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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BEYOND THE SECRET DOOR (1947)

The last and least of four films Fritz Lang made with Joan Bennett suffers all sorts of woes, but especially from the German director’s growing Hitchcock envy. The story structure may have been pulled out of Bela Bartok’s BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE opera, but it’s heavily seasoned with swipes out of REBECCA/’40 and SPELLBOUND/’45. Alas, something went very wrong along the way and it all plays out like some Freudian text with herky-jerky reactions from what on paper looks to be an excellent cast: Bennett; Michael Redgrave in his Stateside debut; Anne Revere; Barbara O’Neil; Natalie Schafer; and a smashing ‘off’ adolescent perf from Mark Dennis as a resentful step-son. The story sends Joan Bennett on a long trip after she comes into her inheritance. There, she recklessly meets & marries a near stranger (Redgrave) who neglects to tell her about his step son, his late wife, his financial troubles or his collection of preserved historic rooms of death and murder thru the ages. What? Yes, a little underground museum in his estate, but with one room permanently locked. What could possibly be in there? Er, Rochester’s mad wife? The whole situation is simply too bizarre to work, and Lang’s abrupt handling of his cast adds plenty of unintended guffaws. (To be fair, a new studio administration hacked away at Lang’s original cut.) Odd as this all is, and the film was a commercial & critical disaster for Lang, the goofy thing builds considerable suspense in the third act, much helped by bringing forward Miklos Rozsa compelling score. (Rozsa doesn’t call on the theremin as he did on SPELLBOUND, but something strange is going on with the instrumentation. Reversed tracks in the orchestral mix? Probably not, but that’s what it sounds like.)

DOUBLE-BILL: MAN HUNT/’41; WOMAN IN THE WINDOW/’44 and SCARLET STREET/’45 are the other Bennett/Lang pics.

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