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Film / The Private Eyes

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It's safe to say the case isn't in good hands…

The Private Eyes is a 1980 comedy mystery film set in the early twentieth century. Tim Conway and Don Knotts star as two bumbling American detectives, Inspector Winship (Knotts) and Dr. Tart (Conway), who are assigned to solve the mysterious murder of a Lord and Lady Morley. The two encounter the heiress (Trisha Noble) and a questionable staff.

As the investigation continues, each of the staff is seemingly killed off one-by-one by “The Shadow”, a mysterious figure who one can only assume is the prime suspect.

This was the final pairing for Conway and Knotts and was filmed at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.


Tropes Associated with the Movie

  • A Death in the Limelight: Every member of the staff is killed after being interviewed by Winship and Tart.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Animated Credits Opening
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: The Time Gun (a pistol that fires itself every hour on the hour) is a negligent discharge incident waiting to happen (You better turn it off, it's almost three o'clock *BANG*).
  • Ax-Crazy: Justin, the butler, is clearly unstable, being accused of killing his wife and her thirteen lovers. Lord Morley, however, convinced the authorities that it was an act of “justifiable insanity”.
  • Bear Trap: Tibet's loyalty to the Morleys comes from how they saved him from an animal trap, although said trap is still stuck to his leg years later.
  • Beast Man: The wookalar. A boar-person who sucks brains out of noses.
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  • Berserk Button: Say the word “murder” in front of Justin and you see just how crazy he really is.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Phyllis Morley. At first, she seems forlorn over her parents' deaths, but is in fact the actual killer.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Played for Laughs with Tart and Winship trapped inside the car with the Wookalar.
  • Brain Food: The Wookalar; A weird were-boar creature that Tart mentions a few times in connection to some weird "Chupacabra"-like case (to the annoyance of Winship), has a thing for sucking out the brains of critters and people through their noses.
  • Cartoon Bomb: Of course we see a bunch of these in the Animated Credits Opening, but the Shadow also rolls one toward Winship and Tart as they inspect the skeleton dressed as Santa; it explodes, sending them down the chimney and into the fireplace.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Nearly every single character in the film qualifies as this to varying degrees. The only characters who don’t qualify are Winship, Phyllis and Lady Morley.
  • The Cloud Cuckoo Lander Was Right: See Real After All below.
  • Clueless Detective: Winship and Tart spend the entire movie wandering around the manor with no understanding of what's going on as nearly everyone gets killed, and only solve the case because the Shadow manipulated Phyllis into confessing.
  • Complexity Addiction: The Shadow's plan to trick Phyllis into confessing is very complicated, and totally unnecessary - since he had witnessed the murder of Lady Morley, he could have just told the police she had done it and ended the case right then. But then, Lord Morley never could get anything right.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Winship's normal response to Tart's stupidity is with a sour remark.
  • The Ditz: Tart is way more scatter brained than Winship.
  • Easily Forgiven: Jock is a faithful servant to Lord Morley even though Morley had his tongue cut out when they were in the army together.
  • Faking the Dead: Lord Morley and the staff. After surviving Phyllis’s attempted murder, Lord Morley summoned the staff and devised a plan of phony killings to trick Phyllis into a confession.
  • Gag Boobs: Hilda, the maid.
  • Good All Along: The Shadow, whom we are led to believe is the killer. This is first hinted when Winship is strapped to an execution device, only to be rescued by the Shadow. Turns out this was because Lord Morley was the Shadow the entire time and it was all a plan to trick Phyllis into thinking it was safe for her to come out of hiding.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: Tart’s method of communication with the Yard is through carrier pigeons. Unfortunately, every time he tries to use them, something goes wrong. For example, one get thrown through a glass window and breaks its wing, another is shot down by a hunter, and one is killed by the killer.
  • Inheritance Murder: Phyllis Morley, which is honestly the most reasonable explanation, seeing how she is the sole heir to the Morley fortune. As it turns out... Phyllis was a gambling addict who needed more money, and killed her own parents to inherit the fortune.
  • Jerkass: The Nanny is not a particularly pleasant woman. She speaks in a dull monotone most of the time and usually snaps Justin out of his violent rampages by beating the snot out of him.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Mistress Phyllis Morley. She even has a scene of her changing out of a bathrobe while the two detectives fight over who gets to peep on her.
    • Hilda, the maid, sticks a card in her cleavage in her introduction scene and has been described as having a lot of “bounce”.
  • National Stereotypes: Mr. Uwatsum. He’s a Japanese samurai who happens to serve as the chef at Morley Manner. He also tends to bow excessively when apologizing and assumes a fighting stance when threatened.
    • Also Tibet, a stereotypical Gypsy.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Both Winship and Tart find themselves in a trash compactor, but come out of it alive in a cube of garbage.
  • Only Sane Man: Winship. He’s constantly exasperated by Tart’s stupidity and cluelessness.
  • Phone Call from the Dead: The letter summoning Winship and Tart to investigate the Morley murder was signed by the late Lord Morley, who wasn't actually dead when he wrote it.
  • Pig Man: Again, the wookalar.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Dr. Tart. He’s more bumbling, clueless and dim-witted compared to Winship.
  • Real After All: Dr. Tart mentions a fearsome wear-boar called a wookalar, who sucks brains out of it's victim's noses. Winship naturally thinks Tart's being an idiot and fearing an imaginary monster. Then; At the end of the movie, as they drive and argue over the existence of the wookalar, the real deal rises up for a big Danger Takes a Backseat moment. Scary hilarity ensues...*cue credits*.
    *car swerves as Winship & Tart panic.*
    Winship: "*AUGH!* Quick! Throw him a chicken!"
    Tart: "Where am I gonna get a chicken?!"
    Winship: "Well; You better or he'll suck your brains out!"
  • Skepticism Failure: Inspector Winship; Meet Mr. Wookalar! Hi, Wookalar! You may scream, now.
  • Skeptic No Longer: Inspector Winship spends the whole film disbelieving Tart's continuous mentions of the Wookalar (Tart being a Cloud Cuckoolander doesn't helps), up until the darn thing turns out to have gotten into their car. Winship instantly tells Tarp to use of the ways to deal with it that Tarp had mentioned before.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: The notes left by The Shadow at the murder scenes contain poems which all end like this, except the one left with Hilda (and it's possible that Tart didn't finish reading that one, since we only hear two lines of it). This possibly because the Shadow is Lord Morley, who can't get anything right.
    If Jock could talk, he'd give you a clue.
    But now that he's dead, what can you do?
    He deserved what he got. I don't regret it a bit.
    By the way, you're standing in bull ca-ca.
  • Uncertain Doom: We never find out if Winship and Tart escaped the wookalar. The final shot is their car swerving and them panicking in comical fashion.
  • The Unintelligible: Jock, the Groom, is a hunchback who is impossible to understand due to the fact his tongue was cut out for trying to steal a ruby from a woman’s navel.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: In gratitude for helping with the case; Lord Morley gives Winship and Tart an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus as a parting gift and has it loaded in their car....which turns out to be the hiding place of the wookalar.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Winship and Tart. As infuriating as Tart is to work with, Winship expresses his personal appreciation for him as a partner and a friend when he is tricked into thinking Tart has been murdered.