How much of terror is anticipation? In David Miller’s Midnight Lace, the answer is a good deal and you know that because of what it means to see Kit Preston (Doris Day) wearing the midnight lace she bought earlier in the movie.
Midnight lace is no Maltese falcon. In a film where Doris Day changes outfits every scene (Irene Lentz would earn the film’s lone Oscar nomination for Best Color Costume Design), the only reason the lace stands out is because it’s the name of the movie, yet that significance is enough to make a person weary.
If something was going to happen, this is the moment – midnight lace as harbinger of death – yet the feeling it generates is relief. Whatever’s about to happen, at least the wait is over. One way or another, Mrs. Preston’s suspense is about come to an end.
Thanks to an overabundance of red herrings, this is a film with a lot of suspense to spare, too. An early example of telephone horror (Black Christmas and When A Stranger Calls would follow in the 70’s), Mrs. Preston has been receiving phone calls from a man who claims she’ll be dead within the month. Nobody else has heard these calls (even viewers are limited to Mrs. Preston’s side of the conversation), so some have started to question whether she’s telling the truth, yet we know she is because the first time she heard the voice wasn’t by telephone but during a bad case of London fog.
It makes for a terrific opening sequence. Thanks to the construction going on next door there are plenty of “danger” signs about and the credits start the moment Day runs into a fence.
It’s been three months since Mrs. Preston married Mr. Preston (Rex Harrison) and there are those who believe she’s making up the calls to get attention. There’s no denying her husband goes to board meetings a lot, but sometimes the absentee husband allegations feel weak (they didn’t have a honeymoon but they do go out a lot), but not as weak as the people who won’t take her at her word that she’s being harassed.
As far as the identity of the caller goes, Midnight Lace keeps a long list of suspects. For most of the movie this is a good thing. You’re left in the dark about who’s guilty (and the film even attempts to touch on the war and PSTD), but when it comes to explaining some of these red herrings later on, the film does a mixed job.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray includes a commentary track by film historian, Kat Ellinger, where you can learn more about Midnight Lace’s influence on the giallo and some of the promotions that went on to try and make the film appeal to women (going by the trailer the film also took a page from Psycho, with trying to stress the importance of arriving on time to catch the whole movie).
I also like that Ellinger zeros in on Day’s performance, instead of making it about the fact that Day didn’t do many genre films. It doesn’t sound like Midnight Lace was an easy shoot for Day, and Mrs. Preston’s a lot less independent than her other roles.
Available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber, Midnight Lace stands as an unusual film in Day’s career but that’s all the more reason to want to see it.