The Private Eyes (1980 film)

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The Private Eyes
DVD cover
Directed by Lang Elliott
Produced by Wanda Dell
Lang Elliott
Written by Tim Conway
John Myhers
Starring Tim Conway
Don Knotts
Trisha Noble
Bernard Fox
Grace Zabriskie
Irwin Keyes
Suzy Mandel
Music by Peter Matz
Cinematography Jacques Haitkin
Tim Suhrstedt (uncredited)
Edited by Patrick M. Crawford
Fabien D. Tordjmann
The Private Eyes Partners Limited
TriStar Pictures
Hen's Tooth Video
Distributed by New World Pictures
Release date
  • April 17, 1980 (1980-04-17)
Running time
91 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.3 million[1]
Box office $18,014,000 (US)

The Private Eyes is a 1980 American comedy mystery film starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts as American detectives working for Scotland Yard who are called on to solve a murder case at an English country mansion.

This film marks the final pairing of Conway and Knotts (not counting their cameos as two California Highway Patrol officers in the 1984 film Cannonball Run II).


The film begins in 1940, at the Morley Manor, an English country mansion outside of London, with the apparent murder of Lord Randolph Morley (Fred Stuthman) and Lady Victoria Morley (Mary Nell Ivey Santacroce) in their motorcar by a mysterious cloaked figure; Lady Morley is strangled with a handkerchief, and Lord Morley is struck over the head with a pipe. The killed then starts the car and puts it into gear before letting it crash into the nearby lake with both of the Morleys' bodies still inside.

The next morning, Inspector Winship (Don Knotts) and Dr. Tart (Tim Conway) - two bumbling American detectives who were transferred over to Scotland Yard due to Tart's wacky inventions - are called on to solve the Morley case. The two detectives had made their names and faces in the London Sentinel after capturing a criminal named "Long Nose" Mullins. On the way, the stop at a gas station, which they accidentally destroy when Winship unknowingly sets a lit cigar on the back of their car, and when they drive off, the cigar falls into a portion of the ground soaked in gasoline, creating a fire which spreads to the gas pump and causes the entire structure of the gas station to explode into flames.

The detectives reach the mansion, brandishing a letter signed by the Lord Morley, asking the detectives to investigate his own murder. The questionable staff dismiss the Morleys' death as an accident rather than a murder, with Lord Morley's death being a heart attack, causing him to accidentally drive into the lake, drowning both his wife and himself. Despite this, the detectives are introduced to Mistress Phyllis Morley (Trisha Noble), the Morleys' adoptive daughter, and sole heiress to the Morley fortune. After interviewing her, she introduces them to the staff:

  • The Honourable Mr. Uwatsum (John Fujioka), the Morleys' Japanese samurai chef from Nara, Japan, whom Lady Morley won in a bridge game, and thought of her as a mama-san (female authority figure).
  • Hilda (Suzy Mandel), the Morleys' busty upstairs maid, whom Lord Morley gave a promotion every week and frequently commented that she was "full of bounce".
  • Tebit (Stan Ross), the Morleys' Romani Gypsy caretaker, whom Lord Morley had rescued from an animal trap, and had been loyal to Lord Morley since then.
  • Jock (Irwin Keyes), the Morleys' hunchbacked stables boy who served under Lord Morley's command during World War I, and had his tongue removed when he tried to steal a ruby while raping the wife of his commanding sergeant.
  • Justin (Bernard Fox), the Morleys' insane butler, whom Lord Morley testified for after Justin was accused of murdering his unfaithful wife and her 13 lovers. Because of this, he becomes increasingly agitated whenever someone says the word "murder".
  • and Nanny (Grace Zabriskie), the Morleys' German maid, bitter towards Phyllis.

After the introductions and what role they served in the household, the detectives then re-enact the murder scene using the weapons recovered from the crime scene, as well as the still-functioning car, which had been dragged out of the lake. After the re-enactment, they begin interviewing the suspects. After interviewing Uwatsum, and confirming that he did not kill the Morleys, they later find his corpse in a dumbwaiter, with a katana through his body, and a note left behind by the killer. When they bring Phyllis to see the body, however, it has vanished.

They then go out to the graveyard and see Tebit digging for worms to use as fishing bait. Tebit tells the detectives that he buit Lord Morley's crypt and sealed the coffin, but he built the crypt so that it could be unlocked from inside, since Lord Morley had a fear of being buried, and if he ever came back to life, he could get out of the crypt easily. The detectives then return to find Tebit half-buried in the dirt, dead; his killer has carved a message into Tebit's tombstone. They run to the stables where Jock works, only to find him dead as well, with a note tied to his waist, left behind by the killer. With new evidence, they run back inside to tell Phyllis the news. However, Justin returns to tell them that no bodies have been found, and that he has searched the entire estate. The staff believe that Lord Morley's ghost committed the murders, as Lord Morley claimed to be able to return from the dead.

While in the bedroom, Tart finds another note in his coat, written this time by Lord Morley, saying that he is no longer contained inside his grave and is now roaming the moors surrounding the estate. Winship gets the idea to go down to the mausoleum and confirm whether Lord Morley is actually inside the grave or not. Upon opening the crypt, a horrific puppet of an aged person dressed in a black cloak springs up from the coffin, startling the detectives; they run out of the mausoleum screaming in terror before entering the mansion. As they press the elevator, the elevator doors open, and Winship falls inside the elevator, next to Hilda's body, with a knife through her back. Attached to the knife is another note left behind by the killer. Winship runs out of the elevator to get help, but falls down the stairs into Nanny. Tart runs down to help him, and the three of them head back to the elevator only to find Hilda's body gone.

Back in the bedroom, Tart accidentally discovers a secret passage leading behind the walls, and the two detectives enter the passageway. Tart then discovers secret peepholes behind a portrait in Phyllis's bedroom, and then watches Phyllis enter the room and undress. Winship moves Tart out of the way and tells him to find another way to see. Unfortunately for Tart, Phyllis leaves before he can see further.

The two detectives continue down the passageway until they discover Justin sitting in a chair, hanged from a cuckoo clock, and holding a silver platter engraved with another message from the killer. Winship tells Tart to stay with the body while he goes to inform Phyllis. Unfortunately, while Tart is not looking, the wall rotates, and when it returns Justin's body is missing; Tart notices this too late. Suddenly, a figure in a black cloak emerges from the rotating wall and attacks Tart.

Winship returns with Phyllis to find Tart's body in the place of Justin's body. Thinking that his partner is dead, Winship expresses his regrets at taking Tart from his mother and his home, but Tart - revealed to be only unconscious - corrects him when he says that his hometown is Minneapolis, Minnesota, when he is actually from St. Paul, and tells Winship that he does not know what happened to Justin's body.

As the three walk down a hallway, Phyllis tells them that Nanny would plan to murder everyone, including Phyllis, then solely inherit the fortune. As she says this, they hear Nanny scream, and race to her aid, only to find her body on the floor, strangled by a baby doll. Winship then winds up the doll, revealing another message left by the killer before the doll is consumed in a cloud of smoke. As Tart runs to get a pigeon to relay a message to Scotland Yard, Nanny's body disappears.

Tart returns and tells Winship that all the pigeon squadron leader has been murdered, and they all hear a noise from behind the door. Tart opens it, only to find Lord Morley's bangle-dancing spear protruding from the door, with the final note attached to it. The note demands Phyllis to come down to Lord Morley's "torture chamber" (whose purpose is not explained) to see who the true murderer is. The key to the torture chamber is attached to the note. Seeing the opportunity, the detectives decide to go down to the torture chamber instead of Phyllis.

While down in the torture chamber, Winship gets caught in a deadly trap, where he is automatically cuffed to a chair and slowly dragged towards a bundle of axes threatening to chop him to bits. Tart frantically tries to find something to cut the rope with until the cloaked figure - whom the group has named "The Shadow" - leaps out to rescue him, and cuts the rope using an executioner's axe. A boa constrictor then frightens them into a trash compactor, where they somehow survive being compressed into a bale of garbage.

Once out of the garbage, they find Phyllis taking all of the Morleys' money and preparing to leave the mansion. She then confesses to having killed the Morleys for their money to support her gambling habit, when the Morleys would not lend any more money to her. Planning to kill the detectives and escape the mansion, she falls backward into a flower bed while retreating, where she is grabbed by The Shadow figure, who has been hiding in the dirt. The Shadow scares her to the point that she faints, at which time the shadow takes off his cape, revealing himself to be Lord Morley. The members of the staff then arrive, having faked their own deaths as part of the plan.

The next morning, Phyllis is arrested, and Lord Morley reveals the true story: Lord Morley had escaped the car crash and gathered the staff in order to gain their help in a plan to force Phyllis into confessing to the murder of his wife and attempt on his own life. Lord Morley remained "dead" (in hiding) as part of the plan, and wrote the letter to Scotland Yard in order to request Winship and Tart as investigators, presumably because of their incompetence, noted early on in the film. After Lord Morley finishes telling them his plan, he congratulates the detectives, and for their help, they receive a very rare, 3,000-year-old sarcophagus, which is placed in their cargo area.

As Winship and Tart enter their car and start driving away, Tart and Winship debate about the legend of the Wookalar: a man-like creature with superhuman strength and a pig-like face. Throughout the entire film, Tart believes that Wookalars do exist, much to Winship's annoyace, as he believes Wookalars do not exist. As Winship once more disregards the existance of a Wookalar as make-believe, a Wookalar suddenly appears from their newly-acquired sarcophagus. Tart and Winship both look behind them and scream in terror that the Wookalar does is in fact exist.



The two comedic actors Conway and Knotts achieved success onscreen when they were paired in several family-friendly feature films for Disney: The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), Gus (1976), and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979).[2] Tim Conway and John Myhers wrote a screenplay which became The Prize Fighter[2] and after its success at the box office (and in rentals), Conway and Myhers wrote another Knotts and Conway team-up, The Private Eyes.


The Private Eyes earned $12 million in rentals during its initial release, and became the most popular film made at New World Pictures under Roger Corman.[1][3]


  1. ^ a b Koetting, Christopher T. (2009), Mind Warp!: The Fantastic True Story of Roger Corman's New World Pictures, Hemlock Books, pp. 172, 188–190 
  2. ^ a b Tillisch, Rob (29 June 2005). "The Prize Fighter (1979)". Retrieved 17 August 2015. 
  3. ^ The Private Eyes (1980) Trivia at the Internet Movie Database

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