I mentioned in my review of The Big Heat a while back that I was unaccustomed to the idea that Fritz Lang, director of M and Metropolis, put all that behind him to make English-language Hollywood films. It’s a thought that comes up once more with this, Secret Beyond the Door, a noirish thriller starring Joan Bennett. I don’t know why I can’t get over the idea, especially because Lang appears to be a particularly competent Hollywood director, albeit one that prefers a sort of brevity and simple construction instead of convolution. If I were to pitch Secret Beyond the Door using today’s pitching method of ‘movie-meets-movie’, I’d say this is like a combination of Gaslight and The Reckless Moment (which incidentally also stars Bennett), with a little bit of Rebecca thrown in. I got a number of flashbacks to both films during this one’s run, and it was not at all unwarranted, given the film’s plot.
Bennett plays a young-ish woman named Celia, who engages in a whirlwind romance and marriage to a Mark Lamphere. Soon after, though, Mark’s behavior grows odd, and Celia begins to dig into his past, finding he has plenty of secrets he’s hidden away; secrets that may jeopardize Celia’s life. If my little plot synopsis sounds rather ham-handed and too much like publicity, well, that’s only because the film itself is like that. Everything from the script to the cinematography seems to be concerned with selling the film as much as possible, which also means it is rather formulaic, but this is a case of using the formula because it works. The story, as implied by my comparison, isn’t exactly one you’ve never seen before, but one can’t help but be moderately entertained since the film tries so hard at it. The film is also accompanied by yet another blunt and on-the-nose musical score. There’s a scene near the beginning that discusses Mark’s selling of his magazine that would have been innocuous, had it not been for the score whacking me over the head with the concept that there was supposed to be something amiss about the scene. It got to the point that I grew concerned every time a scene came along that had no music, and not for the characters involved. There’s also a narration used, which I mentioned in several prior reviews can be either a boon or a crutch. This opts for neither, but instead an expository stream of consciousness from Celia’s mind, telling us her thoughts as she reacts to the events around her. This takes away a little from the actor’s job, and some part of me wants to feel like it was a lazy decision, but another part doesn’t want to begrudge the filmmakers too much. Make of it what you will.
The ending was rather phoned in, and indeed the final lines are probably the cheesiest the film could possibly have come up with, but other than that, this was a by-the-books thriller that worked mostly because it was so by-the-books. If you’re looking for anything extra special with this one, I’d probably advise you to look elsewhere (the aforementioned Gaslight and Rebecca are some good starting points), but if you just want a nice popcorn flick for a night of entertainment, and of course you appreciate old films, this will do you all right. Part of me expected a little more from Fritz Lang, but oh well; not everyone bats 1.000, and this, while not being a home run, is still a solid hit.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10