Secret Beyond the Door
Directed by Fritz Lang
Screenplay by Silvia Richards; story by Rufus King
Diana Production Company
First viewing/Olive Films DVD
#214 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Of all of Fritz Lang’s American films, the authors of The Book select this one??? Incomprehensible.
Long stretches of the film are accompanied by the whispered interior monologue of Celia Lamphere (Joan Bennett). Celia inherits a fortune when her older brother dies of a heart attack. Safe, steady Bob, who has been appointed to help administer the money, loves Celia and says he will propose when the time is right.
Celia travels to Mexico to forget her grief. There, she witnesses a couple of thugs fight with knives in the street over a woman. This awakens her inner animal. Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave), another bystander, is similarly inspired. He soon makes Celia forget all about Bob and they are married without futher ado. But on their honeymoon, Mark suddenly departs for New York when Celia playfully locks the door to their hotel room.
Celia is elated when Mark finally sends for her and rushes to his family manse in upstate New York but his sister Caroline (Anne Revere) is the one who meets the train. Mark turns up the next day, his odd behavior undiminished. To add to that, Celia discovers her husband had a first marriage and a young son he didn’t tell her about. The son and Mark are not on speaking terms. Furthermore, a Miss Robey is living there as his assistant. She lurks mysteriously, one half of her face always obscured by a scarf.
We gradually learn that Mark, an architect, has a real problem with female authority figures. Among other quirks, he collects rooms. That’s right, entire actual rooms complete with their authentic furnishings. He is especially fixated on rooms in which murders took place. One of these rooms is ominously locked. Celia cannot resist finding out what is the Secret Behind the Door.
To start with the good points, this movie is visually gorgeous with the typical Fritz Lang Expressionistic flare and all the actors do their best with the rather pretentious script. For me the good points end right there. I find the interior monologue (as opposed to standard voice-over narration which I quite like) to be an irritating gimmick and here it is delivered in such hushed tones that I had a hard time following it. The story, which is loaded with Freudian symbolism and Oedipal complexes, is a mess. The ending abruptly abandons all the many established plot strands and makes little sense.