelous, atmospheric use of shadows and color. It's one of those movies where everybody is always being offered a drink, women sleep in full makeup, and there is no such thing as dressing casually. And of course it’s difficult not to giggle every time a scene is contrived to be filmed in longshot so as to better showcase one of Day’s many lovely, matronly costumes.  
I really think I have to reassess my longstanding indifference to Roddy McDowall. Cropping up on this site in no less than seven films, I'm starting to not only grasp that he was the Kevin Bacon of his time--appearing with practically everyone in Hollywood at one time or another--but I see that what he lacked in versatility, he more than made up for in dependability. He consistently turns in solid (albeit, one-note) performances in one thankless role after another. 

These days I'm not really sure what condition the woman-in-peril film genre is in (my hunch is that TVs Lifetime Network pretty much wore it into the ground), but 1960s Midnight Lace stands as a high-style entry with plenty of retro appeal and boasts Doris Day giving one of her best dramatic performances. Forget that it was originally targeted to female audiences, this Lace is one size fits all.


BONUS MATERIAL
Midnight Lace's sole Academy Award nomination went to the costume designs by Irene (Lover Come Back). Universal made available to theaters a promotional featurette titled High Style Elegance showcasing Doris Day modeling the many costumes from the film. Along with fashion-centric ads placed in leading national ladies' magazines, the featurette was intended to inspire hoards of female theater patrons to stampede their nearest department store and demand it stock the Irene, Inc. line of Women's Wear.
Here Ms. Day models a leopard-print crowd-pleaser that never made it into the finished film. Watch the featurette (German soundtrack) HERE.


For a time in the 1980s, it seemed as though every third woman starring in a motion picture was portraying a TV reporter. Here, a year before Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road) portrayed a TV reporter terrorized by a stalker in the feature film The Seduction (1982), Dallas's Mary Frances Crosby played a TV reporter terrorized by a stalker in a truly wretched 1981 remake of Midnight Lace. Its plot retooled to dispense with a great deal of the original's patriarchal tone (along with a great deal of the original's coherence); in its place is almost unwatchable mediocrity and tedium. Those with a masochistic streak and taste for the obscure can catch this thrill-free thriller on YouTube while you can.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

34 comments:

  1. Confession, Ken: I am the owner of an original "Midnight Lace" one-sheet poster: "The Woman in the Midnight Lace: Target for Temptation...or Terror!" It hung on my bedroom wall for years! Doris's 110% commitment to every film role, no matter how ridiculous, is what makes her so memorable. In that way she's a little like Joan Crawford, imo. Luckily she never descended to Trog-ian depths. Great review!

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    1. That's some confession, Peter! If it's that poster with the maze graphic featuring Doris shot through Lace alongside a panel of "artist's rendering" recreations of scenes from the movie depicting various forms of temptation and terror heaped upon our heroine's head...well, I am seriously jealous.
      I love those melodramatic old movie posters, and the ones I've seen for "Midnight Lace" are so striking (and camp), they all are definite keepers.
      I hadn't thought of it until you made the comparison, but Day does indeed possess Crawford's ability to invest in a role no matter how preposterous. One of my favorite films of hers is the widely despised "With Six You Get Eggroll," but it's Day's sincere,110% commitment to the sitcom antics that actually makes it work.
      Although I would have loved to have seen her in more dramatic roles, I'm sure all her fans are pleased that she was never coaxed out of retirement for a bottom of the barrel hagsploitation flick or something.
      Thanks very much for your comments/confession, Peter!

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  2. So much fun! I'm glad you got around to this one. I recall your amusing comments when you read my take on it several YEARS ago! I had a feeling as I was reading it that you were going to draw a parallel to "Nightwatch," which I know is a favorite of yours (and which I have yet to see!!) Also interesting is your comparison of Day to Karen Black, for Black's movie "Airport 1975" was in some ways a redeux of Doris Day's "Julie" and they both really gave it what they had despite the lunacy around them. They should have had Doris play the little drunk lady that Loy did in "Airport 1975!" Ha ha! And do what you need to do to me, but even with a horrid accent and allegedly wooden acting, I'd still rather be in John Gavin's arms at the end of as movie than Rex Harrison's. I just wish his construction-oriented character had been shown in less (or at least tighter!) clothing. What was Ross Hunter thinking?!? Letting Hitchcock and Kubrick show off more of Gavin's hot physique than he did! Ha!

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      I had to take another look at your “Midnight Lace” post to refresh my memory of some of your witty observations (5 years ago!...no wonder I'd forgotten I'd read it) - Favorite: the fact that Doris ignores all those "Danger" signs at the construction site and risks life and limb for an easy entry to her apartment
      You really do owe it to yourself to take a look at "Night Watch" when you can. Especially as you're familiar with "Julie" and will probably be amused by the 6 degrees of separation between Midnight Lace, Julie, and Airport 1975- the only way Doris Day and Karen Black will ever be mentioned in the same context, acting wise...(although the idea of Day doing an against-type comic cameo in an Airport movie is too good to let slide).
      And of course, I can understand the appeal of John Gavin, who is undeniably attractive in a “Let’s not talk, let’s just have sex” kind of way. But do you ever see actors of such unremitting blandness and mediocrity that they actually make you angry? (Chris O'Donnell comes to mind) Well, Gavin always hits me the wrong way. I always want to stick him with a pin or something to get some kind of emotion out of him (Doesn’t someone actually do that to him in “Thoroughly Modern Millie?”)
      But your point is well taken, what with “Midnight Lace” targeting the feminine crowd, it’s a wonder gay producer Ross Hunter didn't somehow work it so more of Gavin was on display than his prominent jawline.
      But then again, I'm always thrown by that sexless "midnight lace" getup Doris Day wears that is supposed to get Rex Harrison's amorous blood pumping. It's so …nothing. Like something you'd buy from Frederick's of Sun City.
      Speaking of Rex Harrison, I've always thought there was something so reptilian about him. He was always saved by his accent.
      Great to hear from you, Poseidon! Thank you!

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  3. I'm glad you mentioned "Cause for Alarm." That's a movie where if you approach it not liking Loretta Young's character, or as a demented version of I Love Lucy, it's hilarious!

    I've been trying to get more of a handle on Doris Day as an actress--I've seen The Man Who Knew Too Much, of course, but since I have an aversion to glossy 50s musicals and slick 60s Hollywood comedies, there's not much to choose from. Probably Love Me or Leave Me?

    I watched Midnight Lace a few years back and remember not liking it too much. Like Charade and Arabesque, it was a "not-Hitchcock movie." Obviously trying to capture what Hitch did in his 50s run, but lacking something. Staying on the surface.

    (BTW, based on your blog, I'm watching more movies I normally wouldn't spend the time on lately, notably What's Up Doc? and Bonjour Tristesse.)

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    1. "Cause for Alarm" really is a riot! I saw it for the first time on TCM due to a blurb that described the film as "Loretta Young spends 90 minutes trying to get a letter back"...and indeed, that's what the film is.
      It's a suburban horror movie. I think it's the only Loretta Young performance I've ever been able to stand.

      As much as I like Doris Day, I'm one of those who has to pass on her so-called sophisticated sex comedies with Rock Hudson and those other lookalike male tentposts. She's undeniably good in them, but those movies just wear me out. I think "Love Me or Leave Me" or even "Calamity Jane" are the best Doris Day films for non Doris Day fans.
      This one depends a bit on one's tolerance for the woman-in-peril genre itself. It's a given that the women in these films act as though they have no personal agency, and follow the directives of their husbands as though they were children.
      Lastly, congrats on extending beyond your movie comfort zone and taking a chance on films that might otherwise not hold much interest for you.
      I've been trying to do the same lately with a subscription to the Criterion films streaming website Filmstruck. I haven't seen many foreign films, and I must say, I have been delightfully surprised by how much I've enjoyed some of these films I wouldn't have given the time of day in the past.

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    2. >>Lastly, congrats on extending beyond your movie comfort zone and taking a chance on films that might otherwise not hold much interest for you.

      Well, I didn't say I liked them. Actually, I thought Bonjour Tristesse was well acted and beautifully shot--just not my kind of story.

      I liked everything about What's Up Doc? except the relationship between two leads--I didn't get why she glommed onto him initially and why we were supposed to feel they were destined to be together.

      I've got Filmstruck as well, but still using it about 2/3 if the time to revisit things I've seen before.

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    3. But that’s often the point I address in my posts, and is most certainly the overriding thrust of this blog. In writing enthusiastically about a film, I’m expressing a wholly subjective experience (hence the personal info and biographical contextualizing I often include). It’s never an endorsement of a film or a call to others that they are guaranteed of having a similar experience.
      Telling people what they “will” or “should” like may be the cornerstone of professional film criticism and rating sites that use percentages to gauge whether a film is good or bad…but it’s all subjective.

      If you’re inspired by something I’ve written to explore a particular film, that speaks more to what you’ve gleaned from the piece, and what you seek in the films that you watch.
      If congratulated you, it was for your risk taking. Your liking a particular film doesn’t really enter into it for me, because what you feel about a movie belongs to you and you alone…it is no reflection of the quality of the films themselves, nor is it reflective of anything other than your subjective experience.

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    4. Oh, I get that--one of things I find interesting about your blog is that most of the movies you talk a about are either things I love (or at least have a strange fascination with, like The Sentinel) or films I'd never think of watching. No middle ground. The write-ups are always fun, though, and I'll often laugh out loud as I'm reading.

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  4. Great fun to read, Ken! You covered all the angles on the “woman in jeopardy” genre/Doris Day resume/Ross Hunter’s style on steroids : )

    “Midnight Lace” is one of those studio era suspense movies that I have to be in the mood for. If I’m not feeling inclined toward massive suspension of disbelief, movies like “Lace,” “Sudden Fear,” “Portrait in Black,” or some of Hitchcock’s lesser efforts grate on my nerves, for all the reasons you so entertainingly listed. But if I want a familiar genre with a great star, I just go with it and enjoy the cinematic ride.

    Though I think dramatically Day was shown to best advantage in “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and especially, “Love Me or Leave Me,” Doris certainly gives her all in “Midnight Lace,” and then some!

    I had a dear old friend who was born the same year as Doris Day. Alice was a life-long movie fan and she always admired Doris Day’s fashion sense and “darling” figure. One of the big compliments of Alice’s life was when a pal of one of her then-teenage sons told her that she was pretty as Doris Day!

    As I wrote recently in my blog essay on Doris Day, I couldn’t stand her as a kid, but gradually came to appreciate her charms as an adult. At 95, it’s appalling that the Academy hasn’t honored Doris Day.

    On the other hand, I never “got” Rex Harrison’s appeal. On-screen, he always seemed sour and scowling. Off-screen, I’ve rarely read of any co-worker who had anything good to say about him. How he got the nickname “Sexy Rexy,” I’ll never know. He must have had “hidden charms,” as my Dad used to say! The one amusing story I read regarding Rex was how Elizabeth Taylor made it her mission to charm a gift of jewelry out of the notoriously cranky and CHEAP co-star.

    Speaking of Liz, I loved the connection you made between Day’s “Lace” and Taylor’s “Nightwatch.” Both stars have been accused of being “shrill,” but in suspense movies that seems to be part of the parcel! To me, Doris and Liz represented polar opposites in Hollywood’s female archetypes, and their characters’ behavior in these movies just reinforces their distinctive personas.

    Cheers, Rick

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    1. Hi Rick
      I'm in a similar camp as you in not being particularly fond of Doris Day in my youth. The white-bread sunniness of her 70s TV show was off-putting during my seeking-of-angst teens.
      However, in spite of still not being overly fond of some of her films, I really have grown to respect (as I did with Joan Crawford) her professionalism.
      I think I would have a better response to "The Man Who Knew Too Much" if i harbored a better opinion of Jimmy Stewart. I know it's practically sacrilegious to say so, but he has always bothered me as an actor. That why I think the creepy character he plays in "Vertigo" was such a good fit.
      Day, though, just gets better with age. I like her immensely. But I can fully understand how these Ross Hunter melodramas can grate on one's nerves. My partner and I watch "Midnight Lace" and the fun is that the film virtually dares you to take it seriously.

      You 'hidden charms" comment made me laugh, for honestly, I've always thought him one of the least sexy leading men out there. Never got his appeal.
      Nice observation in noting that Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day, in representing opposite ends of the actress archetype spectrum, bring out distinctly different qualities in a similar genre.
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful input here, Rick. And I appreciate that you enjoyed the essay. Much appreciated!

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  5. Regarding your comment on Roddy McDowell, I’m surprised no one has written a book about him, as there sure are books out about everyone else (Doris’ was excellent IMO, back before the glut of celebrity autobiographies). Doesn’t he know where all the bodies are buried? I took him to be a legendary busybody (not in a bad way) and a Hollywood social institution. Doris Roberts writes about him in her book, as did Dominick Dunne. I was in an elevator with him in Fort Lauderdale in the 70’s (we didn’t speak, he was in a tan jumpsuit), and watched his Malibu home movies on youtube.

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    1. Hello lolou
      Yep, the man who was known as "Hollywood's Best Friend" apparently achieved that status by being very tight-lipped hen it came to the lives of the celebrities he knew as well as his own.
      It's both admirable and a shame he wasn't into talking, for he really did seem to know/meet about everyone.
      My partner is a costume designer and back in the late 80s he went to Roddy McDowall's house in Studio City for a birthday party (McDowall's). My partner is not what you'd call even remotely as starstruck as, so he mostly only remembers that McDowall was very nice and that he kept the place very dark. There were many guests who were young men in their 20s, and my partner got the sense the darkness was to soften McDowall's appearance. When one blunt soul actually asked aloud "Why is it so dark?" MacDowall responded that it created "atmosphere."
      I've not heard too much about him (only I read somewhere online that apparently Annette Funicello hated him!), my only issue with him was that he was so often the same in role after role.
      I would think to myself, how does he prepare for his part in this movie or that, because there is never any deviation from the basic Roddy McDowall performance. He's always the same.
      That's why I like him so much in "Evil under the Sun"...it's like the only time he ever adopted a character! It would be wild if someone one day would write a book about him. He was another of those old-school gay guys who everyone knew was gay, but who never actually came out.

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    2. Hi,
      I think Roddy's capacity for discretion was epitomized when he managed to stay on good terms with both childhood pal Elizabeth Taylor and close friend Sybil Burton during the Cleopatra scandal.

      I told my brush with Roddy McDowall on Poseidon's blog, but I'll repeat: when the actor/photographer was promoting the last of his celebrity photo books, Roddy was doing a signing in one of Chicago's big bookstores, Rizzoli's, I think. There was a huge line, and I approached, hesitantly. When he looked up, Roddy gave me a look worthy of the Big Bad Wolf. I, being much shyer then, probably looked like Bambi in the headlights...and got the hell out of there!

      Rick

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    3. You're right, managing to remain friends with "the wife" AND "the other woman" is discretion defined.
      And love your McDowall anecdote! You're a wonderful writer...you could write a biography of McDowall and use that as the preface. Although I suspect you'd need the sleuthing skills of Poirot and Miss Marple to get any facts about the man's discreet life.

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  6. Dear Ken: At last! I've been waiting for you to do this one!

    Doris is my all-time favorite actress and singer (which probably comes as no surprise, given how often I reference her in my other comments on your blog). I have a feeling for Doris (notice I refer to her on a first-name basis!) that is pretty close to love, although I've never met her. Everything she does is so endearing, charming and compelling to me that even when I know on an objective level that a performance of hers may be lacking, or that she's not the world's greatest dancer (she actually seems a little on the big-boned and awkward side in her Warners musicals), I can't help being enchanted by her. "That's just my Doris," I smile to myself.

    That said, I do have a hard time sitting through some of her movies, and "Midnight Lace" is one of them. I think I'm made uncomfortable by the fact that her performance is "too real": one can sense her fear, her raw nerves, her desperation here (particularly in the "nervous breakdown" scene on the stairs of her apartment), and I find that too unnerving to watch.

    There is also one sequence that is an unintentional howler for me. When Doris is trapped in the stalled elevator and believes the stalker is coming for her, she reacts with a harrowing array of gasps, hyperventilating and suppressed screams. One book from years ago on movie camp stated that if viewers want to hear what a Doris Day orgasm sounds like, they should check out that scene!

    Still, there are aspects of the movie I manage to enjoy. Like you, I feel the photography is splendid (I like how in this glossy Eastmancolor movie, director David Miller still manages to throw film noir-like shadows over his actors in key scenes). I also like aspects of the background score. There are a few scenes where the theme melody is played by a solo harmonica, a touch I find extremely effective.

    Other random observations: I find Doris' wardrobe lovely (maybe I'm a middle-aged suburban matron at heart!), particularly the white bugle beaded number she wears out to the nightclub. I agree with you that Myrna Loy is a welcome presence here, and the first scene she and Doris share reveals a wonderful, seemingly improvised sense of loving affection (Doris even says to Myrna, "You're beautiful!", which is a compliment Doris frequently used in her off-screen life). And despite the cast members not having much good to say about Rex Harrison, when I read his autobiography years ago he seemed to have a sneaking fondness for Doris (I recall him referring to her as a "dear, sweet girl"--but then he took the trouble to ridicule her Christian Science beliefs).

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    1. Hey David
      Your even-handed, clear-headed adoration of Doris Day is so charming. Sometimes blind fandom of the sort I often encounter on the internet (and display with my frequent billet doux to Julie Christie) is exhausting. I love that your very deep enchantment with Doris Day doesn't cloud your judgement; nor does your awareness of the trying nature of some of her films damper your ardor for her. What a wonderful quality!

      Your comments elicited many laughs from me as I completely concur on some points (her dancing, but I never could have phrased it so amusingly), and am familiar on others (I remember reading the book that so hilariously described Day's elevator screams. I only wished I had remembered it while writing this piece, for I would most certainly have referenced it).

      But I also know precisely what you mean regarding how real Doris' torment is conveyed in this film, and, given what I know about you, I can't imagine you'd find much entertainment value in what you knew to be someone calling upon something painful within themselves for the sake of a performance.
      You really do describe perfectly what is uncomfortable for you in the film, and what works. To the latter, specifically Day's naturalness. Citing that moment when Doris says to Loy "You're beautiful" is rather brilliant, for that is the one line of dialog that has always stuck out as the least artificial of her lines. I can't believe it was scripted.
      Lastly, you're the first person to comment on the film's score, and save for the lush orchestrations over the title sequence and the occasional melodramatic blare, I can't recall much of it. you've given me something to listen for next time I settle down to watch "Midnight Lace."
      Wonderful comments all, David. Thank you for an enjoyable read!

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  7. Hi Ken,

    Oy this movie!! I LOVE every overstuffed inch of it while being completely aware of its preposterous excesses.

    Doris and her immovable hair are highly entertaining as she rather quickly unspools for our viewing pleasure and Myrna-usually so chic and she is for the most part here but why….why…why did she let them turn a flower basket upside down on her head?-is a graceful steadying presence. Those two ladies alone would be enough for me to watch this but it does offer sumptuous clothes and surroundings and some nice views of midcentury London.

    As to her costars aside from Myrna I’ve never quite gotten the whole Sexy Rexy thing associated with Harrison who comes across as slick and oily in this leading me to wonder what a lovely seemingly sensible girl like Doris sees in him. There must have been something about him off-screen, though I’ve often read what an ass he was to be around, I mean he managed to have Lilli Palmer, Kay Kendall and Rachel Roberts all fall enough in love with him to marry and Carole Landis commit suicide partly because he wouldn’t leave Lilli for her. Puzzling.

    I like Roddy McDowell more than you. He wasn’t a gigantic talent but he could twist his unctuousness to suit the role and could come across as sweet and vulnerable (though as the years passed that was rarer) or a conniving little worm with equal dexterity. Because of his notoriety he works well here making more of his small role than there seems to be because of the audience’s familiarity with him.

    In between viewings I forget that the neighbor lady is Natasha Parry and expect Dana Wynter to show up. That’s not meant as a condemnation, I love Dana Wynter, Parry just reminds me of her quite a bit.

    I got a chuckle with your note about John Williams! It is a near identical role but he plays it about as well as anyone could.

    John Gavin was so handsome and so very limited! How he had a semi important career is beyond my understanding. A beautiful himbo whose every line reading (especially here with as you mentioned an appalling accent) is clunky and dull.

    But I don’t care about any of that with Doris doing her time as Scream Queen in one ultra-luxe number after another while Myrna frets and offers sympathy on the edges I’m happy to wallow for a snappy 100 minutes or so. And as nutty as it is this picture simply has nothing on Dodo’s other foray into the woman in jep sweepstakes “Julie”. That picture is one wacky mess of celluloid!

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    1. Hi Joel
      Yes, Doris and her immovable hair are very entertaining. Even as the film they occupy challenges credulity at regular intervals.
      I enjoyed reading your comments, as they take in the small things that make you scratch your head (Loy's hats, Gavin's non-presence), as well as the general appeal you find in both Doris Day and Myrna Loy as actresses.
      Rex Harrison is a bit of a hard article. Perhaps if I knew even one person who thought he was an attractive or appealing screen presence, I'd have some insight as to his charm (as you do with your alternate take on my apathy towards McDowall), but as it is, I'm left with my own reaction to him, which is plenty of nothing.
      I really had forgotten how many striking women he'd been married to.
      Natasha Parry does indeed exude a Dana Wynter vibe. I hadn't thought of it before, but I certainly see it.
      I watched the film "Julie" while writing this post, and it is SUCH a melodramatic mess. The flat, B & W photography doesn't help either, but I certainly appreciated seeing Louis Jordan (another actor I tend to think of as always delivering identical performances, film after film) doing something different.
      Thanks for commenting Joel, and contributing the visual description "upside down flower basket"!

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    2. I don't find Harrison attractive but he can be appealing on screen at times. The obvious is Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady but in that case it's because he's supposed to be an insufferable ass and from his reputation that box was checked before he was cast. But he's quite marvelous in The Reluctant Debutante, sly funny and knowing but then his part didn't require any sort of romantic appeal. He and Kay Kendall, who is utterly sensational in the film, are happily marrieds already and his role is reactive to the various situations she manages to entangle them in. He's very fine in the wild imaginings of Unfaithfully Yours, though again why the ravishing Linda Darnell is so hopelessly in love with him isn't clear. And he was a facile comic actor in things like Blithe Spirit but in something like this or The Four Poster where he's the object of romantic affection and called on for nothing else he's just the wrong actor.

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  8. Ken,

    I found a copy of this movie on DVD at a garage sale a few days after reading your review so I guess the universe wanted me to watch it. Great write-up, as usual, and some really insightful comments from your readers. First off, I have to say I like how the appreciation of outlandish hats is becoming a semi-regular feature on your blog. Movie hats can be weird and wonderful and it’s nice to find a place where that is recognized.

    Midnight Lace is quite an odd movie, or at least it appears so to my 2017 eyes. It’s not hip and young but it’s not really a stodgy, old-school melodrama, either. Doris Day seems to be performing in a slightly different movie than the one that is being made. As you pointed out, her acting when she is terrified or breaking down is visceral and real and doesn’t have the arch, glossy artificiality of the rest of the production. (Don’t get me wrong, I love arch, glossy artificiality.) But Day is grittier than the movie. For an actress who is sunniness personified in the popular imagination, she could play dark surprisingly well. The Ruth Etting biopic Love Me or Leave Me is another film where she plays a driven, threatened character to great effect. On the other hand, Doris Day’s personal life was pretty horrific so who can blame her for not wanting to make bleak movies.

    Like you and most of your commenters, I find the appeal of Rex Harrison a bit baffling, at least in this movie. But I think if you watch The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, some of what audiences saw in him back then comes through. In that, he was imperious, roguish, a bit of a cad and completely charming. Perhaps to 1960s audiences, that Rex Harrison was still fresh in their minds. After all, they didn’t have the specter of Dr. Dolittle and The Honey Pot haunting their memories like we do.

    I was surprised to read that the costumes were such a big deal in 1960s. My wife thought they were almost unbearably frumpy. She said that Rex Harrison probably decided to murder Doris Day the moment she showed him the midnight lace garment. (I just don’t feel right describing it as lingerie.) If that was her idea of honeymoon wear, that was not destined to be a long marriage.

    But I enjoyed seeing Myrna Loy and Herbert Marshall, two of my favorite actors from Hollywood’s golden age. I would have loved to hear those two talk between takes. I wonder what they thought of John Gavin’s accent and his awkward pipe handling? Loy was such a class act she most likely kept any uncharitable thoughts to herself, but still. I also like the way you referenced Night Watch. I enjoy putting together double bills and this would be a great one. I think watching Midnight Lace first would double the impact of Night Watch. I’ll have to try it on some unsuspecting friends and see what they think.

    Michael

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    1. Hi Michael
      You and Joel make a good case for the ofttimes elusive (to me) onscreen charm of Rex Harrison. Especially in his younger, light-comedy roles. Upon hard reflection I do seem to recall enjoying the way he put his teacup on his head in "My Fair Lady," but I'm afraid that exhausts it.
      Your observations on "Midnight Lace" are on the money, several of them quite a hoot: Your wife's take on Doris' Midnight Lace "garment." Those are the kind of remarks that one looks forward to when sharing a film like this with the unversed.
      In all, it seems "Midnight Lace" is one of those films that no one gets too worked up about (it's too harmless to hate, and too affectless to full-out adore), appreciating Doris Day's professionalism while recognizing the vehicle as a whole is somewhat lacking.
      I'm glad that garage sale DVD beckoned and you answered the call good-naturedly. Thoroughly enjoyed your contribution here, and thank you for reading the post!

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  9. I've been a big fan of Doris Day since childhood (My parents were big fans,too). I liked (but didn't love) Midnight Lace. Unlike you, I always loved her 60's comedies (though I can understand why they don't appeal to everyone). My favorite movie of hers is "The Glass Bottomed Boat." Don't ask me to justify it. It's a lamebrained romantic comedy with little grounding in real life. I guess it's just that Doris Day gives it her all (and those who can't enjoy the antics of Paul Lynde and Dom Deluise simply have no soul). My favorite part of THAT film is Rod Taylor's fevered vision of Day as Mata Hari (it's hilarious). But that's what makes her so watchable, right? No matter how poor the material, you never feel she's just phoning it in.

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    1. Hi Ron
      Strangely enough, "Glass Bottom Boat" is one of the more watchable of her 60s comedies. Like my other favorite "With Six You Get Eggroll," it works for me precisely because it it IS so sitcom-like and silly. Paul Lynde in drag and De Louise being his fey comic self...they're hilarious. it shouldn't work, but it does.

      Harder to take were those so-called sophisticated sex comedies where you couldn't imagine what Doris Day (with all that hairspray) or the deadly dull Rock Hudson would even do in bed, let alone the tedium of them talking around it for 90 minutes.
      I don't know what it is, but Doris Day has a certain something that can put across even the weakest material. As you say, you never feel she is phoning it in.

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  10. Yayy, Ken, this is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures...not because it's a bad film at all, as you note it's very well done, slick and classy. But the camp elements are undeniable, from the gauze that Miss Day is shot through, to the over-the-top Irene gowns and David Webb jewels (Thank you, Ross Hunter and his production designer hubby Jaques Mapes!), to the absolutely overwrought performance of Doris Day as the terrorized heroine....which I ADORE though I bite my nails and wring my hands through the whole movie!(Julie has the same effect on me--it bothers me when people make Doris sob abd moan and cry! Man Who Knew Too Much has a great Doris-nervous-breakdown, scene, too. It was one of her specialties, obviously!)

    John Gavin's lousy Cockney accent also makes it difficult to suspend the disbelief. But I LOVE Myrna and Rex and Herbert Marshall and Roddy...

    Ha! Thank God I own this one, Ken, I am definitely popping it into the DVR between now and the weekend!!

    Thanks again for this delicious treat, your sparkling writing is as entertaining as the film--maybe even more so!
    -Chris

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    1. Hi Chris
      Guilty pleasure is pretty much the perfect description for the "I shouldn't like it, but I do" camp delights of MIDNIGHT LACE. It's always intriguing to me when an overabundance of style and ornamentation contribute to making one take a film less seriously than perhaps the filmmakers would like, but MIDNIGHT LACE does seem to veer to camp whenever the camera trains on Doris and her outfits. It's a good thing she's such a compelling actress (you're right, her onscreen breakdowns may have been few, but they clearly were her specialty!) otherwise we'd have to rely on the supporting cast fro drama, and you know where I stand on Harrison and Gavin.
      For it's faults, it IS a very watchable movie, isn't it. I'm glad to hear it's a favorite of yours as well. Oh, and thanks for calling attention to the gauze used in some of the more glamour shots of Doris Day. When grabbing screencaps for this post, a couple of images were so hazy I thought my eyes were going out on me.
      Thank you VERY much, Chris! Terrific reading your take on this movie.

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  11. Felix Gonzalez, Jr.July 22, 2017 at 3:09 PM

    Hi Ken,

    I'll tell you upfront that I did not read this review, as I have not yet seen "Midnight Lace" (one of my mom's favorites) and prefer to walk into movies knowing as little as possible. I did, however, skip down to your comments on Doris Day's performance, as I always love to see positive notes on her acting. I've not seen much of her work, only "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and the flawed but interesting KKK drama "Storm Warning" in their entirety, most of "Calamity Jane," and pieces of her 60s comedies, but I agree with you that she always seemed so committed in her acting. People often stereotype her as being a product or groomed starlet of the studio era, and while that may be true in some respects, she definitely worked hard to be a true ACTOR and not just a glamorous star. I find her so appealing especially when she plays mothers, because she seems to embody the very real mix of love, frustration, exasperation and concern that mothers experience. She might have looked like June Cleaver, but she acted like a real mom. One of the things I really enjoy about "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is that there's just a hint of darkness lurking beneath the sunny veneer of Day and Stewart's marriage. They were probably the poster children for old fashioned apple pie Americana in the 1950s, and Hitchcock smartly (and subtlely) subverts that at key points, such as the infamous tranquilizer scene. Day's acting is nuanced enough to make these various shades believable. Meanwhile, outside of Hitchcock, Stewart was also exploring his darker side in a series of westerns for Anthony Mann, particularly "The Naked Spur."

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    1. Hi Felix
      Good idea not to allow your fun to be spoiled by reading about a film you're interested in and have yet to see (especially a mystery thriller!), but yes, Doris Day really was a good actress often at odds with what was presumed about her appearance and image.
      Everything you mentioned about her playing mothers is very evident in "With Six You Get Egg Roll" her last film. The story is pure sitcom, but she is always so dimensional and real.
      And her more mature acting skills are definitely on display in "The Man Who Knew Too Much"...I too always liked that there was sort of an edge to that "perfect marriage" one suggesting Doris' character didn't give up singing entirely voluntarily. I'm not a big Jimmy Stewart fan, but Doris is great in that role, and there's something marvelously subversive in Hitchcock taking these two icons of homespun values and revealing a bit of the dark.
      The eternal questions one has about Doris Days career are the "what ifs"...If the image didn't have so much a hold over her choices, what kinds of films would she have chosen. She was certainly one of the more versatile of the studio era actresses.
      Hope you check this film out sometime. I'm certain it'll become a favorite! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your appreciation of Doris Day, the actress.

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  12. As always, I enjoyed your review. This movie certainly held my interest - I suspected Roddy McDowell as the villain. I think there was not much chemistry between Doris and Rex which is completely understandable to me - he has a leering creep factor which I find distasteful. Doris, however, was always charming in whatever role she played, even when she got a bit shrill and overwrought. She was quite good in Love Me or Leave Me, though pairing her with Jimmy Cagney seemed really weird at first glance. I know lots of people think the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies were silly, but I enjoyed them and still get a laugh at the crazy antics of all the cast. Myrna Loy and Roddy McDowell were very good. John Gavin, as usual, was earnest and predictable.

    And has anyone mentioned the DD had a killer figure?

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    1. Hello, Bella
      Ah, so Roddy was your most likely suspect! My first time seeing this film was so long ago, I don't recall which of the many likely suspects I considered to me the one most likely at the time.
      But your summation of its attributes (Doris, Loy, McDowell), and detractions (Harrison) are and so in line with my own, I wouldn't be surprised f I'd felt the same.
      I do find Doris Day's charm to sustain her even in films of which I'm not overly fond. She just has "something."
      And though I don't think anyone has mentioned it thus far, she HAS always had the most amazing figure!! Often hidden by the boxy style of so many 50s and 60s fashions, but definitely a knockout physique.
      I like that you appreciate Day in both serious and, if you will "silly" mode, for she's a consistent talent in all genres. It sounds like this is your first time seeing "Midnight Lace"? If so, thanks for sharing your 'fresh eyes' take on the film with us here. Thank you for reading, and I'm happy you enjoyed the review!

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  13. I love Doris. I'm maybe in the top ten Doris Day queens of all time. Yes, I've even stayed in her hotel in Carmel. Not even a Sixth Degree, but I was kvelling the whole time I was there. The only film star who can compare is Judy Garland. Both were top film stars. Both found success in television. Both had extremely successful careers in music, separate from their film work. And they are as different as they can be. I can't get started on Doris as there is no stopping.

    But I saw this today and it seemed worthy of posting here. I don't know any background on this cartoon, but I know who was used as the model.

    https://68.media.tumblr.com/837e2c4ee43219fbf09c6e3a6cd93b33/tumblr_orxk9yubkA1uxsnzdo1_500.jpg

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    1. This popped up on my FB page the other day, posted by a friend, and I too recognized instantly the production still it was taken from! A very good rendering and a funny "catch" for Doris fans.
      Nice to hear you are such a devoted one (I didn't know she had a hotel in Carmel!).
      Thanks for sharing the link, I'm sure a lot of folks familiar with Midnight Lace will get a kick out of it.

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  14. http://cypress-inn.com/pet-friendly-carmel-hotel/

    Your pets are always welcome! The website doesn't feature them, but when I was there 20 years ago, there was some seriously impressive film posters framed and on display. I soooo wanted her to be lounging in the lobby. She was not.

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    1. It looks terrific. Had we known about it, my partner and I would have booked a mini vacation there some time ago- we're crazy about dogs. A definite "must do" for the future.
      Personally, I too would find it difficult to stay there and not at least have the fantasy wish for a Doris sighting in the back of my mind. Thanks!

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