Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Midnight Lace (1960)
Doris Day plays Kit Preston, an American heiress living in London. Her husband Tony (Rex Harrison) is a financier.
Walking home through the park in the middle of one of London’s celebrated pea-souper fogs (which were a big thing in the 50s although now they’re largely a thing of the past) she hears an oddly distorted male voice threatening to kill her. She makes it home safely, only to have Tony dismiss the whole thing as some kind of practical joke played on her by some unknown person.
Later she gets an obscene phone call, and it’s the same voice. Later there’s another similar phone call.
There is some tension in the marriage between Kit and Tony. Tony is always busy in the world of high finance and Kit feels neglected.
Other frightening events follow but unfortunately for Kit there are never any witnesses and never any solid evidence that someone really is out to kill her. She becomes convinced that neither the inspector nor Tony nor her Aunt Bea (recently arrived from America) believes her.
The real focus however is on the psychological horror of Kit’s position, a woman convinced she is in danger and convinced that no-one takes her danger seriously. She starts to come apart at the seams.
There’s an extra dimension to Kit’s terror. If she can’t convince those around her that her danger is real she could find herself locked up in a mental hospital. Even worse, she could start to think that she might be mad.
Doris Day gives a marvellous well-judged performance. Her terror is palpable. Rex Harrison is good as her sceptical husband. Roddy McDowall gives a typically unsettling performance as Malcolm, the spoilt scheming son of Kit’s maid. John Gavin is a bit overshadowed but he’s quite solid as Brian Younger, the manager of a construction site next to the Prestons’ flat. He’s taken a shine to Kit. Myrna Loy is amusing as Aunt Bea.
Peeping Tom were released. These movies not only upped the ante in visceral movie terror and added hints of unhealthy eroticism they also began the process which saw the horror and thriller genres merge. Eventually this merging would produce new hybrid genres such as the Italian giallo, the American slasher movie and the erotic thriller. And at about this time Britain’s Hammer Films were beginning their series of dark twisted psychological thrillers.
Midnight Lace was part of this process.
This movie does remind me a little of that very interesting period in the development of the giallo in 1968 and 1969. It might be called the pre-Argento period. Movies like Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet…So Perverse (1969) and Lucio Fulci’s One on Top of the Other (1969). Like Midnight Lace they deal with murder and depravity among the rich and glamorous and powerful. As in Midnight Lace there’s an ambiguity to the menaces and the possibility that one (or even perhaps more than one) major character might be mad.
This is also an exceptionally well-crafted movie with some nice visual set-pieces and lots of inventive and tense moments. There’s glamour but there are also scenes that are very moody and subtly sinister.
Midnight Lace is a top-notch mystery/suspense/psychological thriller and it’s highly recommended.
The Kino Lorber Blu-Ray offers a good transfer. It includes an excellent commentary track by Kat Ellinger in which she has some fascinating things to say about the influence of this film on the giallo.