EYES IN THE NIGHT is a swell little find from 1942, one of the first movies directed by Fred Zinnemann. The script by Guy Trosper and Howard Emmett Rogers was adapted from “The Odor Of Violets”, the third of a dozen novels written by Baynard Kendrick featuring sightless sleuth ‘Duncan MacLain’ and his German Shepherd ‘Friday’, the poster pooch for seeing-eye-dog detectives.
Private detective Duncan MacLain (Edward Arnold) may be blind, but his other senses are sharper than the average gumshoe, and what he can’t do his dog can; Friday is keen enough to give Rin Tin Tin a run for the chow. Old friend ‘Norma Lowry’ (Ann Harding) wants Duncan’s help to keep a former flame away from her besotted 17-year-old stepdaughter. When the man is murdered, the girl suspects the mother, but with Duncan and Friday feeling and sniffing out clues, a Nazi spy ring is uncovered.
Preposterous from the get-go, but a lot of fun, with Arnold taking a welcome break from his usual role as a heavy. There are some great laugh-out-loud sight gags, impressive stunts from the dog, a neat lineup of villains led by calmly wicked Katherine Emery and Stanley Ridges, and a plum part for 20-year-old Donna Reed as the stepdaughter. Beautiful as ever, she’s mean and spiteful here, and plays it to a tee.
Though 152nd place for the year was modest, the $1,500,000 gross easily covered a $433,000 cost. Arnold did the character again three years later in The Hidden Eye, with faithful Friday in tow. As to the helpful hound, Zinnemann recalled “the dog was good for only one take, would then get bored, run away and hide”.
Helping make the 80 minutes surprisingly enjoyable are a gallery of pros sparking the supporting roles: Allen Jenkins, Reginald Denny, Stephen McNally, Rosemary DeCamp, Mantan Moreland, Barry Nelson, Steven Geray, Milburn Stone and Marie Windsor.