Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948)

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES is a rather strange but absorbing suspense film from Paramount, starring Edward G. Robinson as a disturbed clairvoyant.

John Triton (Robinson) was once a phony "mentalist" in vaudeville, but one night he began having visions which came true. Distraught at being powerless to prevent tragedies he's foreseen, Triton becomes a recluse for many years, until he's compelled to try to save the life of Jean (Gail Russell), the daughter of his former love (Virginia Bruce).

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, which was based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich, has a dark, brooding atmosphere which is quite effective. Robinson is compelling as the desperate, depressed man cursed with a "gift" no one believes. Robinson's performance combined with the film's overall mood make it possible for the viewer to accept the possibility of Triton's psychic powers and buy into the storyline.

The film is helped immensely by the presence of quietly luminous Gail Russell, who's just right as the threatened Jean. The movie is a natural follow-up to Russell's roles as the endangered leading lady of the spooky films THE UNINVITED (1944) and THE UNSEEN (1945). Russell's doe-eyed fragility works well for potentially doomed heroines. I also couldn't help thinking that knowing about the real-life difficulties faced by Russell added an additional ominous overtone to the film.

I generally like John Lund, but here he's a stolid, fairly flat presence as Jean's disbelieving but supportive fiance. The presence of William Demarest as a skeptical police detective helps lighten the tone of the second half of the movie.

The movie is well paced, starting off with an action sequence before transitioning to some flashbacks and then jumping back to the future.  The film's length is 81 minutes.

The story has a certain number of red herrings, such as questionable members of Jean's household staff. It should also be said that the film doesn't always make sense; for instance, normally someone saved a second away from committing suicide would immediately receive some sort of psychiatric care, not be taken to dinner! But if one is willing to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, it's an interesting and unusual story which builds to a good climax.

The supporting cast includes Jerome Cowan, Richard Webb, Onslow Stevens, and John Alexander; fans of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE will recognize Alexander, who played Teddy.

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES was directed by John Farrow, who had directed Russell the previous year in CALCUTTA (1947). Farrow also directed the excellent suspense films FIVE CAME BACK (1939) and THE BIG CLOCK (1948).

The black and white cinematography was by John F. Seitz, whose work included THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), and SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950). The cinematography adds enormously to the film's mood. I especially loved the shots of Angels Flight at Bunker Hill in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately this film is not available on DVD or VHS. I was able to see it thanks to the kindness of a friend assisting me in my quest to eventually see all of Gail Russell's 23 films.

This is one of those movies which can cause a debate over whether it's film noir -- for instance, there's no femme fatale -- or simply a spooky, shadowy drama.

At Noir of the Week G. George called the film "prime noir" back in 2005. He also wrote: "Recommended? You bet, flaws and all!" I concur.

April 12, 2013 Update: I had the rare opportunity to see this movie in a beautiful new 35mm print at the Noir City Film Festival.

4 Comments:

Blogger Life in the Big Grey Victorian On The Corner said...

This sounds like a good one! I'll have to look for it.

4:04 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Sigh. Another Paramount title I need to see. I read the book and really liked it. With that cast and director, it sounds like a definite must see. John Farrow directed one of my favorite noirs, "The Big Clock", so I would love to see this. Maybe TCM will do the honors for us soon.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope very much that TCM will show this one soon! It's great that more Paramount movies have been turning up on TCM, although I can't help wishing it was at a faster pace. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

1:27 PM  
OpenID livius1 said...

Good piece Laura. I feel it's a film noir myself, the whole focus on fate and the attempts to cheat it push it into that territory.
A real shame it's not easier to see though.

Colin

1:19 AM  

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