The Night Has Eyes (1942)

night She goes looking for a lost friend but finds love with a troubled man.

The Night Has Eyes (1942) aka Terror House aka Moonlight Madness is a good mystery concerning a strange man and the woman who loves him but fears he may be a killer. On her school break, teacher Joyce Howard could go where the boys are, which is where her friend and travelling companion Tucker McGuire wants to be at all times. But Howard prefers to spend their vacation time in the gloomy locale of the Yorkshire Moors. She’s a romantic personality who loves long walks in a violent thunderstorm and mysterious places, but she’s also on a “sentimental” mission to learn more about the disappearance of another friend and fellow teacher, a year ago on these same moors. One night during a terrible storm and close call with the deadly bog the two ladies happen upon a house occupied by an aloof, guarded and reclusive composer played by James Mason. Since the rains have flooded the moors and trapped the ladies there for a few days, they kill time searching for a secret room Mason mentions, and very quickly Mason and Howard fall in love. He tells her he was traumatized in the Spanish Civil War, and can no longer keep his mind on music. What he doesn’t tell her is that he knew and loved her missing friend, and that he is deeply troubled. With his help away from home, he urges the ladies to lock themselves in their room at night, for safety, and to leave the house as soon as possible.

When Mason’s housekeeper (Mary Clare) and handyman (Wilfrid Lawson) return from their trip to town, McGuire leaves but Howard stays back, committed to learning more about Mason’s misery and her friend’s disappearance. Clare was Mason’s nurse in the war and issues dire warnings about her boss’s mental state. On a moonlit night, he has to take his special medication (for a moment I thought this would turn into a werewolf movie), then he staggers out into the grounds and kills Lawson’s pet monkey. Howard’s decision to bring Mason a therapist for his violent tendencies backfires and leads to the discovery that poor Evelyn went through this same experience with him the year before. What she finds after that includes nail-biting suspense and unforgettable screams.

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This is a great little picture that punches above its low budget, offering a nice mixture of horror and noir style with Hitchcock thrills, romance and gothic melodrama. This was the first of four consecutive films director Leslie Arliss would make with Mason; the ones that followed were the huge hits The Man in Grey (1943), Love Story (1944) and The Wicked Lady (1945). Both the cheeky man-hunter played by McGuire and a charming doctor (John Fernald) who has his eye on Howard, lighten things up in just the right doses, while everything at the moors is dark, foggy, haunted and disturbing. Much is made of the three paths through the bog but only one safe way out, so you could make an educated guess where the climactic action takes place.

Mason was good at these roles, he made it look easy to be this mysterious and potentially dangerous and still enchant a woman. He wavers between wanting Howard’s help and pushing her away, is happy then withdrawn, every bit as volatile as you’d expect from a frustrated artist and bitter veteran. But Mason doesn’t overplay any of it, which displays his talent and also matters to the plot’s final twist.

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Joyce Howard, who also co-starred with Mason in They Met in the Dark (1943), reminds me of Ann Harding. Her ethereal look is initially disguised behind prim, bookish schoolmarm styling. With just the (wet) clothes on her back during the extended stay at Mason’s, she ends up wearing his clothes and wellies as well as his grandmother’s ornate gown, a Jane Austen dress complete with low neckline, puffy sleeves and bustle. Just the outfit for lounging around listening to Mason’s war stories and reawakening his love of the piano. Howard might seem flyweight at first but she’s as determined as she is naive, and otherworldly enough to make us believe in her mania for running into the deadly moors, her ability to sense Evelyn’s presence in the guest room, her attraction to the weird and unpredictable Mason, and his for her. He wants to protect her from something awful, and with satisfying storytelling, and a couple shocking moments, The Night Has Eyes reveals what that terrible thing is.

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10 thoughts on “The Night Has Eyes (1942)”

    1. Well now I’m really glad I didn’t spoil anything. My copy was very poor, so I wouldn’t mind seeing that cinematography in nicer shape. Very nice and simple, in the best way, meaning it doesn’t try too hard to impress but it does. I have the feeling I may have seen it long ago, or someone copied it, because there’s a very memorable ending that seemed familiar. Clare and Lawson are great.

      1. I’m very much looking forward to this coming out – and those Network releases of late have been pretty good, more or less.

  1. Just found that this one is on YT at the moment, I must check it out! I’m gradually getting better acquainted with Mason’s pre-hollywood career, when he was somewhat typecast as the brooding, romantic, Brontesque “hero.” This sounds like a must see for furthering that acquaintance 😉

    1. On YT it might be a poor quality one like mine, but hope you enjoy it. Yes, Brontesque hero, that’s just right, he was great at that and had a few more years of doing it from this until Hollywood. Also love his movies with Margaret Lockwood, she could outdo him which is saying a lot. Imagine them as Cathy and Heathcliff! Thanks for reading!

      1. Oops, forgot to add that I couldn’t agree more about him and Lockwood as Heathcliff and Cathy. I think I’ve seen all their Gainsborough pairings now, and he may have hated the films, but they were never dull! Have you seen them in Alibi (1942)? The musical numbers dragged the plot down a bit, but Mason and Lockwood were a pleasure to watch, as always.

        And here’s some interesting trivia: Mason finally did play Heathcliff in an abridged reading for Caedmon, starring himself and Claire Bloom. Too bad he never got the chance onscreen. I’ve head a rumor that he was considered for the Hollywood film version… don’t know if this is true or not.

        1. I have not seen Alibi but I do have it, I have a lot of Lockwood movies, big fan. They made a great pair, glad the studio kept putting them together. Interesting info, thanks for adding that, yes that would have been some fantasy casting! Best

  2. I just finished watching it and “nail-biter” is right! Thank you for your excellent write-up (and for not giving anything away!). The actors and their performances were impeccable, the camera work greatly complemented the storytelling (great atmosphere here), and a very satisfying ending. I feel the much abused “Code” did more good than harm in old Hollywood, but I will admit it was too restrictive and legalistic at times; I’m pretty sure this one never passed the American censors… besides the ending, there was the naughty friend (who was annoying and amusing at the same time… I confess at times I was half hoping she’d turn up strangled), and the occasional swearing (but “clean” swearing, which doesn’t bother me.)

    Hahaha, I also thought that full moon scene was such a Larry Talbot moment! The lock the door bit too… I could almost hear: ‘is that serious?’ ‘he’ll murder you!’ ‘that’s serious.’ (lol)

    The print I watched actually was pretty good, I didn’t have trouble seeing things in the night scenes even!

    1. Excellent! I’m glad you liked it and had a decent copy to watch, that would have made it even better for me. Agree on all you say here, isn’t it good acting and loads of atmosphere. That ending is intense and love the moral of it, a case where the sin driving the whole plot ends up deciding the fate too 🙂 I felt the same about the friend, it was funny to me how “Marian” just kind of starts ignoring her after a while AND how the doctor is after her, not the friend. The Code did force people to be more imaginative I agree, it wasn’t all bad.

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