- Movie Rating -

The Private Eyes (1980)

| April 11, 1980

It becomes clear with The Private Eyes that the success of Tim Conway when it came to features was the script and the co-star.  After several years of serving some of Disney’s lesser post-Walt comedies, he ventured out into non-Disney pictures with mixed results; abhorrent junk like The Billion Dollar Hobo and They Went That-A-Way and That-A-Way.  But the surprise hit of The Prize Fighter proved that he had good chemistry with Don Knotts.  This was their third collaboration that began with The Apple Dumpling Gang.

The Prize Fighter was very funny, but The Private Eyes is the best of their comedies, a mixture of Abbott and Costello shenanigans grafted onto a Holmes and Watson-style mystery.  The result works mainly because the two actually have a story to work through.  Left with a loose narrative (as he had done in many of his previous films) allows Conway to flail around trying to find the joke – and that doesn’t work.

The story here is pretty standard, but it works for the kind of tone the movie is going for.  It opens with a wealthy British couple who are murdered in their car on their way to a social gathering.  The murder pulls in two inept crimebusters Inspector Winship (Knotts) and Dr. Tart (Conway).

Much of the comedy involves their interaction with the staff which includes an insane butler (Bernard Fox), a Japanese cook (John Fujioka), a wicked old house frau (Grace Zabriskie), a busty upstairs maid (Suzy Mandel), a mush-mouthed horse groom (Irwin Keyes) and a gypsy groundkeeper (Stan Ross).  There’s also the murdered couple’s only living relative, an adopted daughter named Phyllis (Trisha Noble).  All are prime suspects because they stand to inherit the fortune.

But that doesn’t really matter.  We’re here to watch Don Knotts and Tim Conway bumble around this old dark house, walk down secret passageways, meet weirdo characters and get into one silly pratfall after another.  And of that, the movie succeeds.  Much of the comedy is leaned in Conway’s direction and that’s really where it should be.  He gets a lot of the laughs in this movie, particularly a weird series of death notes that keep turning up in which the author seems really terrible at rhymes.

The Private Eyes isn’t trying for high art.  It just wants to make you laugh.  It doesn’t really even matter who the killer is – though we figure that out long before it is revealed.  What works is the chemistry between the two leads, who play just as well off of each other as they did in The Prize Fighter.  The movie won’t win any Academy Awards, but it will make you happy.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized