Midnight Lace Provides Chills

Midnight Lace Provides Chills
There was a time when film lovers would flock to their local video store to rent a weekend’s worth of entertainment. During a visit in October, it is likely that some in search of a scary Halloween flick would pass on a film called Midnight Lace starring Doris Day.

After all, Doris Day was best known for playing characters with sunny dispositions, someone who would brighten the day rather than create fright at night. And Midnight Lace sounds like it might be a typical Doris Day romantic comedy.

It isn’t. Far from it.

Everyone who has felt the little hairs stand up on the back of their neck as they walk alone down a darkened street, will immediately connect with the terror that Mrs. Preston (Doris Day) experiences in Midnight Lace.

The film moves the audience to the edge of their seats quickly. Within the first two minutes, newlywed Mrs. Preston, finds herself disoriented in a thick London fog. Suddenly, the disembodied voice of a maniac encircles her, promising to murder her before the month’s end.

Despite that she is new to London, he calls her by name. He knows she’s American. He knows where she lives.

As she runs blindly, the voice follows her, laughing at her fearful attempt to escape. When she frantically makes her way back to the safety of her flat, the crazed voice continues to taunt her by telephone.

Her husband, Anthony (Rex Harrison), believes it all to be a prank by some misguided Londoner made giddy by the thick “pea souper.” As the story progresses, however, he files a report with Scotland Yard to appease his frazzled wife.

The men at the Yard agree that the threats are probably empty. They also suggest that Mrs. Preston seems a bit neglected by her busy husband. Since there are never any witnesses to the threats, it’s possible she’s made up a fictional stalker in order to regain her husband’s attention.

The film relies on this accepted midcentury presumption that many women are fragile physically and emotionally, and that they need a man for fulfillment and protection. Mrs. Preston is such a woman. As an heiress, her childhood needs were most likely met by others; self-reliance isn’t something she has acquired.

Therefore, each time the murderer telephones her to reiterate his promise, she collapses in anguish.

With every phone call she reports, her credibility diminishes. Her family and friends react with concern and pity – not for her safety, but rather for her mental health.

One thing is certain: the killer will confront her, and he will attack.

The cast includes some well-known actors as chief suspects, all of which play their parts with sufficient creepiness.

Roddy McDowall as Malcolm, the ne’er-do-well son of the Preston’s housekeeper, menaces around Mrs. Preston whenever possible, and John Gavin as Brian Younger, the local contractor with an interest in Mrs. Preston, who confesses that he is prone to chilling emotional episodes which result in memory loss.

The film also stars Myrna Loy, Herbert Marshall, and Natasha Parry. It features the wonderful character actress Hermione Baddeley as the local pub owner.

Now that video stores are a thing of the past, viewing Midnight Lace can be a challenge. Many YouTube channels offer the film free of charge, but the film is interrupted by commercials. For this film in particular, you will want to watch it without interruption. It would be best to wait for it to appear on channels like TCM or purchase a DVD copy to add to your collection.

NOTE: I screened this film at my own expense. Free-to-view versions are available digitally on YouTube but are not recommended. This film may also be available through subscription-based services.

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