Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1960. Arwin Productions. Screenplay by Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts, based on the play Matilda Shouted Fire by Janet Green. Cinematography by Russell Metty. Produced by Ross Hunter, Martin Melcher. Music by Frank Skinner. Production Design by Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen. Costume Design by Irene. Film Editing by Leon Barsha, Russell F. Schoengarth. Academy Awards 1960. Golden Globe Awards 1960.
Doris Day makes a rare foray into thrillers with this gorgeously shot though underwhelming adaptation of Janet Green’s play Matilda Shouted Fire. In the terrific opening sequence, she is crossing a London park to her front door when a creepy voice in the fog calls her by name and threatens to kill her. Terrified, she runs home only to discover that the voice is continuing to terrorize her by calling on the phone and continuing the promise of murder. She is at her wit’s end trying to figure out who is treating her this way, while husband Rex Harrison makes things worse when he begins to doubt the existence of the calls (since they always happen whenever he’s not around or before he can pick up the phone). Myrna Loy has a wonderful supporting role as Day’s beloved aunt who also begins to slip in her faith of her niece’s sanity, while John Gavin appears as the hunky foreman of the construction project in the building next to our heroine’s home (as if a woman that rich would stay in a house that has constant hammering noises happening all day when she can take a Mediterranean cruise whenever she likes). There are a few juicy moments of suspense but too much of the film is spent watching Day cry into the receiver; while it’s true that she was famous for roles that required her good-natured, sunny disposition, Day also had a no-nonsense gumption that makes her performance here rather illogical, I find it hard to believe that she’s not at least a bit incredulous about these phone calls before the villain really gets under her skin. As it turns out, the star didn’t think the role a good fit for her either, and after fainting on the set during the filming of a particularly emotional scene, she vowed never to make another thriller (and held to that promise). It’s no Charade, but as with all of Ross Hunter’s indulgences it’s a colourful collection of images to look at, particularly when considering the actress’s Oscar-nominated wardrobe, and you’ll certainly want to stick around to find out who the culprit is (on that note, don’t watch Playing By Heart as it gives the ending away).