Mugging, mayhem, and mystery in one complete package…it's The Private Eyes.
Tim Conway and Don Knotts had teamed up in the past with such (semi) classics as The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Prize Fighter before becoming bumbling detectives in the early '80s throwaway The Private Eyes. A goofy private-eye caper set against a "Clue" like story, The Private Eyes is good clean fun for the whole family with Conway gasping and Knotts sniffling their way through murders, castles and wacky characters. Hen's Tooth has released The Private Eyes on DVD in a full frame presentation. And for those of you planning to start a DVD company, take note to avoid naming your company anything silly, such as "Hen's Tooth."
Facts of the Case
Good God, Lord and Lady Morley have been murdered! And even worse, Inspector Winship (Knotts) and Dr. Tart (Conway) are on the case! Sent in by the yard to investigate, Tart and Winship are on the prowl to catch a killer that is staying right in the Lord and Ladies manor! They also received a letter from Morley AFTER he was dead. Say what? Somethin' a funny's a brewin' here…
At the Morley mansion the private eyes meet the staff of the house, including a bimbo maid, a gypsy caretaker, a hunchback stable groom, a nutty butler, and a seductive mistress (or, as I like to call it, my Mom's side of the family). One of these people is the killer…but who? Tart and Winship continue to piece together the mystery by questioning the staff and crew. But as the night wears on the bodies start piling up as one staff member after another is picked off by a mysterious shadow lurking in the dark.
Time starts running out as the two men bumble and stumble their way through the house looking for clues in the form of notes left by the killer. But will they find the fiend in time, or will Tart, Winship, and the rest of the manor end up as yesterday's leftovers?
The Private Eyes is one of those rare films that plays better in your mind that on screen. I can recall seeing The Private Eyes as a kid on video and thinking this was what comedy is all about. Granted, The Private Eyes has many funny moments in it; you can't beat watching Don Knotts mug for all he's worth. As for Tim Conway, he does what he's known for…stammering like a child and getting all goofy when Knotts is playing the straight man. Both of these actors have comedic timing down to a science. When you're a child all these things are hysterically funny (I also thought that Conway's "Dorf On Golf" was a masterpiece as well…I was young, what did I know?), but as you grow up, what seemed to be a blast now seems to be…somewhat of a bore.
The supporting cast does a decent job of making the most of their roles. Bernard Fox (The Mummy remake) as Justin the butler is funny as he gets a full head of steam going when he hears the word murder. The extremely creepy caretakers Tibet the gravedigger (Stan Ross) and Jock the hunchback (Irwin Keyes) are funny as typical mystery weirdoes (especially Jock, who has had his tongue cut out of his mouth for stealing rubies in his homeland).
The script is adequate, if very predictable. The basic structure is a "who-done-it" mystery, but the story is really secondary; this is basically a vehicle for Knotts and Conway to show off their comedy chops. By the end of the film when the "killer(s)" are revealed it's about as exciting and uninteresting as moldy bread. But hey, if you're watching this movie to hone your spy skills, you're looking in the wrong DVD. The Usual Suspects is two rows to your left.
There aren't really any monsters or effects in this (though the case art may seem to say different), and you can see the budget was small. However, this can really sometimes work to the film's advantage. At one point the two detectives fall down a long chimney shaft. Instead of having the actors fall down, they use replica dolls instead. After a freeze frame or two, I was laughing my gluteus maximus off. It may be a cheap laugh (pun intended), but it sure paid off.
The Private Eyes is presented in a full frame standard version, though I'm sure that, somewhere, somehow, a widescreen version of this film exists. I'd complain, but who'd ever even HEARD of Hen's Tooth Entertainment before? If you'd just mentioned the name to me I'd have thought it was a porn distributor. So, we'll let the full frame transfer slide, as Hen's Tooth apparently couldn't scrape up enough dough for a decent company name, much less a decent transfer. There was a good amount of grain present, and in one case I caught a small jump in the film (and not the type you see in the editing process) Overall colors were decent and bright, though there was a bit of fading in some of the darker scenes. The Dolby Digital audio was fine, mixed as well as you'll need it for a film like this. I could hear all dialogue with no distortion, and effects and music were mixed in well. Overall a decent audio portion that won't shake your house down but will allow you to have a good viewing of the film.
For extras (!!) Hen's Tooth has given us a full frame theatrical trailer that is a bit scratched up and grainy, but a cute little extra if you're a trailer freak. Also included is a photo gallery of behind the scenes pictures and stills from the film.
The big extra on this disc is a commentary track by actor/writer Tim Conway and producer/director Elliot Lang. The track is actually somewhat fun with Conway and Lang playing off each other as they watch the film. Conway has a grand time as he shells out nuggets of information about the making of the film (it cost $2.3 million to make, it only took them about a day or two to write the script). The two seemed to enjoy the work that they did working on the film, and from what it seems like it's probably been a while since they've seen the movie in its entirety. The only trouble I found was in the spaces of silence that often preceded the discussions. That can be overlooked, as we seem lucky to even GET a commentary track on this disc.
Before I continue deconstructing this film, I want to say once more that no matter how much time passes, watching Don Knotts make silly rubber faces will still always be funny. Period.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, The Private Eyes has its share of troubles. As I said before, the older you get, the less funny this movie becomes. Such typical comedy tricks such as speeding up the film, slapstick humor, and wacky looks are all present here. It's not to say that these effects aren't funny in movies…just not always funny in this one. There's even the old "I see a string so I'll pull it and the other guy's clothing will come off" gag. The plot is really, REALLY simplistic (a five year old could tell you who did it, not that he'd care), and the zingers are more like half-zingers. I certainly applaud this as a noble effort, but Conway and Knotts could really have used a better script behind them, as this one often borders on childish.
Finally, from the beginning I decided to do a "Knotts sniffle count" for my readers. You know, that know-it-all sniffle face that Knotts used to do when he played Mr. Furley on "Three's Company?" Well, after the film was done, I came up with about an 11 on the sniffle meter. If you plan on watching The Private Eyes sometime soon, let me know if I am accurate or not. (This can also make a wonderful drinking game…each time Knotts bugs out his eyes you do a shot of tequila. But if anyone asks, you didn't hear it from me…'specially if you're under the age of say, oh, 12.)
For the price of about $24.99 you'll be stretching your wallet to pick up this little potato. As quoted on the case by Gene Siskel, it's "a perfect Saturday matinee." This is true…and it's also the perfect renter. Though I am tempted to keep this film in my DVD library, I think I'd be better off just renting it when I get the urge to see it again…which will probably be in about another 20 years. The extras on the disc make this above passing, but not by much (mostly because of the transfer).
Guilty, but pardoned for now…maybe someday The Private Eyes will see a special edition by some company named "Lizard's Nipple." Court dismissed!
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