EYES IN THE NIGHT is based on Baynard Kendrick’s 1941 novel The Odor of Violets, featuring blind private investigator Captain Duncan Maclain. A stout Edward Arnold takes the role and has a German Shepherd named Friday(portraying himself) as his seeing eye helper.
An old friend, actress Norma Lawry(Ann Harding) comes to see Maclain for help. She’s married, happily, to scientist Stephen Lawry(Reginald Denny) and has a troublesome stepdaughter, Barbara(Donna Reed), that’s seeing a fifty year old actor, Paul Gerente(John Emery), working in the same play. Barbara is seventeen. Gerente has convinced her that her stepmother, who’d once had her own fling with the actor when they were both young, still loved him and that she’d onl married her father for his money. It makes for the usual tension between two women supposedly interested in the same man.
Stephen Lawry had been working on developing some sort of project for the government. He didn’t talk about it even with his wife Norma. The thing is done and he’s scheduled to fly, with Norma, to test it. At the last minute, Norma bows out with the excuse that if something happened, both would be gone and Barbara alone. What she really wanted was to go talk to Gerente one more time. Several attempts had been rebuffed and Barbara held it over her that she hadn’t told her husband, who doted over his daughter.
Barbara has a date with her “beau” at his apartment and arrives to find him stretched out in front of the fireplace. Then her stepmother steps out of the shadows and she believes it was her who killed her lover.
Norma immediately goes to Maclain and he takes assistant Marty(Allen Jenkins) to Gerente’s apartment. The body is gone, no blood, and Maclain uses his fingertips on the floor to notice a curved edge of dust circling in front of the fireplace. A rug is gone and it’s obvious it was used to remove the body. he sends Marty to find the super and while he’s gone, hears someone else coming. Shooing Friday under a couch and hiding himself, he listens as a man lays a rug back out in front of the fireplace, then calling from the house phone. Maclain recognizes the number as Norma’s and the fellow identifies himself as Gabriel, saying that he got rid of the body.
A fight breaks out, with Friday helping, and Maclain gets the upper hand, and Gabriel’s gun, while Friday tracks down Gabriel.
The upshot is Maclain shows up at the house posing as long out of touch Uncle Mac. Then the last half of the film becomes a battle of wits between a group after what’s in Lawry’s safe, only he has the combinatiom, and Maclain, Norma, and Barbara to stall.
Here’s where Friday shines, virtually stealing the movie. He does all his own stunts, opening doors with his jaws, tumbling over a stack in the basement so that he can climb up to a high window and go for help, finding a way to climb to a second floor window, then charging it to break through the glass. A very well trained dog.
A few things that bothered me about the film.
Donna Reed’s character used the word darling entirely too much when addressing her stepmother. It just seemed odd to me. Maybe that was a familiar address in 1942. I don’t know. A little before my time. And Maclain’s black butler Alistair(Mantan Moreland) was played in the stereotypical mode of the times. Way to much bug eyes at inappropriate times. His assistant Marty was a little comical as well. When Norma first visits Maclain, she says Gerente is making love to the seventeen year old Barbara. Considering the time of the film, one would think the context doesn’t mean the same thing as today.
There were a couple of familiar faces in minor roles. A very young, twenty-seven years old, Barry Nelson plays a thug. Stephen McHallie, billed as Horace, played Gabriel Hoffman.
Not a bad movie overall, but considerably different I think, from the novel on which it’s based. I’ve only read one of them, FRANKINCENSE AND MURDER, the last in the series. He’s a PI here, as in the novel I read, but I found a reference that he was a government agent in the novel for the movie. His partner in the books was Spud Savage and his aide/chauffeur/bodyguard a big black man named Cappo. Maclain has two German Shepherds in the books, Schnucke and Dreist.
Here’s a link to the film on Youtube if anyone is interested.
For more overlooked films, check out Todd Mason over at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM,