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David Miller Midnight Lace Review

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Sorry, Right Number: Day Gets Telephonically Terrorized in “Midnight Lace” (1960) | Blu-ray Review

Sorry, Right Number: Day Gets Telephonically Terrorized in “Midnight Lace” (1960) | Blu-ray Review

Doris Day finds herself the target of a malevolent murderer in Midnight Lace (1960), the performer’s last dramatic role prior to her retirement from filmmaking just eight years later in With Six You Get Eggroll (1968). Day, despite being best remembered for her bevy of Rock Hudson rom-coms from this period, was a celebrated method performer, and the toll of taking on a terrorized damsel in distress was enough for her to steer clear of venturing further into genre (her earlier filmography contained several dramatic nuggets, however, such as the Ku Klux Klan melodrama Storm Warning in which she starred opposite Ginger Rogers, and the gangster drama Love Me or Leave Me). Based on the novel Matilda Shouted Fire by Janet Green (who scripted several original screenplays for Basil Dearden as well as John Ford’s swansong, 7 Women, 1966), a starry supporting cast adds to the film’s prestige, despite its relative obscurity considering the sum of its parts, which plays like Hitchcock in soap opera mode.

After three months of marriage, American Kit Preston (Day) moves to one of London’s wealthiest neighborhoods with her British financier husband Anthony (Rex Harrison). Experiencing her first real London fog, Kit is accosted by a menacing voice from a man who seems to know who she is. Shortly after, she receives a series of phone calls from the same man, who knows intimate details about her life and threatens to kill her. Kit’s growing hysteria doesn’t help her case with the police, with lead Inspector Byrnes (John Williams) suspecting this is a bid for attention from a bored housewife who only desires attention from her oft-absent husband. Kit’s Aunt Bea (Myrna Loy) arrives for a visit in the midst of the distress, but even she begins to doubt Kit when no one else is able to verify the calls are actually happening. As the killer gets closer, however, Kit’s fears begin to come true.

Midnight Lace, which refers to garb Day purchases for herself, is chock full of red herrings, including a menacing Roddy McDowell as the manipulative son of Day’s maid, Nora, played by Doris Lloyd (notably, Hermione Baddeley, appears as a bar owner and would later appear as the maid in 1964’s Mary Poppins). The screenplay (adapted by Ivon Goff and Ben Roberts, who would create “Charlie’s Angels” a decade later) takes pains to distract us with John Gavin, a handsome stranger who seems to be conveniently underfoot during several of Kit’s ‘episodes’ (Gavin, who the studios wanted to groom as competition for Rock Hudson, is as stiff as usual here, but this was the same year he also appeared in Hitchcock’s Psycho, Kubrick’s Spartacus and Michael Curtiz’s A Breath of Scandal) and who makes mysterious phone calls at his local watering hole. Day, of course, appeared in Hitchcock’s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) while another Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder actor Anthony Dawson also makes an appearance. Myrna Loy provides emotional support for Kit as her American aunt, who arrives for a visit, and whose wardrobe threatens to overtake that of Ms. Day, which snagged designer Irene an Oscar nod for her accomplishments on the film. And an aged Herbert Marshall appears as a non-sequitur as one of Harrison’s business associates.

Of course, it appears the concerning nonchalance of Rex Harrison pertaining to his wife’s impending doom eventually becomes unavoidable and thus Midnight Lace reveals itself to be a bit of a letdown, despite giving us the most telephonically harassed studio era actress since Barbara Stanwyck’s bedridden harpy in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Director David Miller, who began directing features in the early 40s, remains somewhat of a neglected filmmaker, best remembered for a pair of Joan Crawford titles, such as his Venice competitor The Story of Esther Costello (1957) and the celebrated film noir Sudden Fear (1952), which revitalized her career, netting Crawford her third and final Academy Award nomination. Unfortunately, Day, as good as her performance is here, is forced into constant damsel-in-distress mode, a victim of gaslighting which is both frustrating and eventually underwhelming. Midnight Lace was one of two 1960s titles which arrived after Day’s sole Oscar nod for 1959’s Pillow Talk, here in an unappreciated performance as intense as the latter was languidly comical.

Disc Review:

Kino Lorber presents Midnight Lace as one of its Studio Classics in 2.00:1. Much of the film takes place within the confines of Kit’s luxurious apartment, with the scaffolding outside providing the film with its most menacing set piece. Picture and sound quality are serviceable in the transfer, which features audio commentary from film historian Kat Ellinger.

Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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