Doris Day proves her talent as an actress of depth and remarkable skill
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 audiences with this slightly improbable but very engrossing and glossy suspense-thriller. It was one of the big hits during the final 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 getting more attention from an inattentive 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 unfolding events.
Doris Day is outstanding as Kit Preston. 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. 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 nomination at least.
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 popular comedies or musicals, try Midnight Lace, which displays another side to the multi-talented actress.
By Paul E Brogan
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. Doris had this to say about making Midnight Lace:
I became that woman to the best of my ability. To create the fear which the character I played had to project, I recreated 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 me keep my sanity throughout the rough part of the picture.”
She loved the marvelous wardrobe provided by Irene, whom Doris describes as “one of my dearest friends and one of the most talented designers in Hollywood.” Irene was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
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 1960.
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
For the superior production values, credit goes to Ross Hunter and Martin Melcher 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.
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 those who may see it later. It is in that plot development that the infirmity is to be found. The writers 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