For all their achievements in other contexts, Tim Conway and Don Knotts delivered consistently disappointing results in the films they made together, combining dimwitted physical comedy, insipid verbal gags, and truly stupid characterizations into tiresome cinematic experiences. Sure, the Apple Dumpling Gang flicks have a certain goofball charm, but Conway and Knotts are confined to supporting roles. The duo’s final major collaboration, The Private Eyes, reveals why putting Conway and Knotts front and center was unwise. Both actors tend toward bug-eyed reaction shots, overly long pauses (designed, one fears, for anticipated waves of laughter), and voluminous amounts of bumbling. If watching desperate comics pretend to be idiots is your idea of a good time, The Private Eyes might amuse you. If not, it’s more likely to sap your will to live. Something of a riff on Sherlock Holmes, the picture is set in England, with Conway and Knotts playing American investigators who work for Scotland Yard. When a woman is killed at a private estate, the investigators snoop around the mansion, encountering cobwebs and secret passageways and the like, while trying to determine which of the victims' avaricious enemies was responsible for the murder. A typically moronic running joke involves the investigators using carrier pigeons to send messages, throwing the pigeons through windows amid much crashing of glass. There's also juvenile gross-out dialogue, on the order of, “That buzzard pus is backing up on me!” and “You ever have pudding with cat hair in it?” Some young viewers bonded with this movie at the right age, so it’s not as if The Private Eyes lacks advocates. Moreover, the old-fashioned production values recall Universal’s horror movies of the ’30s and ’40s, which is moderately appealing. But if the best one can say about a comedy is that it has a enjoyably musty look, that tells you what you need to know.
The Private Eyes: LAME