DVD Review: Secret Beyond the Door

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Fritz Lang | CAST: Joan Bennett, Michael Redgrave, Anne Revere, Barbara O’Neil, Natalie Schafer
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 9/4/2012 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: none
SPECS: NR | 99 min. | Film noir mystery | 1.37:1 fullscreen | mono

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Fritz Lang’s (Metropolis) 1947 mystery Secret Beyond the Door is one of three 1940s film noirs, along with The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945), that the director made with producer Walter Wanger which starred Wanger’s then-wife Joan Bennett. While the other two films have enjoyed wide release, Secret Beyond the Door has been seldom seen and then often in poor, truncated transfers. Olive Film has issued a beautiful new edition of the film remastered in high-definition from an archival 35mm print. But despite its visual extravagance, it’s sad to report that Secret is no lost masterpiece.

Secret Beyond the Door movie scene

Joan Bennett looks for answers in Secret Beyond the Door.

The plot (it was written by Silvia Richards from a story by Rufus King) seems cobbled together with elements from suiperior films, especially Rebecca. A rich, bored heiress (Bennett) marries a handsome stranger (Michael Redgrave, The Browning Version), ends up in a gloomy house dominated by louring, mannish women, and discover, well, a secret beyond one of the house’s doors. And the psychoanalytical coda behind the secret seems as arbitrary as it is dated.

The performances offer no compensation. In her other collaborations with Lang, Bennett was cast with (and obsessed over by) two of the screen’s great character actors: Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea. In that context, her Meissen-like beauty counted for more and her brittle acting was less of a liability. Playing a conventional women-in-love-and-jeopardy opposite a traditional leading man, Bennett’s acting limitations are more cruelly exposed. And Michael Redgrave lacks the energy and charisma that supposedly leads Bennett to abandon caution. His future knighthood was not predicated on this performance.

As in Rebecca, the house is a looming presence, almost another character, and yet it’s seen only in close shots of the entrance, which look like a soundstage flat.

Secret Beyond the Door is a flawed effort by a legendary director, but Olive has given Lang completists the best opportunity yet to luxuriate in his baroque atmosphere as captured by legendary cinematographer Stanley Cortez (The Night of the Hunter) and evocatively scored by the great Miklós Rózsa (The Asphalt Jungle).

 

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About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.