Madness and… – Midnight Lace (1960)

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It is not often that you get to see Doris Day in something that is not a musical or lighthearted comedy and so this movie is thankfully neither and we are privy to seeing Day stretch her acting muscles with a performance that is more of a challenge to her. She had been in dramas and thrillers before, one such being Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, so you knew that she could pull it off if needed. While that movie saw her character worried and perhaps a little scared, this film saw her terrified and going out of her mind. To see her play such a role that does as such is a little strange on one hand and yet it showed that she was more than just a one-trick pony. When she wanted to, Doris Day could give us something we had never seen before and this picture was one of them.

Midnight Lace25Playing a madwoman, at least convincingly, is no easy feat. Anyone can scream their head off and runaround aimlessly, but to do so and make it believable, especially at the pace in which Day’s character Kit does, takes a little patience and a fair amount of talent as well. Day has that and she does it very well in this picture. There is the odd moment where it seems like there are a few too many tears, but if you were being driven out of your mind, there is every chance that you would cry just as much as she did in this film. What was really great to see was that the movie is exceptionally paced, with each incident taking place methodically, one after the other until you think that Kit is going to get herself committed to a mental institution. At first it starts out with just the strange phone calls and then soon escalate into threats on her life and while everyone believes her, soon she is seeing men who disappear and as such, that is when the doubts start to roll in. Is she going crazy? If you were not witnessing the film as a member of the audience, you would think she is.

Midnight Lace33Aiding the present madness is the solid direction of David Miller and some claustrophobic cinematography by Russell Metty. Most of the picture takes place in one apartment, one where the building is under construction and one with neighbours both friendly and unsettling. It is dark and stuffy for the most part and when those phone calls come in, they shatter the silence lending towards that tense atmosphere. With Rex Harrison and Roddy MacDowall among the supporting cast, one her husband who seems supporting but doubtful and the other as a leech and a lech; it is no wonder that Kit feels as if there is nowhere to turn and that her home feels like a prison.  As far as villains go, there is a nice twist later in the picture because it is not who you think it might be.  Perhaps it was too obvious a red herring, but when the reveal is made, it all makes sense in the end.

While there have been better films about madness – Suddenly, Last Summer with Elizabeth Taylor being a prime example; Doris Day as a woman who is losing her mind was compelling and quite enjoyable, if in a moribund kind of way. Midnight Lace is a solidly produced thriller that may not keep you exactly on the edge of your seat, but it will keep you watching from start to finish, if only to see Doris Day in something out of her comfort zone.

3.5 out of 5
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