Famed American playwright Phillip Hannon is in London making revisions to his play currently running in the West End. He is doing this mundane work rather than write a new play since he has retreated from life following the recent and permanent loss of his sight. That retreat from life includes breaking off his engagement to his former secretary, Jean Lennox, who still loves him. One evening at his local pub, he overhears a conversation between a man and a woman that he knows involves criminal activity, what he surmises to be the kidnapping plot of a child in exactly one week's time. The local police patronizingly dismiss his report as the overactive imagination of a blind writer. With Jean and his faithful manservant Bob Matthews by his side - the former with some reluctance on Phil's part - Phil goes on a search to uncover the plot using what little pieces of information he has at hand, which includes the man's name being Evans, the woman, who is involved under duress, working as a ... Written by
Minor Masterpiece; Relentless Beautiful Noir Mystery Achievement
This I assert is a minor masterpiece of film-making, which has long been underestimated by critics but never by fans. Its images, I suggest, burn themselves into the mind where other cinematic tales soon pale and are forgotten. To mention just a few scenes, the film presents a blind playwright describing the view of the Thames to the fiancé he left behind, a lovely nanny who isn't quite what she seems playing another nanny or perhaps not, a sightless man guiding a lost man through a fog, the same man discovering that a building's front isn't there and a battle in the darkness between a murderer and victim. The script, adapted from a tense Philip MacDonald novel by Nigel Balchin, was made into what I say is an expensive-looking and relentlessly beautiful film by veteran director Henry Hathway. Henry Ephron produced, and every element was realized seemingly by flawless skill, from understated music by Leigh Harline to the cinematography by Milton R. Krasne, to the art direction by Lyle Wheeler and Maurice Ransford, to the outstanding set decorations by Walter M. Scott and Fay Babock and costumes by Travilla. Add famed Ben Nye as makeup artist and the great Helen Turpin as hair stylist and it would be hard for this film to have gone anything but very right. The cast is headed by lovely young Vera Miles as the love interest and Van Johnson coming near something very fine as the blind playwright, Philip Hannon. Maurice Denham plays a befuddled police Inspector, and Cecil Parker tries hard as Hannon's assistant. Patricia Laffan has her best role since Quo Vadis as the mysterious Miss MacDonald, stealing every scene she is in. Other actors showing to advantage include within this strongly-made and taut fictional noir mystery Liam Redmond, Isobel Elsom, lively Estelle Winwood, Martin Benson, Natalie Norwick, and Terence de Marney. On the grounds of pace, intelligence of dialog and sheer memorability alone, this is a Top Hundred film, and the father to many stories starring blind protagonists from TV's "Longstreet" to "Wait Until Dark". There had been films about a blind central character before; but this Technicolor, attractive and exciting film was the project that brought the idea of such films to the minds of producers and viewers alike as none before had done. The mystery I believe is an interesting one, the characters believable from first to last, and the extraordinary work by Patricia Laffan and Vera Miles raise the film far above its competitors' best. It is clearly much better than "in the Heat of the Night", the obsessive "Vertigo" or even "Key Largo". And its makers accomplish its power without striving consciously to achieve it. Were it not for "Rear Window", the film might be considered the best 50's noir of all. I recommend it unreservedly.
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