Friday, January 30, 2015

EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942)

One of the many things I love about old movies is their simplicity. Or is it the original audiences' simplicity? Because there are times you have to swallow an awful lot of malarkey with these things (which I happily do).

Take Eyes in the Night, a 1942 M-G-M programmer. While trying to clear a friend of murder, Police Captain Duncan McLain breaks up a Nazi spy ring. 

You'd trust a blind cop with a gun, right?
So far, so World War II. But what sets McLain apart from other cops is that he's blind. And like other blind cops, McLain has no problem getting the drop on bad guys with his own patented martial arts technique, or walking (with his seeing eye dog) to a greenhouse on a property he's never visited before. McLain even has perfect cursive handwriting. The only thing he can't do is explain how the hell he's capable of all of this.

Friday's ticked off because his
contract said nothing about
publicity stills.
And speaking of geniuses, his dog Friday can understand commands like "Hide behind the bed," "Take this message home," and, probably, "Make me a South Beach Martini, and don't be stingy with the Cointreau."  Friday is also capable of jumping 12-foot walls and figuring out how to escape from a locked basement by knocking over a pile of mattresses and... well, it doesn't matter. You wouldn't believe me, anyway. Suffice it to say, this mutt makes Rin Tin Tin look like Goofy. According to the credits, Friday is played by Himself, which is a strange name for a dog. (Memo to wife: That's a joke.)

"Four walls and a roof... or is it
four roofs and a wall?"

Smart as he is, Friday can't talk (yet), so McLain has a two-legged sidekick, Marty, to describe the surroundings when inspecting crime scenes. But when Marty's played by the perennially dim-witted Alan Jenkins, you know that the dog ultimately has the upper paw. Jenkins, on loan from Warner Bros., seems almost out of place in a Metro picture, even one on the lower-end of the budget spectrum as Eyes of the Night, but, as usual, is a welcome sight. Well, except for the blind cop.

Ann Harding is 41 but playing 50.
Donna Reed is 24 but playing 17 while
looking 35
. The magic of Hollywood!
While it's always fun to see not-yet famous stars in early roles, it's even better when they're playing the opposite of what you're used to. And here, it's Donna Reed as the 17 year-old slutty bitch (or bitchy slut) Barbara Lawry, who's having an affair with her stepmother's ex-lover (the soon-to-be murder victim). In Eyes in the Night's final scene, Reed's character is going on a date with the middle-aged McLain. What people called a happy ending, we now refer to as "daddy issues."


"OK, anyone who isn't a Nazi, say 'aye.'"
I'm not sure how many Nazi spy rings there were in America, but judging from 1940s movies, you couldn't open a refrigerator without hearing "Sieg heil!" In Eyes of the Night, the krauts make up the theatre group Barbara Lawry belongs to and Norma's entire household staff. Didn't anyone hear of background checks?

I have no idea what's supposed
to be happening here.
Edward Arnold plays Capt. McLain with what used to be called his usual aplomb. Sophisticated, clever, almost happy to be blind, McLain doesn't let his affliction stop him from doing his job, although I wouldn't want to live in a town where there's a blind cop packing heat.

But Arnold's style is partly his undoing. Adept at playing villains (like Satan in the Metro short Inflation), he makes me just a little uncomfortable when a good guy, as in Eyes in the Night. There always seems to be something nasty simmering just below the surface, like a desire to kick his dog in the face without warning. (Paul Newman admitted basing his performance in the Coen Brothers' 1940s-style farce The Hudsucker Proxy on Arnold. Take it from someone who's seen it -- it was a bad idea.)

Maybe audiences didn't buy the blind-cop premise after all. The studio waited three years before making another McLain movie with Arnold before scuttling the whole idea. These were also Friday's only movie appearances. Not much of a call, apparently, for seeing-eye dogs working with blind cops. Typecasting's brutal, even if you can hide behind a bed on command.

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To read about Inflation, go here.




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