THE PRIVATE EYES (1980)
Article 5036 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Lang Elliott
Featuring Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Trisha Noble
What it is: Old dark house comedy
Two American detectives in England investigate the murder of a couple who lived in an old, spooky mansion.
For a handful of movies during the seventies and eighties, Don Knotts and Tim Conway became something of a comedy team; their most famous pairing was probably THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG. I’m fond of both these comedians, but, to be honest, I hadn’t seen a movie up to this point that made good use of Conway, and Knotts’ best movie work seemed to be long behind him when this was made. So I’ll be honest; I went into this one expecting the worst; a family-friendly “old dark house” pastiche starring a pair of fading comedians seemed to me to be an act of desperation. Well, I’m glad to admit that I was wrong; this was actually a decent comedy, and it got more laughs from me than I ever thought it would. Much of the credit has to go to Conway and Knotts; they may be in over-familiar comic territory, but they never get desperate, overact or mug, and remain firmly confident in their abilities to mine what comic ore they can from the premise. Granted, they get a lot of help from a series of running jokes, including ones involving Wookalars, candles, pigeons, and mangled rhymed messages. It would probably have been rated a “G” if it hadn’t been for a handful of slightly risque jokes, but it’s pretty clean compared to what passes for movie comedy nowadays. The “old dark house” cliches are here in spades, with a series of murders, disappearing bodies, secret passages, and a torture chamber. All in all, I found this a very likable comedy. And, for a bonus, it does fully enter the realm of the fantastic in its final moments.