Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Midnight Lace (1960)

Midnight Lace is a 1960 American crime thriller set in London (and shot in London). It was co-produced by Ross Hunter and directed by David Miller. The film gave Doris Day her last, and best, serious dramatic rĂ´le.

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.

Inspector Byrnes (John Williams) of Scotland Yard is sympathetic but he has to deal with a lot of cases in which people are either falling prey to overactive imaginations or they’re making up threats in order to get attention. It’s obvious that it has crossed his mind that this might be such a case. Kit Preston is the only one who has actually heard the voice, which increases the inspector’s suspicions.

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 mystery angle is handled well. There are four plausible suspects all of whom at some stage do things that could be open to sinister interpretations or to perfectly innocent interpretations. All four could have motives. And then a fifth possible suspect enters the picture.

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.

1960 was an incredibly interesting year for the thriller and horror genres. Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s 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.

There’s an atmosphere of wealth and luxury and glamour, as you would expect in a movie in which Ross Hunter was involved. Ross Hunter was obsessed by the idea that the classic Hollywood woman’s picture had gone out of fashion somewhat and he wanted to revive it. So it’s not surprising that this movie is so totally focused on the central female character.

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.


  1. This, and earlier roles in the thrillers Julie and The Man Who Knew Too Much, certainly proved that Day was no one-trick pony. The early '60s certainly ushered the era of dark thrillers, but fortunately for Doris, there was also room for light comedy, as That Touch of Mink, Move Over Darling and Send Me No Flowers attest.

    1. JULIE is on my list of movies I want to see.

      Day certainly was versatile - she gave fine performances in thrillers, romantic comedies and musicals. I adore PILLOW TALK.

  2. A really good film. A spiritual successor to Dial M for Murder

    1. Yes, there are some affinities between the two films. I'm quite a fan of DIAL M FOR MURDER.