What can it be this time?
Gini is tackling what Turner Classic Movies calls a noir mystery classic with 1945’s The Hidden Eye.
The Hidden Eye
Back in the olden days, when you went to the movies, you almost always got to see a double feature. There was the featured movie, and then there was the B-movie. In the drive-in theater, you’d see the B movie, then the featured movie, then the B-movie would play again. The Hidden Eye exists because of this, and it’s firmly B-list. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The Hidden Eye stars Edward Arnold as Captain Duncan Maclain. He’s either former police or former military (the movie might have made it clear but I didn’t catch it if it did) and he’s former because he’s blind. But that doesn’t stop him. Assisted by his dog, Friday, Maclain uses his training, experience, and the rest of his senses to solve crimes as a private investigator.
We get to see Maclain wrestling and such, so we know he can defend himself, and, of course, in the dark he’s going to have the edge. He’s got a loyal assistant, too, and good old Friday, so you can believe that he can function as a detective.
But first, we have the obligatory for noir mysteries staple of seeing things happen that don’t involve the star at all.
Heiress to a tin mine fortune Jean Hampton (Frances Rafferty) wants to get married to poor Barry Gifford (Paul Langton) but her father wants them to wait, in no small part because family members keep on dying mysteriously. They’ve tried twice, and now they’re going for it again – not noting that whenever they try, someone dies. Dad’s even agreed to meet with them. For whatever “plot” reason, Barry and Jean don’t go to Dad’s together. Which is unfortunate, because Barry’s early and when he gets there, Dad is already dead and, naturally, Barry is the main suspect. Or else it was an uncle who’s dead. Or both. Probably both. The start is hugely convoluted and I spent those first fifteen or so minutes of the movie trying to figure out who the star was, only to discover it was no one who’d been on screen all this time.
Turns out Jean is an old family friend of Maclain’s and she calls on him for help. He’s not excited about the idea but gets pressed into service. And we finally have our Blind Private Eye on the case.
The clues implicate Barry but, since he’s the obvious suspect, we and Maclain know it can’t really be him. So, Maclain starts the hunt, which turns weird and, shockingly, convoluted, while not providing a whole lot of suspects. I mean, it’s not hard to guess who the bad guy is, because there’s just not a lot of options. By no later than two-thirds through Maclain knows officially, so we do, too, and now it’s a race against time.
Friday – who does not get enough screen time – gets dognapped, Maclain gets kidnapped, they manage to escape and save Barry from being murdered by the police, and those who remain living get to do so presumably happily ever after.
The performances are fine, but whoever decided that they should have Maclain chuckling all the time did not do this film any favors. He’s a Jolly Blind Man who is also rather stout, so he’s a Stout Jolly Blind Man which did make him stereotypical but didn’t make him compelling. Though, I guess the Chuckling Detective didn’t have the same ring as The Hidden Eye as a title.
This movie is actually a sequel to Eyes in the Night, which I haven’t seen and don’t plan to see. There’s nothing wrong with this movie, but it didn’t really grab me enough to make me want to see more. Other than the constant chuckling, I liked the portrayal of Maclain – he’s able to function and he’s quite capable, but he was definitely human and not perfect. He’s not Daredevil, he’s just a really astute man who’s not allowed a handicap to stop him. But the movie doesn’t make you want to spend more time with him, and that’s the movie’s failing more than the character’s.
One of the most interesting things about The Hidden Eye is that it shares the same DNA as the short-lived 1971 TV series, Longstreet, that starred James Franciscus as a blind insurance investigator. Both detectives are based on the Duncan Maclain character from the novel series written by Baynard Kendrick. I’m pretty sure that the books are better.
There are worse noir mysteries to watch than The Hidden Eye, but there are better ones, too – all the Thin Man movies are better than this one, for example – so choose according to your tastes.
3 stars out of 5
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