Slightly improbable but very engrossing and glossy...
Doris Day segued from a successful series of comedy smashes into this, producer Ross Hunter's take on a Hitchcock-style thriller, "Midnight Lace". The pair who had teamed so well in 1959 with "Pillow Talk", netting Day an Oscar nomination as best Actress, once again satisfied the masses with this slightly improbable but very engrossing and glossy suspenser. It was one of the big hits during the waning months of 1960.
The story of an American heiress, Kit Preston, newly wed to Rex Harrison and taunted by mysterious threats from an unknown person(s), has been done before. Is she crazy? Is she only imagining these taunts as a means of garnering more attention from an unattentive husband or could there actually be someone out to kill her? While a film buff may be able to see some of the holes in the fabric of the story and guess the ending before the final reel, most moviegoers will enjoy the fast-paced ride they are taken on and will easily get caught up in the events unfolding.
Doris Day is outstanding as Kit. She again proves her talent as an actress of depth and remarkable skill. She conveys her mounting fears with virtuoso ability, never going over the top into "hamminess". The production reportedly had to be briefly shut down after an especially harrowing scene in which Miss Day gave too much to the proceedings. She should have received a well-deserved Oscar nod.
Doris Day and John Gavin.
Rex Harrison as her husband Tony is suave and dapper, while Myrna Loy is a delight as Day's Aunt Bea. Mix in Herbert Marshall, Roddy McDowell, John Gavin as well as John Williams, and you have the recipe for high suspense set in lavish surroundings indicative of Hunter's unique film style. Irene's stunning wardrobe, designed for Miss Day, was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award.
If you've only seen Doris Day in her well-loved comedies or earlier musical treats, try "Midnight Lace" which capably displays another side to the multi-talented superstar.
Paul Brogan, October 2000
Herbert Marshall, Myrna Loy and Doris Day prepare for a scene.
This film was chosen by Ross Hunter, the producer of her hit comedy, “Pillow Talk.” Playing the role in the film had a great effect on her physically. As the expert she is, she tried to develop a mental image of the woman she was playing and the part became very real to her. She said,
“I became that woman to the best of my ability. To create the fear which the character I played had to project, I re-created the fear in myself which I had once felt in my own life. I relived it. It was painful and upsetting.” In one particular point in the emotional climax of the film, Doris has a very dramatic scene on a descending staircase. She says, “I wasn’t acting hysterical, I was hysterical, so at the end of the scene I collapsed in a real faint.” Production of the film had to be suspended for a few days.
Working with Rex Harrison was a great experience. She said Rex was a “darling, witty man…with a light sense of humor (that) helped keep my sanity balance throughout the rough part of the picture.”
She did love the marvelous wardrobe provided by Irene whom Doris describes as “one of my dearest friends” and “one of the most talented designers in Hollywood.” The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
Doris Day walks the red carpet in a gown designed by Irene at the 33rd Academy Awards in 1961. The category was Costume Design (Color), for "Midnight Lace". The quote on the page includes: "One of the most glittering gowns was worn by Doris Day, a slender, floor-length sheath by Irene, solidly encrusted with silvery-white bugle beads." - Los Angeles Examiner, April 5th, 1960.
"Doris Day at the moment of her coronation as Number One Boxoffice Attraction in America, with "Midnight Lace" arriving in the wake of Universal's phenomenal "Pillow Talk" (here Doris with husband Martin Melcher, left, and producer Ross Hunter on location filming).
To read Day's straight-faced account of traumas she suffered enacting her victimized heroine in Midnight Lace, we're all the more amazed, if not impressed, at how earnestly stars of her generation applied themselves to what viewers would now (charitably) call high camp. Part of my respect for Midnight Lace (and others like it) derives from its cast's refusal to betray their condescension to what most of them knew to be pulpy material. Doris Day recalled projecting onto her character to a point of on-set breakdown and three days needed to recover. Within a few short years, players briefed on irony and the knowing wink would convey their indifference all too well, and sensibilities like Ross Hunter's would run out of avenues for expression." - greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot
Her performance is expectedly excellent and reaffirms the ranking actress’ extraordinary versatility inasmuch as herein she essays an exacting dramatic role-a distinct change of pace from the lithesome, comedy romps of that pair of predecessors. Such delineation, contributions from an impressive, name-heavy supporting cast and slick-as-a-greased-pig production values considerably gloss the photoplay’s one weakness, a screenplay that falls considerably short of the high standards indicated by so impressive an aggregation of talent.
La Day portrays a beautiful, carefree American heiress happily married to an English industrial tycoon. She is driven to near insanity by a series of mysterious, filth-laden telephone calls threatening her life and subsequent incidents (which) establish that the threats are more than machinations of a moronic crank. Her husband. is portrayed with typical éclat and suavity by Rex Harrison. Also rating mention for their histrionic donations are ageless Myrna Loy, cast as Doris’ wealthy fun-seeking aunt and last tie to sanity; and John Gavin, a construction engineer who saves her life in a hair-raising climax and expose.
The photoplay’s productional mountings are breath-taking with accent on femme wardrobes, particularly Miss Day’s, which will set distaff ticket-buyers drooling. The same top quality obtains as concerns every other physical property-sets, backgrounds, Eastman Color photography and, most especially, the musical score composed by Frank Skinner and supervised by Joseph Gershenson. While Miss Day, a contemporary ranking songstress, sings nary a note, two special numbers, “Midnight Lace” and “What Does a Woman Do?” were written for the film and woven into the score. Further, there is a ballet sequence, superbly stage and performed, which will be a bonus package for the vultures for culture among the theatre-jamming audiences the feature is certain to attract.
For the superiority of these productional values, credit goes to Ross Hunter and Martin Melcher (the latter being Miss Day’s husband) who share producer credit. In fact, the picture was made as a Ross Hunter-Arwin Production venture, the latter being the independent company owned by the Melchers.
As to the feature’s one weakness, the story. It was scripted by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts from Janet Green’s British play, “Matilda Shouted Fire.” Its shortcoming lies in obvious contrivance which manifests itself throughout and reaches a crescendo in the solve-all, abrupt climax that leaves more loose ends than are to be expected in so costly and opulently cast a venture. Reviewers were handed a message from the studio’s drum-beaters urging them not to reveal its “unique plot development” lest such revelation impair the “enjoyment of ‘Midnight Lace’ for those who may see it later.” It is in that plot development that the infirmity is to be found. Scriveners Goff and Roberts were apparently so eager to make their screenplay so mysterious and their climax so surprising that they adhered to the technique of hackneyed whodunits in which suspicion is directed at everyone except the real culprit.
Ivan Spear, Box Office Magazine