Midnight Lace (1960)

“Racy stuff, eh?” said my husband, when I told him the name of the film I was going to review next.

No. Not at all. In fact, Midnight Lace has nothing steamy about it except a rather stylish black top that Doris Day wears in the climactic scene.

A couple of weeks ago, I’d read that the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) had bestowed a Career Achievement Award on Doris Day. For someone who reigned as one of Hollywood’s most successful and best-loved stars, the woman who sang and danced her way through countless musicals; who made us double up with helpless laughter; who was, even otherwise, a superb actress when she wasn’t being a singer or a comedienne… yes, that is (like the dozens of other awards she’s collected over the years) a well-deserved honour. Atta-girl, Doris!

Midnight Lace begins at the door of the American Consul in Grosvenor Square, London, on a very foggy evening. American heiress Kit Preston (Doris Day) has been visiting the consul to get a new passport to replace her lost one. An official from the consulate escorts her out and asks if he can call a taxi for her. But Kit reassures him: her home is just across the square; she’ll walk.
But Kit hasn’t reckoned with London’s notorious pea soupers. Within moments of entering the park beyond, she’s lost.

And suddenly, out of the surrounding fog, she hears a man’s voice, high-pitched and singsong, addressing her by name. Threatening her, telling her that he will kill her before the month is out.
Kit whirls around, frantically searching for the man – his voice now seems to come from in front, now behind, now off to one side. Running wildly, she manages to make her way out of the park, and to the safety of her home.

Over the next few scenes, we are introduced to the people in Kit’s life. First, there is Kit’s husband, Anthony ‘Tony’ Preston (Rex Harrison). Anthony and Kit have been married only three months, after a whirlwind courtship in the US. Tony heads Preston’s, a large corporation which is right now going through a bad patch, with falling profits and bad blood between the directors.

Closer home (right next door to the Prestons, to be precise) lives Peggy (Natasha Parry), who’s become a good friend of Kit’s. Peggy’s husband Roy is a sailor and has been gone for the past couple of years – he and Peggy correspond regularly, but Peggy admits to Kit that she would much rather have him back.

Tony and Kit’s house is looked after by a middle-aged maid, Nora. Nora’s son, Malcolm (Roddy McDowall) is the bane of her existence. Malcolm is a perennially unemployed no-good who has no intention of either trying to hold on to any jobs he gets, or of toning down his extravagance. He’s constantly pestering his poor overworked mum for money.
Right now, Nora has a terrible cold and has been looking so ill that Kit has sent her home (after surreptitiously giving her a little extra money to compensate for what Malcolm has wheedled out of her).

But: back to where we were. Kit, shaking with fright, comes home after her experience in Grosvenor Park. When Tony arrives and she tells him the whole story, he laughs it off. London fogs, he tells her, are notorious for the way they draw pranksters out. When a particularly bad fog clears, you’ll see all sorts of things, he tells Kit: a bedpan atop Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square, for instance.
Kit is dubious, but is cheered up when Tony announces that he’s finally taking her on a long overdue honeymoon, to Venice.

The next day, therefore, Kit goes off to do some shopping for their vacation. She doesn’t realise it, but when she stops by at Preston’s to show off her new clothes to Tony, a man in a black coat (a man whose face we never see) appears to be following her. He’s also there, on the pavement, when Kit leaves Tony’s office and takes a taxi home…

Just as Kit arrives home and is walking towards the house, a freak accident (or is it?) nearly kills her. Some construction work is in progress just outside their block of flats, and a girder being swung by a crane suddenly goes out of control and plummets towards the ground – towards where Kit is happily walking with her shopping.
Fortunately, the man in charge of the contract, Brian Younger (John Gavin) manages to save her just in time, flinging her out of the way. He helps her up and ensures she’s all right.

Back home, a still-shaky Kit discovers that there’s a telegram waiting for her. Her aunt Beatrice ‘Bea’ (Myrna Loy) is coming to spend a few days. Kit is ecstatic: she is very close to Bea, and the two women had been living together before Kit married Tony and moved to England. Now Bea – fun, adventurous, irrepressible Bea – will be coming to visit, and Kit can’t wait to meet her aunt.
She’s still rejoicing over the telegram, still grinning, when the telephone rings.

It is, once again, that horrible high-pitched voice, the man threatening to kill Kit before the month is out. Kit, barely recovered from that narrow escape from the falling girder, goes all to pieces. She’s frantic with worry when Peggy comes to visit, and Peggy, on discovering what Kit’s been through, immediately phones Tony.
This time, thankfully, Tony doesn’t dismiss it as a prank, and they go to Scotland Yard.

Inspector Byrnes (John Williams) at the Yard gives Kit a patient hearing. He then sits her down with a set of headphones, while his assistant plays samples of voices of criminals with track records of being ‘telephone talkers’ – men who spout filth and threats at women and get a high out of the terror they’re able to cause.

While Kit’s listening to the voice samples, Tony has a chat with the inspector. The inspector asks about possible enemies, people who might hold a grudge against Kit or Tony, but nothing really comes of it. The inspector ends with a hint to Tony: they’ve handled many cases like this, and all too often, it turns out that the wife is trying merely to draw a little attention from a neglectful husband. And Tony, whose pressures at work have resulted in him having to cancel that Venice trip, can probably be slotted in the ‘neglectful husband’ category…

Meanwhile, Kit’s aunt Bea arrives in town, and Kit blossoms in her company. Kit tells her about the mysterious caller. Bea is sympathetic but sensible and practical, and assures Kit that it’s probably nothing to worry about.

But, just as Kit and Tony are getting ready to take Bea out for dinner that evening, the caller calls again – and though Tony rushes to the extension in the bedroom, Kit is so overwrought, she slams the phone down before Tony is even able to hear the man’s voice for himself. He does, though, phone the inspector and tell him.
Inspector Byrnes seems more and more convinced that this threatening stalker is all a ploy on Kit’s part to get Tony to be more attentive.

Bea, when Tony privately mentions the inspector’s theory to her at dinner, listens. And doesn’t look too surprised at it. Yes, a new bride, lonely and left at home by a husband who’s too busy amassing a fortune, may well be tempted to conjure up a fictitious stalker.

Over the next few days, a series of events happen. Kit, descending in the lift from the Preston flat, finds the lift trapped between two floors. She’s frantic, trying desperately to get out, when she sees a dark-coated man going up the stairs – and then coming down, calling for her. By the time he pries off the ceiling of the lift and lowers himself into it, Kit has nearly died of fright. It turns out, however, that this is not an assassin, but a saviour – Younger, the man who’d earlier saved her from the falling girder. He’s again come to her rescue.

At her request, Younger takes Kit to a nearby pub and gets her a drink. He is cheerful and friendly, and his down-to-earth understanding of her fear puts her somewhat at her ease.
But when Kit’s gone off home and Younger keeps sitting at the pub table, the barmaid comes by to ask if she should add the drinks to his bill. What bill, says Younger absently, still looking as Kit walks out the door. The bill for the telephone calls, of course, says the woman. The telephone calls he’s been making from the pub the past few evenings…

Then, one evening at the theatre, Malcolm – the worthless son of the Prestons’ maid – accosts Kit and tries to bully her into giving him money.

And the same evening, one of Tony Preston’s more diligent employees summons Tony to office in a hurry – to show Tony the evidence of what he, the employee has been investigating on his own initiative all these days. Somebody high up in the hierarchy at Preston’s has been, over the years, embezzling funds, sneaking out shares. The company is now short to the tune of £1 million.

What is happening? Does this bit of news have anything to do with what Kit is experiencing? Is there, perhaps, some enemy who is out to get Tony and Kit? Who? The unknown embezzler? Or could it be Malcolm, who seems to have no scruples about how and where he gets money? Who is the man who was following Kit when she went shopping? Why has Younger been making phone calls every evening from the pub?
And who is this scarred stranger, who rings the Preston’s doorbell one day just moments after the caller has phoned, threatening to come and kill Kit?

Or is this actually all a figment of Kit’s imagination, as the inspector had suspected from the very beginning? Is Kit trying anything she can to get Tony’s attention? Is she losing her mind?

No, this isn’t a Hitchcock. It has its flaws, but it’s still an intriguing puzzle, and worth a watch.

What I liked about this film:

Doris Day, of course. A favourite of mine, and in one of her more unusual roles here. This one doesn’t require her to sing or dance, but it sure requires a lot of good acting – from the cheerful, carefree wealthy young wife looking forward to a vacation with her husband, all the way to a woman who’s completely hysterical, probably on the brink of insanity. A fine performance from a very fine actress.

What I didn’t like:

The plot holes. I won’t say more, because that would constitute spoilers, but there are plot elements here that build up things only to have them remain unresolved. Or vice-versa: plot elements introduced out of nothing, leaving motives hanging loose. And the end left me with a couple of questions that I still haven’t been able to answer, despite having watched this a couple of times.

Still, if you like Doris Day and you like suspense, you should give this one a try.


64 thoughts on “Midnight Lace (1960)

  1. Wow! Talk about getting me hooked! This is a wonderful write-up, Madhu. And you’re a wicked woman to leave me hanging like this. Plot spoilers, now! (Since I can’t get my hands on this movie right at this moment.)

    *Rushes off to put ‘Midnight Lace’ on the growing pile of ‘to-watch’ films.*


    • I guess you’ve probably seen the movie from harvey’s link by now, Anu, so you’d know I couldn’t possibly have put in even minor spoilers without giving the game away… thank you for that compliment about the post! :-)


        • I finally watched it today, Madhu. The suspense was good. Two things spoilt it for me: 1) I remembered just how much I really dislike Doris Day 2) I recognised the voice and that took away all the suspense (except the partner-in-crime – that was a surprise!) :( It became a how-dunnit (the why-dunnit was easy!) which was also pretty okay. Aunt Bea and Anthony Preston were excellent, so all-in-all, a decent-ish couple of hours was had.

          Thanks once again for the links, Harvey.


          • Oh – if you recognised the voice, then of course it would’ve spoilt it for you! But anyway: as long as you liked Rex Harrison and Myrna Loy, and as long as you thought the suspense was good, not all is lost…


  2. I just read the into and the first para and then till you started describing people in her life. No, I don’t want to read further, I WANT TO WATCH THE FILM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Please don’t be offended. This is the first post from you, which I won’t be reading till the end.
    Ma Ma Ma Maff karo…


    • “Please don’t be offended. This is the first post from you, which I won’t be reading till the end.

      Given your explanation, that would be something to be pleased about, not offended! Thank you! :-D


  3. Is that inspector the same actor who also played the inspector in “Dial M For Murder”, he looks like him.
    I want to see this movie too, perhaps the suspense is along DMFM ?


      • @Harvey
        Just finished watching this movie, thanks for the youtube link.
        Another DMFM alum in here as well, that Swann/Lesgit guy who actually gets killed. Quite a few times during the movie, especially when “Iftekhar” is talking, it felt like DMFM.
        @Dustedoff :
        Really enjoyed this movie, thanks for all.


        • Thanks, Samir. Glad you enjoyed the film. It is a good, entertaining watch, plot holes and all.

          This film does have a few similarities to Dial M for Murder, doesn’t it? Other than John Williams and Anthony Dawson (who was Swann/Lesgate in Dial M for Murder and the scarfaced man in Midnight Lace)… what happens to Dawson’s character, for instance, and who’s behind the murder in the first place.


  4. I LOVE this film! Before this, I’d only seen Doris Day in musicals that I hadn’t found worth watching all the way through. I think I started watching this because there was Rex [Prof. Higgins] Harrison, and landed up liking Doris Day a lot. This was early on in my Hollywood oldies watching, and I did not even realise how unusual a role this was for her. It’s a pity she never did anything else like this…

    The name of this film is quite misleading – makes one think that you are about to see a Jack The Ripper kind of story!


      • Yes, The Man Who Knew Too Much is the one suspense thriller that immediately came to my mind when I thought of Doris Day, but I agree with bollyviewer – she doesn’t get to do much there in the way of being the centre of the action.

        Another Doris Day film that’s not a comedy or a musical but is pretty dark is Storm Warning. Doris has a relatively small role there (it’s one of her very early films – she was just starting out in Hollywood, I think), with Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan. A rather grim film about a small town facing up (or not) to the reality of the Ku Klux Klan.


    • Somehow, I don’t much care for Doris Day’s musicals – she’s a good singer and dancer, but the films themselves aren’t great as far as story goes. The last one I watched was Tea for Two, which was so yawn, I’ve even forgotten what it was all about.

      But I do like her in her films with Rock Hudson – especially Send Me No Flowers! Such a hilarious film. :-) (Though I guess one would say that was more of a Rock Hudson-Doris Day-Tony Randall film, since all three of them were almost equally in the limelight).


  5. Am watching this movie right now on you tube and I thought I’ll jot down some comments while I’m watching it.

    Did you see the telegram from Bea. It is from New Delhi 25 26 1630.
    It says Weather beastly and so is my host. Arriving Thursday. Save me some time.
    And then, when she arrives she says she boarded the plane at Karachi or something on those lines.

    Did you notice, Kit and Tony sleep in separate beds! The modesty of the 60s?

    The scene in the lift. Wow! It gives me the creeps! I know that nothing would happen to her, since that would be too early in the film. But all the same, the claustrophobic feeling of the lift, the steps, the footsteps, the shadows! *brrr…*

    O God, now where have I seen that bus scene before? I clearly remember that. Was there a remake of this film?

    Saw the movie to the end now. The identity of the culprit was not surprising, but liked the movie all the same.
    Liked the ending, in that, that it lets the victim become a little bit emancipated and do something on its own, rather than just be looking pretty and shrieking
    If anybody wants to watch the film it is available here:


      • Well, it would have been totally boring if only I watched the film. This way we can discuss it together!
        So, go watch it and then I’ll be asking questions and you better know the answers! ;-)


    • In fact, when Bea gets into the taxi with Kit, she tells her about her conversations with the maharaja!

      Yes, that scene in the lift was good, wasn’t it? Even though one knew (or guessed) that nothing really would happen to the heroine this early in the film, it was a well done scene. And that moment when she’s whimpering and clinging to the wall and you see that man’s legs swinging down into the lift next to her… ooh!

      I don’t remember seeing that bus scene before. Do let me know if you come across it somewhere. As far as I know, this film wasn’t remade. But someone being flung in the path of a coming bus is probably not terribly uncommon in suspense/action Hollywood.

      Glad you liked the film! (And thank you for sharing the link with everybody else too) :-)


  6. Like bollyviewer, I didn’t think much of Doris Day before I watched “Midnight Lace.” But she really puts in a solid performance in the film and while I’m still not a big fan, I do appreciate her much more. As for the movie, I loved it as well – it’s the cinematic equivalent of a Mary Stewart suspense novel – good, old-fashioned entertainment.

    As luck would have it, I’m heading to London next month and look forward to getting lost in the fog.:-)


    • As luck would have it, I’m heading to London next month and look forward to getting lost in the fog.:-)

      And pulling some interesting pranks? ;-)

      Re: Doris Day; I think (like some other great singing stars of the 40s – 60s, like Ginger Rogers or Julie Andrews), she got too stereotyped – people expected a certain style of films from these women. Films that were focussed on their singing and/or dancing abilities. Which is why films that allow them to showcase their acting abilities (Kitty Foyle or Storm Warning for Ginger Rogers, Hawaii or The Americanization of Emily for Julie Andrews) are a little less known than their all-singing, all-dancing films. Pity.


  7. Just watch this marvelous film! thank you so much for recommending. Spine-chilling and mysterious, it was really worthwhile. loved the inspector, so sharp and super with his one-liners!!


    • Hey Sharmi, I’m so glad you liked it! I was pretty surprised when I first watched it – I’d no idea what it was about, and somehow (barring The Man Who Knew Too Much), I’d always thought of Doris Day in fluffy, mostly rom com or musical roles. This one came as an interesting change from the usual.


  8. Madhu. I spent some time searching for the thread where we discussed the missing song from Kashmir ki Kali; I couldn’t find it, so I’m posting a comment here:

    Apparently, OP Nayyar was very adamant that if his songs were not picturised well, they couldn’t be used in the film. Now the Asha solo ‘Balma, khuli hawayein’ had been recorded, but Sharmila just could not manage the picturisation (whatever that means!) and Nayyarsaab pulled it from the movie, leaving only the humming that leads Shammi to Sharmila.

    (I had gone to an OP Nayyar Nite, presented by the OP Nayyar Memorial Trust in Boston. While introducing the song, the MC mentioned the backstory. I do not know how true it is, but I leave you with the info. :) )


    • Anu, you’re such a sweetheart! Thank you for that. I’ve forgotten where we’d begun that thread, too, but I know just where to put out this bit of trivia you’ve shared with me. Thanks! :-D


        • LOL! No, it isn’t that, but it’s another of those ‘dedicated-to-a-quiz-winner’ posts. You’ll see, whenever it appears… may be a while yet.

          A ‘songs missing from films’ post might be interesting, though, no? The only one I remember offhand – mainly because I like the song a lot and can’t figure out why it wasn’t included, is Chain se humko kabhi aap ne jeene na diya.


          • No, it isn’t that, but it’s another of those ‘dedicated-to-a-quiz-winner’ posts.

            Looking forward to that, Madhu. :)

            Missing songs? Jaata kahan hai deewane from CID.
            The only male solo Sahil ki taraf kashti le chal from Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (Hemant Kumar used the tune for Ya dil ki suno from Anupama.)
            And from Sholay (this I got to know of courtesy Anirban’s comment on memsaab’s post on her favourite qawalis): Chaand sa koi chehra pehloon mein ho.
            Roz akeli aaye from Mere Apne.

            I’m sure I can come up with some more. :)


  9. Your fantastic review got me hurrying to watch the film linked to so generously by harvey (thanks harvey).
    I love such suspense thrillers. No violence or gore.
    I was very amused by the gentlemanly way the perpetrator of those mentally destabilising phone calls surrenders.
    The heroic rescue at the end reminded me of a hindi film. :)


    • I’m glad you enjoyed that, pacifist! This is one of the reasons I like thrillers of this period – and of Hitchcock, in particular: there’s lots of suspense, but none of the blood and gore you see in films now. Real suspense.

      I liked the culprit’s gentlemanly way of surrendering too! And that last sentence he says to the inspector before he leaves: too good. :-)


      • A strange thing happened last night when I was writing the comment. I just couldn’t recall the word ‘culprit’. Living in a non English speaking land, English words not often used escape me now and then, but not for long.
        This time I just couldn’t recall it and used that long convoluted description of the word ‘culprit’.
        And when I read your response it was such a relief to have this lighting of the bulb. LOL!


        • We neighbours, know about this problem don’t we?
          It happens to me often as well. When I write in German, I can remember only the English words for it and vice versa. And to complicate things other languages mingle in as well.


          • Harvey I do not know whether you are reading this but I do understand your problem. Our German teacher used to tell us that we make the mistake of thinking in English and desperately hope to catch up with our German using English grammar and then everything ends up being a nice mess- neither German nor English just a mish – mash of languages.


        • I can imagine how it must be! No, it hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen a similar thing happen to my mother. She’s half-Bengali and was brought up in Calcutta, so she was fluent in Bengali when she got married. But my father’s from UP, and he spent his entire career in MP, Kashmir and Delhi – as a result of which my mum’s Bengali has become really shaky. She never got a chance to practice it, so now when she goes occasionally to Calcutta though she can understand what people are saying, she prefers to speak in English or Hindi!


  10. Thank you, Anu! I was just not being able to remember where that line was from.

    Today on Facebook I noticed that a friend of mine (he’s English, his wife’s American) was cribbing about how Americans can’t pronounce something as simple as Worcestershire sauce. :-)


  11. I love Myrna Loy and I somehow have never been able to like Doris Day much: her parts playing the perfect girlfriend/wife/mother as per Hollywood rules just grate on me.
    I think I would see the film just for the London setting though!


    • Let me warn you, bawa: even though the film’s set in London, there’s not that much of a London atmosphere in it. A lot of the action happens indoors, so one doesn’t get to see too much of the city. Thankfully, though, they did use British actors for the roles that required people to be Brits. John Gavin was the exception – I think he was supposed to be British, but his accent was (naturally, considering he was Mexican-American) too American to make that believable.


  12. I was away from blogosphere for a while due to some serious health problems. Bless you for now when I am just taking a few baby steps back into cyber space, you have rewarded me with this absolutely wonderful review. I was hooked, they do not make such films any more, so without wasting any more time I searched the net and found the film on you tube and I am going to watch it as soon as I am able to. Thanks once again.


    • It’s good to have you back, Shilpi! I hope you’re feeling better, both physically and emotionally. Enjoy Midnight Lace! Even though it isn’t a watertight suspense film – not like most Hitchcock films, for example – it’s still very good. Should be better known, in my opinion.


  13. I finally did see the film and really loved it although I had already guessed who the culprit is after reading the review ; it was not so difficult to guess for even though at the time this film released it may have been a novel idea but later films with similar stories were a dime a dozen so even though the end wasn’t exactly a surprised,it was the treatment of the subject that I really liked. Oh how I long for those days of simple story telling.


    • I’m glad you liked the film, Shilpi! Yes, the storyline may have been pretty novel at the time, but of course, by now it’s been so done to death that anybody who’s seen later films will probably be able to guess… still, worth a watch, I think.


  14. Doris day and thrillers was a rare combination. But if you can get your hands on it, you might be interested in Julie (1956) where Doris has married a psychopath (which she realizes on honeymoon) and tries to escape from him.


    • Yes, Doris Day and thrillers was certainly a rare combination – though of course there’s Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much, as well. I shall look out for Julie; thanks for telling me about that – I hadn’t heard of it before.


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