Saturday, February 12, 2011

MINOR LITTLE FILM "EYES IN THE NIGHT" (1942) IS QUITE A NICE SURPRISE TO DISCOVER. I myself discovered it years ago and was impressed by its polish. Of course, it did originate out of MGM so its quality shouldn't come as THAT much of a surprise -- even if it IS a very small B-picture. But MGM's B-pictures would be poverty row's big budget A-list extravaganza. Going in, one expects to see the typical poverty row programmer but instead one finds beautiful lighting and sweeping camera movements, high quality sets and costumes and a top notch cast. EYES IN THE NIGHT is no film noir and it's not really a mystery; in fact it's more like a "serious" version of the Humphey Bogart feature ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. EYES involves a detective and a murder but it is more concerned with a group of Nazis trying to snatch a secret formula. The detective angle is also quite interesting -- the detective is blind. "Mac" Maclain (Edward Arnold) has a loyal and ingenious seeing-eye dog named Friday (played by Himself naturally) but "Mac" is also shown quite early on as someone who can take care of himself: he is a scrapper who can make mincemeat out of a couple men in an early "self-defense class"-type scene. Arnold's considerable bulk is believeable in bringing this aspect of the blind detective to life since he appears to be built like a tank. Mac's niece Norma (Ann Harding) has married a scientist Stephen Lawry (Reginald Denny) and clashes with his headstrong daughter Barbara (Donna Reed). Barbara is seeing a cad named Paul Gerente (John Emery) who happens to be Norma's old flame. Stephen is working on something secret for the U.S. military and has the plans locked up in his safe while he goes off to conduct testing. As previously noted, there is a murder (actually a couple) and a group of Nazi spies. I'm not going to give more away because you should really see the film for yourself.
EYES IN THE NIGHT is based on a mystery novel by Baynard Kendrick entitled "The Odor of Violets". Kendrick (who also created the characters for the "Longstreet" TV series) himself wrote the screenplay along with Guy Trosper and Howard Emmett Rogers. Trosper was a screenwriter responsible for JAILHOUSE ROCK, ONE-EYED JACKS, THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD as well as THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS (1952) for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Rogers wrote the cult film TARZAN AND HIS MATE (I wonder if he wrote the nudey swimming scenes), LIBELED LADY, FOR ME AND MY GAL and CALLING BULLDOG DRUMMOND among others. Now that's some line of talent in the script department. But then we get to the director who may be a bit of a surprise: Fred Zinnemann. Yes, THAT Fred Zinnemann; who gave us HIGH NOON, MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, OKLAHOMA, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, DAY OF THE JACKAL and JULIA! As I said, when MGM makes a tiny little B-picture, this is the level of talent they utilize.
And speaking of talent, that brings us to the cast. Edward Arnold steps away from his busy character acting status in such films as THREE ON A MATCH, WHISTLING IN THE DARK, THE GLASS KEY, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, MEET JOHN DOE, and THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER in order to play the lead here as blind detective Duncan "Mac" Maclain. Arnold is excellent in the role making a blind detective who can take on murderers and spies seem perfectly plausible. He is ably abetted by Friday the German Shephard who is an excellent trained actor performing lots and lots of terrific stunts as well as being a pretty good little actor himself. Ann Harding will forever be known to me from her terrified leading lady status opposite a scene-chewing Basil Rathbone in the classic thirties thriller LOVE FROM A STRANGER. A very young Donna Reed plays her "Veda"-like role as the petulant daughter nicely as well; proving she had acting chops even this early in her career. Reed, of course, would win the Oscar for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (once more teaming with director Zinnemann) as well as memorable roles in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Silent film veteran Reginald Denny was around for a long time in films ranging from Buster Keaton's PARLOR, BEDROOM AND BATH, PRIVATE LIVES (1931), THE LOST PATROL, ROMEO AND JULIET (1936), a slew of BULLDOG DRUMMOND films as sidekick Algy, Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA, MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE, CAT BALLOU and all the way to his final film: BATMAN based on the campy 60's TV series. Caddish Paul Gerente is played by terminal cad John Emery who played similarly-flavoured roles in such films as HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND, ROCKETSHIP X-M, THE MAD MAGICIAN, Jayne Mansfield starrer THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT, KRONOS and the BORIS KARLOFF'S THRILLER episode "The Devil's Ticket" as the Devil himself. Type casting. Longtime character actress Rosemary DeCamp appears here as a compromised maid in with the Nazis; among her countless roles on television and in films are YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (playing much older than her actual age as was her wont) as James Cagney's mother, STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND with James Stewart, William Castle's scare-fest 13 GHOSTS as well as recurring roles on TV's THE LIFE OF RILEY (as Peg), THE BOB CUMMING SHOW and THAT GIRL (as Marlo Thomas' mother Mrs. Marie). Stage actress Katherine Emery is nicely sinister as the Nazi bund leader. This was her first film role and her small list of movies includes Val Lewton's chiller ISLE OF THE DEAD with Boris Karloff, and her final film THE MAZE. And I'm sorry but nobody can convince me that Katherine Emery is not the long-lost sister of Mercedes McCambridge; the resemblance is uncanny and the voice is almost exactly the same if only lower! Another Nazi is played by Stanley Ridges who is probably most familiar to horror fans for his showing role in the forgettable borefest BLACK FRIDAY alongside wasted Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi; other films includes roles in UNION PACIFIC, EACH DAWN I DIE, MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SERGEANT YORK, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, WILSON, POSSESSED and THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN. Finally we have a small role by the beloved comedian Mantan Moreland! What more could you want from a film?!?! EYES IN THE NIGHT comes in a really nice print on an Alpha DVD as well as viewable in its entirety on the Internet Archive (link can be found over on the right). This is really a nice little film. No classic but certainly much better than it has a right to be.

3 comments:

Weaverman said...

I've been curious about this movie for years and can relate a personal story about it. Many years ago when Fred Zinnemann was in London (I think for the opening of BEHOLD A PALE HORSE) I, working as a junior in the publicity department of Columbia Pictures, found myself in a cab with the great director. He showed no inclination to talk so I decided to ask him about EYES IN THE NIGHT - knowing that talking about their own work often gets director's excited. Not Mr,Z. He looked down his nose at me and said "I do not wish to discuss that film - I remember nothing about it." The rest of the journey was in silence. Ironically, I'm still curious about EYES IN THE NIGHT, you are writing about it - nobody gives a fig about BEHOLD A PALE HORSE.

Cerpts said...

Consult the Macguffin and your curiosity shall be assuaged. . .

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