GenreComedy, Mystery Music directorPeter Matz LanguageEnglish
WriterTim Conway, John Myhers Release dateApril 17, 1980 (1980-04-17) CastDon Knotts (Inspector Winship), Tim Conway (Dr. Tart), Trisha Noble (Mistress Phyllis Morley), Bernard Fox (Justin), Grace Zabriskie (Nanny), John Fujioka (Mr. Uwatsum) Similar moviesScary Movie 5, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, Fifty Shades of Black, Mystery Team
TaglineWho better to solve England's most puzzling mystery than these two international crime busters?
The Private Eyes is an 1980 American comedy mystery film starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts. The pair play bumbling American detectives who (inexplicably) work for Scotland Yard, obvious parodies of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. It was filmed at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
It was directed by Lang Elliott and 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 opens early in the twentieth century, at an English country mansion with the apparent murder of Lord and Lady Morley in their car by a figure in a black cape. Inspector Winship (Knotts) and Dr. Tart (Conway), two American detectives transferred over to Scotland Yard, then travel to the Morley mansion, brandishing a letter from the late Lord Morley asking him to investigate his own murder. They encounter the heiress (Trisha Noble) and a questionable staff. As the two investigate the murder, each of the staff, which includes a samurai, a hunchback, a busty maid, a gypsy, and an insane butler to mention a few, are seemingly killed. However, each of their bodies disappear before the detectives can show them to the heiress. The detectives then wind up in a "torture chamber" (whose purpose is not explained), where Winship is caught in a deadly trap until the caped figure ("The Shadow") leaps out to rescue him.
A boa constrictor then frightens them into a trash compactor, where they survive being compressed into a bale of garbage. Once out of the garbage, they find the heiress taking the Morley money and preparing to leave the mansion. She then confesses to having killed the Morleys for their money as she has a gambling habit. Planning to kill the detectives and escape the mansion, she falls backward into a flower bed while retreating, where she is grabbed by the shadowy 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. Morley had escaped the car crash and gathered the staff in order to gain their help in a plan to force the heiress 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, writing 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. As Morley continues his tale, the members of the staff arrive, having faked their own deaths as part of the plan. The heiress is then arrested and the private eyes are thanked with a gift of a very rare sarcophagus, which is placed in their car.
As Winship and Tart enter their car and start driving, they get into an argument over the existence of creatures known as "wookalars," said to be manlike creatures with superhuman strength and a pig-like face. The film ends with the private eyes' car careening down the road as they scream in terror, due to the sudden appearance of a wookalar from their newly acquired sarcophagus.
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). Tim Conway and John Myhers wrote a screenplay which became The Prize Fighter and after its success at the box office (and in rentals), Conway and Myhers wrote another Knotts and Conway team-up, The Private Eyes.
Don Knotts as Inspector Winship
Tim Conway as Dr. Tart
Trisha Noble as Mistress Phyllis Morley
John Fujioka as Mr. Uwatsum
Bernard Fox as Justin
Grace Zabriskie as Nanny
Stan Ross as Tibet
Irwin Keyes as Jock
Suzy Mandel as Hilda
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.