Night Has a Thousand Eyes

by Glenn Erickson Jul 25, 2023

‘Fate’ is a frequent player in classic noir, but this spooky 1948 charmer crosses noir atmosphere with a semi-supernatural vibe — enforced by a top performance from Edward G. Robinson, plus the eerie presence of Gail Russell,  She Who Possesses the Saddest Eyes in Hollywood. A showbiz mentalist suddenly experiences foreshadowings of deaths to come, a curse that threatens the ones he loves most. Cynical detective William Demarest is one of the first to suspect him. Do the stars hold our future?  A ‘thousand eyes’ look down on a small group of people trying to stave off doom foretold. With good extras from Glenn Kenny, Farran Smith Nehme, Tony Rayns and Jill Blake.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes
Region B Blu-ray
Powerhouse Indicator
1948 / B&W / 1:37 Academy / 81 min. / / Street Date July 24, 2023 / available from Powerhouse Films UK / £ 18.00
Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Gail Russell, John Lund, William Demarest, Virginia Bruce, Richard Webb, Jerome Cowan, Onslow Stevens, Roman Bohnen, John Alexander, Douglas Spencer, Margaret Field, Paula Raymond, Minerva Urecal.
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Art Directors: Hans Dreier, Franz Bachelin
Costumes: Edith Head
Editorial Supervisor: Eda Warren
Assistant Editor: George Tomasini
Visual Effects: Farciot Edouart
Original Music: Victor Young
Screenplay by Barré Lyndon, Jonathan Latimer from the story by George Hopley (Cornell Woolrich)
Produced by Endre Bohem
Directed by
John Farrow

Few films noir made use of supernatural elements without giving them a serious debunking, as in Edmund Goulding’s excellent, creepy Nightmare Alley. We maintain a healthy distrust of occult thrillers that purport to be authentic, contributing to the cultural swamp of anti-science irrationality. Just the same, we’ve never been able to resist John Farrow’s marvelous ‘spooky noir’ Night Has a Thousand Eyes. This new UK disc (Region B, sorry) can boast some excellent extras.

For good or bad, one basic ghost story relies on someone staring glassy-eyed at the camera and intoning the question, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?  The perfect spokesperson for that was John Newland on the old One Step Beyond TV show — the man looked as if he were haunted, or on drugs. Most One Step Beyond episodes introduced something unexplainable, and then left it hanging, usually with the implication that, yep, the world is full of uncanny, poetically potent mysteries. Night Has a Thousand Eyes wins us over with riches of character and feeling — we aren’t asked to ‘believe’ anything, just to soak in the off-kilter, eerie mood.


The reason to see Night Has a Thousand Eyes a second time (or the tenth time) is to enjoy Edward G. Robinson at his finest, playing a conflicted character fighting what seems to be Fate with a capital ‘F’.  Actress Gail Russell has the Saddest Eyes in Hollywood — when she’s frightened or despondent, we want to climb over theater seats to support and protect her. Current entertainment regulations trends don’t accept such helplessness: all women in film must now be assertive moral dynamos.

The title Night Has a Thousand Eyes does seem to have inspired Bobby Vee’s 1962 pop song, despite bearing no other relation — no run-around lovers appear here. The notion of Fate is a central concern of classic film noir, pushed heavily in the films of Fritz Lang. Night may not have the classical contours of Fritz Lang’s thrillers, but it’s equally entertaining.


“You will die at eleven o’clock: beneath the stars and near the feet of a lion, following a sudden hot wind, the breaking of a vase, a flower being crushed beneath a foot … and after the words “There is no danger now” are spoken.”

Stage mentalist John Triton (Edward G. Robinson) uses tricks in his act, aided by his pianist Whitney Courtland (Jerome Cowan, Street of Chance) and his assistant-girlfriend Jenny (Virginia Bruce, The Invisible Woman). But Triton begins receiving specific, accurate premonitions, about people in trouble but also horse races and stock prices. One warning premonition frightens him so badly that he breaks off his relationship with Jenny, quits performing and disappears.

Twenty years later Triton comes out of hiding to warn Jenny’s daughter Jean Cortland (Gail Russell, The Uninvited) of more danger, to herself and her now-rich father Witney. Jean’s fiance Elliott Carson (John Lund, A Foreign Affair, No Man of Her Own) suspects that Triton is a confidence man running some kind of swindle, and brings in the police. Jean has already made one suicide attempt, convinced that she’ll die ‘under the stars.’

Detective Lt. Shawn (William Demarest, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek) takes over the investigation when Triton is additionally suspected of a murder. A squad of cops converges on the Courtland estate to avert Triton’s prediction of death for Jean. As the hour decreed approaches, even the cynical Shawn is shaken: all of John Triton’s preliminary events play out just as he said they would.


A beautifully written, directed and performed Night Has a Thousand Eyes shapes up as an excellent noir-spiritualist crossover thriller. Some of the story is told in an extended flashback, without subjecting us to ‘jet lag’ bouncing back and forth between time frames. Credibility is stressed every step of the way. We agree with the authorites that detain John Triton to determine if he is a charlatan, a madman, or a murderer. Triton cooperates fully. He wants to be proven wrong, to put an end to the ‘haunting.’

Robinson’s performance is flawless. He sells Triton’s existential panic and deep feelings of sadness. Triton throws his own happiness away to protect others, without telling anyone. But Fate holds its course. He fails to save the people he loves, and he might not be able to save the next generation, either.


It’s a polished studio production, filmed mostly on sound stages and making optimal use of Farciot Edouart’s rear-projection tricks. We’re emotionally hooked as soon as Gail Russell’s sad eyes stare upward at the twinkling stars above. Adding to the effect is our outside knowledge that actress Russell was not a happy person. Reading about her later problems is heartbreaking.

The movie takes to key Los Angeles exteriors for a few scenes, following the late ’40s trend of location realism. The grabber opening makes good use of a railroad yard at night, and John Triton chooses the city’s photogenic Angels’ Flight for his hideaway. The funicular railway is the setting for Triton’s modest rooms. They’re halfway up a steep incline. Is Triton suspended between dimensions, as he suspects?

This is the man who said “It’s not the coffee, it’s the Bunk.”  If he is scared sober, so are we.

Giving the show an extra kick is the presence of William Demarest, Preston Sturges’ favorite comic actor.    Demarest brings only 5% of his wisecracking chops to the serious role of the policeman. He really helps with the suspense at the finish: any dilemma capable of keeping this beloved actor from making jokes, makes us tense as well. The playing is expert all around, although the excellent John Lund doesn’t get much of a chance to shine — he’s the faithful boyfriend on the periphery, the one we don’t trust to protect Jean Cortland.

The science experts examining Triton are played by actors that made their careers lending credibility to science fiction movies — Douglas Spencer and Onslow Stevens. Roman Bohnen supervises the review, and Richard Webb is a businessman friend of Whitney Courtland, as is John Alexander, who fans might expect to sudden run up the Courtland staircase shouting, “Charge!”


Thousand Eyes features the work of two men that later became key creatives for Alfred Hitchcock, who took nothing but the best when he moved to Paramount. Assistant director Herbert Coleman worked for John Farrow, Billy Wilder and William Wyler before being tapped for Rear Window; he immediately moved up to Associate Producer for Hitchcock’s next five pictures, including Vertigo and North by Northwest. The largely unsung editor George Tomasini was an uncredited assistant on Eyes but cut the same streak of legendary Hitchcock pictures, plus Psycho.  Amazing.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a quality thriller but also an Odd Duck. It probes a vein of Melancholy yet doesn’t drags viewers into a similar depression. Poor Jean Courtland overwhelmed by an apparent functioning curse. Good men want to protect her — a boyfriend and an honest detective — but as Eleven O’Clock approaches, an irrational Fate appears to take charge.

Gail Russell is yet another unique Dream Girl of the 1940s, in this case a dream girl who moves us with what seems a perpetual ‘hurt’ look. When her characters smile, the world seems made right again. Imogen Sara Smith noted that Ms. Russell was likely funneled into Thousand Eyes show because of the positive impression she made in The Uninvited, four years earlier. Thousand Eyes also winds up as a kind of ghost story: going forward, Jean will have to reconcile herself with living in a universe where not everything can be explained.



Powerhouse Indicator’s Region B Blu-ray of Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a good encoding of this moody gem at the crossroads of noir and the supernatural. John F. Seitz’s lighting and John Farrow’s polished direction flirt with expressionist effects, especially in the night exteriors. Jean Courtland’s suicide attempt opens the film in a nightmarish midnight rail yard, below the ‘thousand eyes’ of the pitiless stars above.

After being out of sight for quite a while, Thousand Eyes came back to Blu-ray in 2021, in an Australian import. There apparently is a US release from that time, with different extras, that CineSavant missed. This is likely the same remaster from Universal.

Indicator’s Anthony Nield and Michael Brooke sweeten the pot with extras. Commentators Glenn Kenney and Farran Smith Nehme offer an enthusiastic discussion. Kenny explains that the movie has little in common with Cornell Woolrich’s original book, and invents a mostly new plotline. We learn quite a bit about the actors, with a full rundown on the ‘graylisting’ of Edward G. Robinson. The HUAC took exception to Robinson’s contributions to liberal organizations they deemed subversive, and the fact that loaned money to Dalton Trumbo at a crucial time. The Bobby Vee pop song gets a mention, but we learn that Victor Young’s title melody became a jazz standard.

The welcome Tony Rayns offers an extended featurette about director John Farrow, a controversial figure who directed good movies, wrote learned religious texts but was also typed as a ‘notorious playboy,’ a descriptor that’s no longer remotely a compliment. Rayns also speaks at length about Cornell Woolrich, explaining the author’s various pen names.

The insert booklet gives us an insightful essay on Edward G. Robinson by Jill Blake. As usual, we also look for Indicator’s review excerpts. The notices contain the phrases ‘completely unbelievable,”unadulterated hokum,’ and ‘a story that isn’t worth the trouble.’ Some reviewers of 1948 seem to have pre-decided that a movie like this needed to be a comedy, and not take itself seriously at all.

Also included is an original trailer hosted by actor John Lund. He tries out his best John Newland stare to assure us that weird things are indeed happening in The Night has a Thousand Eyes.

What?  You want a second opinion?  Laura Mulvey’s nice take on the show is from 2017: Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Night Has a Thousand Eyes
Region B Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good – Excellent
Sound: Excellent
New audio commentary with Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme (2023)
New featurette Between Heaven and Earth (2023, 24 mins) with Tony Rayns
Radio play Screen Directors Playhouse adapatation starring Edward G. Robinson and William Demarest, introduced and directed by John Farrow
Radio play Suspense: The Man Who Thought He Was Edward G. Robinson
Image gallery
Illustrated 40-page booklet with an essay by Jill Blake, interviews with John Lund and Gail Russell, an article on screenwriter Jonathan Latimer, and more.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Region B Blu-ray in Keep case
July 23, 2023

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Chuck Shillingford

Another excellent review Glenn. I’ve often heard of the film but never really bothered to look into it. I’m now extremely intrigues and hope when I have a few shekels to spare I’ll dive into the Powerhouse catalogue again. Thanks so much

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