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With: Joan Bennett, Michael Redgrave, Anne Revere, Barbara O'Neil, Natalie Schafer, Paul Cavanagh, Anabel Shaw, Rosa Rey, James Seay, Mark Dennis
Written by: Silvia Richards, based on a story by Rufus King
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 99
Date: 12/29/1947

Secret Beyond the Door (1947)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Key to the Mind

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of Fritz Lang's most obscure movies since the home video era, Secret Beyond the Door has now been rescued and released on DVD and Blu-ray, thanks to Olive Films. Clearly inspired by the psychoanalysis "craze" of the time -- also exploited in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) -- Secret Beyond the Door ventures into some astounding arenas (even for Lang, who was an expert in paranoia), both of the mind and otherwise.

The shockingly beautiful Joan Bennett, in her fourth and final film with Lang (after Man Hunt, The Woman in the Window, and Scarlet Street), stars as Celia, a wealthy, single socialite. When her brother dies, she's just about to settle on marrying the new administrator of her estate, when she goes to Mexico for one last jaunt. There, she meets Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave), astoundingly, during a knife fight in which two locals squabble over a girl.

Mark runs an architecture magazine, based on the idea that, according to the way that rooms are built, people can behave a certain way within them. They quickly marry and Celia moves into Mark's mansion. Like the heroine of Hitchcock's Rebecca, she's alone much of the time, and noses around, discovering increasingly odd and bizarre things. Mark keeps a "museum" of six famous rooms in which unspeakable things happened, plus a seventh room that is kept locked. Though, thankfully, unlike the heroine of Rebecca, Celia -- as written by Silvia Richards -- is not a mousy pushover.

Celia tries to escape at one point, running out into the foggy marshes at night. Following that, Mark has a fantasy sequence in which he's on trial and questions himself about murder. Another character wears a scarf over her face to make Mark believe she still carries a scar there, and thereby insuring her employment in the house. The movie is filled with brilliant little moments like that, just skirting the edges of insanity and darkness, but planted firmly in the realm of logic.

Another treat is the black-and-white cinematography by Stanley Cortez, best known for his legendary work on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). His camera turns rooms and doorways into prisons, with horizontal and vertical lines slashing the frame into tiny compartments. The unsung screenwriter Richards went on to write another of Lang's best films, Rancho Notorious (1952). Add to that the music of Miklós Rózsa, who had also done Spellbound, and you've got a great package.

As usual, Olive Films' Blu-ray truly honors the movie's great visuals. It comes with no extras, but it's wonderful to have this movie available at last.

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