Eyes In The Night, 1942. 8/10

What a great mystery movie. How did this not become a franchise like Nancy Drew, Mr. and Mrs. North, Charlie Chan, etc.? What better device than a blind detective? It’s at once a great cover, and, an apparent impossibility. Or, it would be impossible, except that Maclaine (Edward Arnold) has the most ingenious dog in history. Friday (the dog) is so interesting he could probably carry a detective mystery by himself.

The actual mystery is set up well. Barbara (Donna Reed), is Norma’s (Ann Harding) stepdaughter; and goes around with Paul Gerente (John Emery, looking and acting in a slimy, Vincent Price-ish manner). He’an older guy, who was coincidentally Norma’s former lover. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. Norma’s husband Stephen (Reginald Denny) is working on an invention for the military. Nazi agents are working undercover to steal the secret.

Things get going quickly, as Paul turns up dead at his place. Barbara finds Norma there with his body; she assumes her step-mom killed Paul to thwart her romance. So, Norma zips right over to her old friend Maclaine. He (and Friday) waste no time finding a suspect, Gabriel (Horace McNally), and clues tying him to the foreign agents.

Meanwhile, the Nazi cohort basically invades Norma’s house while Stephen is off shopping his invention to the Government. It seems that Gerente, and most of his theatre troupe are Nazi agents. They ‘took care’ of him for getting distracted by Barbara.

When Maclaine calls on Norma to fill her in, he gets drawn into the Nazi trap as well. But between he and Friday, they manage to turn the tables on the Nazis, get the police on the trail, and rescue the Lowrys before anyone of them gets hurt. Pretty good shootout to cap it off. Not to mention some gunplay in the darkened basement when one of the hoods gets ambushed by Maclaine.

That’s simple enough, but the way this is handled is just right. Donna Reed is so convincing as a sort of daddy’s girl princess–brushing Norma off with the condescending “dear”, “my sweet,” and “darling” this and that. She’s more or less in the background once the Nazi element comes along though. Arnold is great throughout–he spends much of the time conning the criminals, both because they underestimate him, and by the acts he puts on. This is one time when overacting is called for.

In more than a few movies from this otherwise cool era, I often find it hard to deal with the stereotypical roles for African-Americans. Here, Mantan Moreland’s butler character, Alistair, has some of those unfortunate goofy lines. But that stuff is mitigated in a couple of ways. For one thing, his character is obviously witty and very observant. The situation with Friday is funny all the way around; Alistair plays along, impressed but not overwhelmed by the dog’s nature. Alistair’s not at all the hapless one here; it’s Marty (Allen Jenkins). Although he’s supposed to be Maclaine’s assistant, Marty only has part of one scene where he’s not a buffoon.

When I think of that cute Scotty thingie in the Mr. and Mrs. North movies, I think, ok, there’s a dog. It does some sniffing about, etc., but it’s just a signature element. In Eyes Of The Night, Friday is a star. He’s an actor. How they trained that dog so well is the mystery of mysteries. It’s almost as though it knew it’s lines. He does more with his ears to convey interest and emotion than many actors do by their dialogue and other human antics.

This a a very entertaining crime/mystery; actually, we know who did what to whom fairly early on. The suspense entails how the good guys will win out. Farmermouse absolutely dug Friday, nine dog bones for sure. 9/10

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