Cast & Crew
In London, as American heiress Kit Preston struggles home through a dense fog, she is frightened by a disembodied voice that threatens to kill her. She races to the apartment she shares with Anthony, her financier husband of three months, where Tony dismisses the incident as a typical British practical joke, and distracts Kit by offering to take her on a romantic trip to Venice. The next day, Tony conducts a board meeting at which client Victor Elliott protests that someone has been devaluing his stock and then buying it out from under him. Tony, who is unaware that his treasurer, Charles Manning, carries large gambling debts, promises to investigate. When Kit arrives for lunch, Tony informs her that, once again, he must cancel their date in order to work. A gaunt stranger watches Kit as she returns to the apartment, where she is almost knocked down by a falling girder from the construction site that abuts the building. Contractor Brian Younger pushes Kit to safety, then alarms her by revealing that he knows her name. At home, Malcolm Stanley, the son of Kit's maid Nora, visits and annoys Kit with his typical shiftless, unctuous behavior. As soon as he leaves, the threatening voice calls on the telephone, again claiming he will kill Kit. Her neighbor Peggy visits soon after and, noting Kit's extreme anxiety, calls Tony. He brings Kit to Scotland Yard, where Inspector Byrnes questions her but surreptitiously suggests to Tony that her fears may be the hysterical invention of a lonely housewife who wants her husband's attention.
Soon after, Kit prepares to go out with her beloved aunt, Bea Coleman, who is visiting London. Although Bea's presence calms her, Tony further upsets Kit by canceling their Venice trip in order to take care of a business emergency. Just then, the phone rings again, and although Tony tries to listen in, before he can hear anything, Kit hangs up, unable to endure the caller's vile words. They meet Bea and Charles, her old beau, at a nightclub, where Bea questions Tony about Kit's agitation. After Tony mentions Byrnes's suspicion, Bea also wonders if Kit could be inventing the threats. The next day, Kit is in the apartment building elevator when it becomes jammed. The sound of footsteps approaching the dark car causes her to panic, but it is only Brian, whose construction work has disrupted the building electronics, attempting to rescue her. He takes her to a local pub, where he commiserates with her panic by describing his experience while trapped in a burning tank during World War II. His intensity makes her uneasy, and she returns home.
A few days later, Kit, Tony, Bea and Charles attend the ballet, but Tony is called to the office by his assistant, Daniel Graham, who has discovered that someone has embezzled one million pounds from their business accounts in order to buy out Elliott. At the same time that Daniel, who covets the position of company treasurer, suggests that Charles is the culprit, Malcolm slips into Kit's box at the ballet to pester her for money, and vaguely threatens her when she demurs. Over the next few days, Kit becomes increasingly paranoid, but none of her suspicions amount to anything. One day, however, a threatening call is followed by a visit by the gaunt man, and when Kit screams, Brian hears her and races into the apartment. No intruder can be found, and after Byrnes is called, he once again doubts Kit's story.
Later, Tony promises to take Kit away to Venice, but the next day, she spots the gaunt man in the street and soon after is pushed in front of a bus. Kit is unhurt but frantic, and after Peggy helps her inside, she begs her neighbor to lie to Tony that she has heard the voice on the phone. Peggy reluctantly complies, but Tony reveals that the phone has been out of order all day. He then invites Bea over and secretly reveals Kit's fib. When the phone then rings, Kit insists that Bea answer and pretend to be her, but Bea is dismayed when she hears the voice ask what time Kit wants him to call her. Now convinced that Kit is delusional, Tony and Bea send her to a psychiatrist, who suggests she may have a split personality. Tony decides to take Kit to Venice the following day, and later, while she is packing, calls Bea to stay with Kit while he attends a board meeting. Before he leaves, the voice phones again, and when this time Tony hears it, he phones Byrnes to ask him to surround the building.
While Tony formulates a plan to appear to have left the building, thus enticing the man to attack, outside Brian spots the gaunt man and tails him. Tony leaves briefly, then returns in secret. Just then, the caller phones to announce that he is coming to kill Kit. In the dark, a man enters with a gun drawn, and Tony tackles him to the ground. After a struggle, Tony emerges victorious, but suddenly turns on Kit and admits that he and Peggy have conspired to make the threatening phone calls. They now plan to kill her, making her death appear to be an hysterical suicide, in order to collect her inheritance, which Tony will use to repay the million pounds he has stolen from his business. Just as Tony attacks Kit, the gaunt man reveals himself to be Peggy's absent husband Roy, who has discovered her affair and wants to murder her. Kit races to the door, where she discovers Byrnes, who reveals that he had tapped the Prestons' phone and heard Tony make a fake phone call to the police. While Byrnes arrests Tony and Peggy, Brian and Bea lead Kit to safety.
Terence De Marney
Russell F. Schoengarth
Waldon O. Watson
Best Costume Design
Directed by David Miller, Midnight Lace may not be great art but it's consistently entertaining as a Hitchcock imitation, just like Miller's previous "damsel in distress" suspenser - Sudden Fear (1952) starring Joan Crawford. Day is cast as Kit Preston, the American wife of a wealthy London businessman (Rex Harrison). One night while walking alone through a thick fog, she is stalked by an unseen tormentor threatening her in an eerie, unidentifiable voice. The assault on her mental state continues as the mysterious voice terrorizes Kit by phone, even as she tries to convince her husband, Scotland Yard and anyone who will listen that her life is in danger. The culprit and his motives are eventually revealed in a climax set in a deserted construction site, high atop some scaffolding. Preposterous, yes, but nothing is as wacky as that high pitched voice that spooks our heroine. It might have scared audiences in 1960 but now it sounds like a character on The Cartoon Network, one you might encounter on "Courage, the Cowardly Dog" or "Aquateen Hunger Force."
Interestingly enough, Doris Day didn't want to make any more thrillers after Julie but her husband/co-producer of Midnight Lace, Marty Melcher, convinced her to do it. The reason she didn't want the part was due to simple vanity. "I might look at some of the terror scenes in Midnight Lace and see how awful I looked. My mouth crooked, my hair mussed, my eyes swollen, my dress a shambles," she revealed in her autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story (co-authored by A. E. Hotchner). Her main objection, though, was the emotional demands of the role, particularly the scenes where she was in grave danger. "To convey the terror of my reaction I re-created the ghostly abuses of Al Jordan [Day's first husband, 1941-1943]. In one scene in which I had to become hysterical, I imposed on myself that moment when I was pregnant and ill, and Al Jordan burst into my room, dragged me from the bed, and hurled me against the wall. I wasn't acting hysterical, I was hysterical, so that at the end of that scene I collapsed in a real faint. Everyone was terribly alarmed. The director, David Miller, suspended further production. I was carried to my dressing room. Marty and Ross Hunter [executive producer] hurried to my side. My pretend life and my real life had fused. I just can't walk away from a scene and shed my emotions."
Myrna Loy, who was cast as Aunt Bea, had a much less stressful experience and recalled the filming in her autobiography, Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming: "I have nothing but the best to say about Doris Day. She was wonderful to me, really lovely...The men were another story. Rex Harrison was in a strange kind of mood, no doubt because his wife, Kay Kendall, had died. He had very little time for me or anybody else, as far as I could tell; he did his job and that was it. John Gavin, whom Ross was trying to groom into another Rock Hudson, was a very handsome man who didn't quite have what it takes. I used to tease him about his right-wing proclivities. "You'd better be careful," I warned him. "You shouldn't be seen with me." He must have been careful - he rode Reagan's coattails right into an ambassadorship [he served as US ambassador to Mexico, 1981-86]."
As for Rex Harrison, he later admitted in his autobiography, A Damned Serious Business, that it was a pity he couldn't have played opposite Day in a romantic comedy - his specialty - where he would have taken the Cary Grant or Rock Hudson part. Still, the two actors established a good rapport and despite Day's brief on-set "breakdown," Harrison wrote "she credited me and my "light sense of humor" for helping her keep her sanity while we shot the rest of the picture. That was nice of her, but I'm not sure how well I was hanging on to my own sanity at the time!"
Producer: Ross Hunter, Martin Melcher
Director: David Miller
Screenplay: Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts, Janet Green (play)
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editing: Leon Barsha, Russell F. Schoengarth
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: Doris Day (Kit Preston), Rex Harrison (Tony Preston), John Gavin (Brian Younger), Myrna Loy (Aunt Bea), Roddy McDowall (Malcolm), Herbert Marshall (Charles Manning).
by Jeff Stafford
Midnight Lace on DVD
1960's Midnight Lace is Day's last non-comedic film, a suspense tale about yet another woman in peril. It's not a particularly demanding part. She plays the pampered new wife of a wealthy investment banker who has nothing to do with her days but buy designer fashions and pout because her husband works late and postpones their honeymoon. Co-producer Ross Hunter concurrently produced Portrait in Black, a mystery thriller starring Lana Turner. Both films are play adaptations by the veteran screenwriting team of Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.
New to married life, American Kit Preston is delighted with her new London home until she hears a strange voice in the park threatening to kill her. The voice returns in abusive telephone calls that drive Kit to fits of nervous exhaustion. Only Kit has heard the voices, unfortunately. Her husband Anthony (Rex Harrison) takes it all calmly and the Scotland Yard Inspector Byrnes treats Kit as if she were emotionally unstable. Near-fatal accidents begin to crop up, as does a long list of potential suspects: the maid's deceitful son (Roddy McDowall), a possibly larcenous business associate (Herbert Marshall), Anthony's own office accountant (Richard Ney), and a hot-headed mine owner who threatens Anthony over a bad business deal (Rhys Williams). Kit takes Anthony's calming advice but her only fully trustworthy contacts are her Aunt Bea (Myrna Loy) and the lovely neighbor Peggy (Natasha Parry). Also hovering around the periphery is handsome Brian Younger (John Gavin), a contractor renovating the house next door. Kit can tell that Brian is interested her, but she's not immediately aware of a mysterious stranger (Anthony Dawson) who watches the house by night and follows her by day.
Not the most adroit of screen mysteries, Midnight Lace might be better titled, "Red Herrings A Go-Go". The movie is ninety minutes of poor Doris Day persecuted by a villain or villains unknown, while we meet a bumper crop of suspects. Story elements from Gaslight are thrown into the soup, as well as big helpings of Diabolique and Dial M for Murder. All three movies concern helpless women victimized by their husbands, but this film's guessing-game format leaves all possibilities open. Rex Harrison's cultured businessman is of course high on the suspects list. Cop John Williams and menacing creep Anthony Dawson remind us strongly of Hitchcock's classic Dial M for Murder. As the tall, bland and handsome Brian on the scaffolding next door, John Gavin is positioned as a potentially psychotic killer. When Doris Day's Kit is trapped in an elevator Brian comes to the rescue. Or did he purposely cause the elevator to stall? Midnight Lace was released a few months after Hitchcock's Psycho. If we want to keep playing comparison games, the claustrophobic elevator car isn't much different than the Hitchcock movie's confining shower stall.
Many superior murder mysteries lack originality or clever plot twists, yet are redeemed by clever directors. The elevator scene illustrates how Midnight Lace falls short as a suspense thriller. When her elevator suddenly halts between floors, Kit panics almost immediately. While she's yowling in terror, a pair of shoes calmly approaches, bangs on the elevator door above her and enters menacingly. By this time Kit is crazy with fear. Only after the shadowy figure slowly lowers itself down beside her is it revealed to be Brian, the nice contractor from next door. He just came over to tell her that his men accidentally knocked out the power for a few minutes. Brian could obviously hear Kit crying and wailing all the while, but he said nothing, so that Midnight Lace could let both Kit and the audience think he was the mysterious creep played by Anthony Dawson. In other words, the whole scene is a cheat. It tells us not to bother to pay attention to details, because the filmmakers certainly didn't.
Most of the long cast of name actors inhabit subplots that turn out to be wholly irrelevant, and each is given at least two telltale moments to arouse our suspicion. Herbert Marshall looks around guiltily after a secret phone call. Richard Ney smiles mysteriously after hearing that a shakeup in Harrison's company might earn him a promotion. Roddy McDowall and Rhys Williams voice direct threats (which as we all know, exonerates them). We learn that John Gavin has been making suspicious phone calls from the pub across the street, and he tends to stare as if he were Norman Bates' better-looking younger brother. When Kit shows signs of mental instability, Myrna Loy's Aunt Bea pauses once or twice before expressing her concern.
David Miller seemingly gives little thought to anything beyond Doris Day's psychological ordeal, which climaxes in a noisy breakdown. Kit falls apart, crying and blubbering because everyone believes she has invented the threatening phone caller to get more attention from her husband. It's a big, necessary scene that Day pulls off with aplomb. That Midnight Lace works as well as it does is due to Ms. Day's committed performance.
The TCM Vault Collection's DVD of Midnight Lace is an acceptable encoding of Ross Hunter's glossy 'woman in jeopardy' thriller. Russell Metty's cinematography looks good but the images have more grain than we'd like and the contrast could be sharper. The color is just fine and shows off the picture's elaborate sets and other lush surroundings that became Hunter's trademark. Metty enhances the impact of Ms. Day's scare scenes with an excellent use of mysterious shadows.
TCM includes a full roster of extras -- a video introduction by Robert Osborne, a trailer, a radio interview excerpt and galleries of stills of every kind, including fashion poses and British ad art. The disc does not come with subtitles. The subdued monochromatic package art looks interesting, but doesn't reflect the film's bright and saturated color scheme.
By Glenn Erickson
Midnight Lace on DVD
Come on, darling, fair exchange. One fib for a broken date.- Tony Preston
Practical jokers have particular talents. Not commendable, but highly special.- Tony Preston
Nora won the Irish Sweep, madam, and left. I'm the new maid.- Tony Preston
With or without onions?- Kit Preston
With! When your husband's 10,000 miles away, what does it matter?- Peggy Thompson
If he cares enough, he'll find me.- Aunt Bea
The white gown Doris Day wears is the same dress she wore to the Oscar ceremony for her nomination in Pillow Talk (1959)
In her autobiography, Day says that during the filming of one of the more emotional scenes, she used a "sense memory" of being abused by her first husband Al Jordan while she was pregnant in real life. And it worked too well. "I wasn't acting hysterical," she said, "I *was* hysterical!" Production was temporarily halted while Day recovered.
The working title of this film was Matilda Shouted Fire. Midnight Lace marked the second co-production of Universal and Arwin Productions, which was owned by Doris Day and her then-husband, producer Martin Melcher. According to a October 26, 1959 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter, Day quit the Columbia production of Who Is Sylvia (which was never made) in order to star in Midnight Lace. A March 26, 1960 Los Angeles Times news item mistakenly stated that Roddy McDowall would "play Rex Harrison's son." McDowall played the son of Doris Lloyd, who had also played his mother in the 1945 Twentieth Century-Fox picture Molly and Me and the 1946 M-G-M production Holiday in Mexico (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40).
According to studio press materials, music supervisor Joseph Gershenson appeared onscreen, conducting the orchestra during the ballet sequence. In her autobiography, Day stated that she found the role "painful and upsetting" and collapsed after one emotionally draining scene, causing producer Ross Hunter to shut down production briefly. The film marked the American feature debut of Natasha Parry. Costume designer Irene was nominated for an Academy Award for Midnight Lace. The film marked her return to cinema costume design after an absence of ten years, due to what she referred to in a November 1960 Los Angeles Times article as the "downbeat" nature of movies.
Released in United States Fall November 1960
Released in United States on Video April 30, 1996
Released in United States Fall November 1960
Released in United States on Video April 30, 1996