Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Secret Beyond the Door

Secret Beyond the Door (1947), Lang's psycho-noir version of the Bluebeard myth, mixes Lang's noir mode with a fascination - presumably in the air at the time - with psychoanalysis. The film really seems a variation on Hitchcock's Rebecca and Spellbound, but seems a bit unsure what to do with its material. There are, as ever, strong visuals to enjoy with Lang: the chiaroscuro train station and the atmospheric photography of Stanley Cortez, not to mention Joan Bennett's wardrobe, are all enchanting to the eye. But there are too many flaws, and they prevent us getting involved in the story. First the husband, played by Michael Redgrave, seems to be motivated by money ('He hasn't got a cent' we learn at one point), but as the psycho-stuff kicks in that is forgotten,and it all becomes something to do with his mother and women. There is a boy character who is introduced and then disappears. In real life, the Joan Bennett character would leave too, and quickly, when she finds out her new hubby is a serial liar. In the big party scene, no one seems to notice that the man leading them around a collection of rooms and luridly telling them about the murders committed therein is an obvious nutcase. The secretary / admirer figure is confused, and obviously just an attempt to recreate Mrs Danvers, except she has to change from being sinister to being sympathetic. In the final act, there are (at least) three dramatic suspense scenes, which illustarte the rule of diminishing returns. Above all, there is just no chemistry between Bennett and Redgrave, and one wishes Lang would have taken time off from looking at architecture (interesting, though,  that the husband is an architect - maybe a bit of a Lang surrogate?), and tried to think through the male lead character with his star actor. As it is, the sudden shifts from affectionate to coldly aloof simply become comic. Dramatically Secret Beyond the Door is a mess, but it has its moments, the score is effective, and it's an intriguing oddity in the oeuvre.