Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942) starring Edward Arnold

EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942) is a film directed by Fred Zinnemann, screenplay by Guy Trosper and Howard Emmett Rogers based on a book by Baynard Kendrick, starring Edward Arnold and an interesting cast of the soon-to-be-slightly famous. Among them: Donna Reed, Stephen McNally, Rosemary DeCamp and Barry Nelson. Mantan Moreland too shows up too, rolling his eyes, in a couple of scenes.

This is a mighty nifty crime thriller featuring something you don't see every day: a blind detective. A burly Edward Arnold stars as Duncan 'Mac' Maclain who, in the first few seconds of the film, is shown tossing a sparring partner around on a mat while a couple of guys marvel at his manly dexterity. You see, since Mac is blind, he must make up for this deficit in other ways if he is to be viable at his chosen profession.

To that end, he is aided and abetted by his guiding dog Friday, a German Shepherd with uncanny skills and by the wonderful Allen Jenkins as Marty, a sort-of henchman - though Jenkins doesn't have much to do really since he spends most of the movie tied up by the bad guys.

Admittedly, Edward Arnold (whom I adore) can be a bit of a ham-bone, but Duncan Maclain fits him to a T - it's almost as if the part had been created for him.

According to movie maven Mike Doran there was a second film in 1945, featuring Maclain, THE HIDDEN EYE. But that's as far as the 'series' went.

Besides being fit as a fiddle and ready to take on all comers, Duncan Maclain is a pretty remarkable guy. Well, he'd have to be - wouldn't he? He's an ex-cop who refuses to indulge in self-pity and makes few allowances for his blindness, in fact he delights in fazing people who are startled to find a blind man in their midst. There is an odd sort of charm to his robust self-sufficiency.

The plot:

Norma Lawry (Ann Harding), an old friend of Mac's arrives on his doorstep to seek his help. Her 17 year old step-daughter Barbara (Donna Reed) is on the verge of falling into the clutches of Paul Gerente (John Emery), an unscrupulous gigolo and vile villain (an actor, no less) who is much too old (he's 50 if he's a day) for young Norma (aren't there laws against this kind of thing?) and what's more, he used to be step-mama Norma's main squeeze once upon a long time ago. An ugly scene all around.

That Paul Gerente is played by the ever-sneering, ever-smirking John Emery tells you right away that the character is up to no good and you begin to wonder almost immediately if little Barbara might have a screw loose. Ah, but it turns out there is method to her madness.

You might wonder, of course, what Mac's part is in all this - it hardly sounds like a case for a detective. Mac wonders too. But Norma is, I'm afraid, the sort of hapless, helpless, dither-headed woman for whom men were invented. She is befuddled by a spoiled brat of a step-daughter whom she has allowed to get the upper hand, primarily because she doesn't want to worry her husband Stephen (Reginald Denny) who is in the middle of inventing some sort of gizmo for the government's use in the war effort. (It's 1942 - don't forget.)

Well, truth be told, little Barbara knows that Paul and her step-mom were once an item AND that her dear dad doesn't know anything about it (this is what comes of keeping secrets). Hence: blackmail. She loves taunting Norma and calling her 'Darling' as if she were an equal. She believes step-mama still has the hots for Paul. The kid's 17 for goodness' sake! She is so odious it's a wonder that Norma can keep from knocking her down and stomping on her. Okay, okay, maybe that's a bit much, but honestly...

At any rate, Norma's reason for calling on Mac is really for moral support and a shoulder to lean on. His advice: face up to Paul Gerente and tell him where to go. It's up to her to take care of her step-daughter, it's what hubby expects. (Hey, those were the times.)

So Norma goes to see the loathsome Paul and they have a confrontation in which Norma tries to appeal to the man's better nature - wrong way to go - the man has no better nature.  He oozes slime.

When she confronts little Barbara at home, the step-daughter laughs in her face and right in front of her shocked step-mama, makes an assignation with Paul (on the phone). They're going to have an intime supper for two at his apartment.

So right away you're thinking that maybe this movie is going to be a family problem-daughter run amok type thing and there won't be much for Maclain to do but hang around the edges and wait for the inevitable crime passionel. But turns out, you'd be wrong.

In the meantime, Stephen Lawry (Reginald Denny) is due to go away someplace to test the new gizmo and 'would Norma go with him?'. At first she agrees and then demurs. That night she's decided to go to the gigolo's apartment and stop little Barbara from - I don't know - throwing her life away?  Yeah, that'll work. Lady, that NEVER works!!

Later when Barbara arrives at the gigolo's darkened apartment (the door conveniently left unlocked), there he is, lying on the floor, dead as a door nail and who should step out of the shadows from another room but step-mama Norma looking guilty as hell. Big surprise: step-daughter doesn't believe Norma's avowals of innocence. Long story short, they spit at each other (not literally) but don't call the cops.

When Mac shows up at the gigolo's apartment (with Friday the dog and Marty the henchman) to check things out - after Norma has turned to him for help yet again - the dead body has disappeared.

Stephen McNally, Allen Jenkins and Edward Arnold

Through a series of twists and turns, Mac discovers that lo and behold, the murder has some unexpected connection with Norma Lawry's household. Now the fun really begins.

Turns out that the Lawry homestead has been infiltrated by a nest of Nazi spies who are after - you guessed it - the plans for the gizmo which Stephen Lawry has invented and which he is currently out testing. So the house is empty except for Norma and the spies masquerading as servants. The poor woman of course, hasn't a clue.

In the meantime, Barbara is down at the little theater (she's a fledgling actress) rehearsing and acting surprised that their leading man (Paul Gerente, the dead gigolo) hasn't shown up yet. This is a very cold blooded little lady.

Mac arrives at the Lawry house with Friday in tow, pretending to be Norma's uncle. He takes her aside and whispers that something is amiss and they must pretend everything is fine until he can figure out what's what. Trust no one. The butler is suspicious especially when Mac begins making a pest of himself and later pretends to be drunk.

Back at the theater, rehearsal is over and Barbara heads home but not before we learn that behind the scenes, the theater director, Katherine Emery, is the real brains behind the Nazi scheme. I mean, who knew? Poor little Barbara hasn't a clue.

Okay, so we now have two clueless females, a blind man and a dog in house full of Nazi sympathizers. I mean, what more could you ask for?

Oh, and the equally clueless hubby returns in the middle of the night having successfully tried out his gizmo, eager to share the news and steps right smack dab into the middle of a hornet's nest.

You know, I'm mad about Reginald Denny - he simply can do no wrong. But next time he really should use a more reliable agency when employing servants.

There are some very smart touches in this film, for instance the way that Mac asks that lights be turned off when someone leaves the room -  he doesn't need lights. To watch him moving around in the dark where he feels completely at home, gives us a glimpse of what it's like for him. I love that when he is herded downstairs to the basement and left alone for a few moments, he figures out that the overhead light is on and then very adroitly shatters the bulb so that when the bad guy comes down to finish him off - they're both on equal ground. Stuff like that. Very nicely done.

I also love the part Friday plays - very heroic and not at all THAT unbelievable. German Shepherds are pretty smart dogs.

Friday the wonder dog getting snarly. And who could blame him?

Fortunately, this terrific film is available for free viewing on youtube even as we speak. Hooray! And don't forget to check in over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) films other mavens are talking about today.


  1. Actually, MGM did try to turn Duncan Maclain into a series.

    The second film was titled The Hidden Eye, also with Edward Arnold, made about a year after the first.

    I don't have my references here in the office with me, so I'll have to look up the details when I get home.
    *and I got a buncha those...*

    Anyone else who wants to weigh in in the meantime, feel free.

    1. Replying to myself?

      I wrote that first one uner a lunch-hour gun.
      It is now after lunch, which I spent at IMDb.

      The Hidden Eye (or Duncan Maclain II, if you like), was made three years after the first picture, in 1945.

      As noted above, Edward Arnold is back as Capt. Maclain, but Allen Jenkins and Mantan Moreland are replaced by William "Bill" Phillips and Leigh Whipper, respectively, signifying a slight reduction in budgetary status (even B movies had a pecking order of sorts).
      As it happens, I've got both movies at home on C2C DVDs; I'll give them a look when I get home tonight.
      I'll also check some of my reference books to see if they can shed any light on why MGM bailed after only two movies - generally they would try to go to three (Nick Carter, Joel & Garda Sloane, etc.).
      All that and more - TOMORROW!
      *If I remember ...*

    2. Thanks for the info, Mike. You are a treasure-house of film minutiae. :) I'm going to track down THE HIDDEN EYE. Actually, Duncan Maclain could easily be brought up to date for a modern day version. Don't you think?

    3. Uhhh, Yvette ...

      Not only could he be "brought up to date" ...
      ...he was.

      Remember a TV series from 1971 called Longstreet?
      James Franciscus as a blind detective in New Orleans?
      Baynard Kendrick, who wrote the original Maclain books, got a creator credit - and money (he was still alive at the time).

      .... and the hits just keep on coming ...

    4. I did remember that series, Mike, but I didn't want to confuse the issue. Didn't know that the two characters had the same creator. Go figure. I still think it might be updated to today. Might make for another terrific movie too. I wonder who could play Maclain???

      How about Matt Damon? Just thinking out loud.

    5. Hello again ...

      Actually, it wasn't that the two characters, Maclain and Longstreet, had the same "creator".
      Most likely, someone at Paramount TV remembered that Baynard Kendrick was still alive in 1971, and he got a payoff in the form of a screen credit and weekly royalty, in order to avoid a possible plagiarism suit. Things like this were commonplace in Hollywood for many years (still are, comes to that ...).

      There had been a previous attempt to do Captain Duncan Maclain as a TV show:
      In 1962 or '63 (can't nail down the date), Robert Middleton made a pilot for Revue-MCA (what Universal-TV was called then), which aired on Kraft Mystery Theater that summer. Just the one shot - Middleton was as close as you could get to Edward Arnold in the '60s.

      Today? It seems to me that Maclain works best as an older, more settled character (more mature, if you like; I've always thought that was why James Franciscus didn't pull off Longstreet in '71 - especially when he went up against Raymond Burr's more mature Ironside).
      So who in the Millenium could do "Edward Arnold"?
      Only name I can come up with is James Gandolfini - and he's pretty much out of the running now ...
      Oh well ...

    6. Well, Matt Damon will be old enough in a few more years. :)
      How about Patrick Stewart?
      But if you're going 'body-type' than that's a different thing. Actors shaped like Edward Arnold are few and far between in today's world. More's the pity. :)

      At any rate, I do remember James Franciscus and I did like the show very much. Yet you're right, he was too young. It's best if the character is an ex-cop with years of experience. That makes more sense even if Franciscus' character was an ex-cop to begin with. Don't remember.
      He was still too young.

      I remember Robert Middleton, he would have been perfect. Yes.

      Oh, thanks for the correction on Baynard Kendrick by the way.

      I love show biz minutiae.

    7. On Longstreet, Franciscus was an insurance investigator.
      In fact, that was the reason for the attempt on his life in the pilot: the villains were scared wasteless that the great Longstreet would solve their planned crime, and so they bombed him - except they got his wife and only blinded him.

      And more minutiae:
      I recently read a memoir by Bradford Dillman, Are You Anybody?
      Dillman recounts his experience playing a blind man on a live drama early in his career, and then segues to the Longstreet pilot, in which he was cast as Franciscus's superior at the insurance company.
      Remembering what he'd learned in his previous job, Dillman told the producers that the series wouldn't work unless Longstreet's blindness were cured by episode six at the earliest.
      The producers nodded and smiled, and when the series went into production, Mark Richman had the part.
      Dillman tells the tale on himself, which is the tone of the whole book - worth the looking for, if you want to put forth the effort.
      (Have we beaten this to death yet?)

    8. I really do think it works best if the guy is a private eye. If and when they ever make another series. I remember Brad Dillman - Suzy Parker's hubby and a very talented character actor.

  2. Great review Yvette - I really wished this had been turned into a series!

    1. Thanks, Sergio. Now we know that at least there was a second film. Hope I can find it.

  3. Okay, I was minding my own business and reading this movie review, merrily scrolling along, and then I came to this: " But Norma is, I'm afraid, the sort of hapless, helpless, dither-headed woman for whom men were invented."

    Then I lost it, laughed so hard I lost my place. Then it continues from there with much hilarity.

    I think, Yvette, you are at your sarcastic, witty best when you are talking about women characters in the "old" days and their lot, and the men who related to them, as in The Woman in White. Not that all of your movie reviews aren't stellar. They are.

    I must find this movie, which I will. It sounds too good to be true, full of all of the stereotypes of this sort of thing, and, of course, including a Nazi household. What else could there be in 1942?

    1. It's a fun movie all right, Kathy. :) You'll love it. I'm going to try and hunt down the second film featuring the same character. Unfortunately it's not available on youtube.

      Oh, you noticed my sarcasm. HA! Sometimes I think I go too far but then I think, nah! - my readers are used to it. HA! My mother and I would go to the movies and if the heroine didn't shape up my mom would say 'why doesn't she just kill him?' HA! Or 'why doesn't she just knock him down or beat her up or beat them both up' words to that effect. My mom didn't stand for nonsense - even in the movies.

  4. I almost missed this. It sounds like a great movie; just from the photos alone I could tell that. And with a dog. And if I could find the book it was based on and read that too.

    1. You can watch the film on youtube, Tracy, at least currently. Hope you like it as much as I did. :)

  5. It's on You Tube? I thought I'd have to knuckle under and join Netflix.

  6. So, it is on You Tube, the entire movie! Amazing! Now I know what to do this weekend.

    So, your sarcasm was learned from your mother? She sounds great, what an excellent movie partner.

    1. My mom was a hoot. Well, most of the time. :) Later in life she refused to watch any movie with violence in it and I had to really REALLY convince her that JURASSIC PARK wasn't real. She was a hoot.
      Youtube is lately a great source for lots of old movies. Most of the Charlie Chans and Sherlock Holmes are available there.

  7. Okay have to jump in too. I see Kathy's already said this, but I'll second it. "...the sort of hapless, helpless, dither-headed woman for whom men were invented." Good thing I'd already put my coffee down.

    Available on Youtube? Oh joy. Timesink here I come!

    The broken lightbulb etc scene was used to good effect in Wait Until Dark. And then, Audrey Hepburn heard the unmistakable sound indicating the fridge door was open....

    For a blind detective in contemp mystery lit, check out Rick Blechta http://rickblechta.com/Pages/SSitD.html

    1. Thanks Susan, I'd never heard of Rick Blechta. Will definitely take a look. Glad you liked my little sarcasm. :)

  8. Excellent choice and review, Yvette. There are a whole bunch of black-and-white films from the 1940s and 1950s I'm just not aware of. Fortunately, I have your weekly reviews to look forward to and I agree with Tracy about the pictures that makes you feel like watching films like these on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

    1. Oh lazy Sunday afternoons are perfect for old movies. They're practically de rigeur. (Spelling?) You know what I mean. :)

  9. Note to Susan D.: Read Yvette's reviews of The Woman in White parts I and II. And put your coffee down first! (Also, you'd do yourself a favor to read all of the stellar movie reviews posted here: the commentary is unique and right on target, so much fun.)

    And to Yvette, where are those reviews?

  10. Thanks for the plug, Kathy. :) To check out any specific past review just scroll all the way down to the bottom of the blog and you'll find the 'search' thingy. Type in the name of whatever film or book you're looking for and the link will pop up at the top of the blog. That's how it works around here. :) OR you can use the 'movie' link on the right hand sidebar - but that's less specific.


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