Secret Beyond the Door (Kino Lorber, NR)

Heiress Celia (Joan Bennett) is vacationing in Mexico with gal pal Edith (Natalie Schaefer, a.k.a. Mrs. Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island) when who should pop up in her life but Mr. Right in the form of Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave, in his first American film) and before you know they’re tying the knot. All goes well on the honeymoon until a practical joke brings out a whole new side of Mark, who turns on the deepfreeze and returns home to New England, claiming he must attend to urgent business.

Celia might have known to be on her guard, because she dream of daffodils before meeting Mark, and according to a dream book she once read, that means the dreamer is in great danger.* Still, in 1947 people expected women to make their marriage work, so she returns to the U.S. and the family mansion, where she learns that Mark has a son (Mark Dennis) from a previous marriage who is looked after by his sister Caroline (Ann Revere) and his secretary Miss Robey (Barbara O’Neil); the latter wears a scarf to cover burn scars she received saving the child from a fire.

They did get married pretty quickly so maybe Mark never found the right moment to tell her, but then she learns that some people believe wife #1 didn’t die on her own. Then she learns about Marks’s unusual little hobby that he omitted to mention:  he has a suite of rooms set up like stage sets displaying famous murder scenes. That’s quite the kink, especially since the final room is kept locked, which would put anyone in mind of Bluebeard. Not a comforting thought if you’re the current wife, even if you’re the type that likes to live dangerously (and Celia has already told us that she is). And things get weirder from there.

Silvia Richard’s screenplay for Secret Beyond the Door (from a story by Rufus King) is poetic to a fault, but the plot is something of a mess, there are way too many shifts of tone and style, and the voiceover is often hokey. On the other hand, Fritz Lang sure knew how to direct a film. And Stanley Cortez knew how to shoot in black and white,  Miklós Rósza knew how to write a score, and Max Parker knew how to design a production (it’s pretty clear this was shot on soundstages, but Parker fills the screen with so much detail that it’s easy to imagine real locations).

What I most enjoyed about Secret Beyond the Door is how professionally everything put up on the screen was done—even when the story is not working, the technical people knew how to get their jobs done, making this film is a tribute to the craft of filmmaking. Secret Beyond the Door doesn’t come close to Lang’s best films, but even second-rate films from Hollywood’s Golden Age can be worth a watch for what does work in them, and this one certainly is. | Sarah Boslaugh

*No idea where this comes from since a quick search of the internet says dream of daffodils signify new beginnings, hope, joy, and that sort of thing. Maybe this dream is like the Fool in the Tarot deck: he’s off on a new adventure if he doesn’t break his neck first.

Secret Beyond the Door is distributed on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The print is from a 4K Scan of a new 2022 HD Master. Extras include an audio commentary track by author and film historian Alan K. Rode and trailers for a number of films. This edition includes a cardboard slipcase as well as the usual plastic case.

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