BEHIND LOCKED DOORS
(director: Budd Boetticher; screenwriters: Eugene Ling/Malvin Wald/story by Mr. Wald; cinematographer: Guy Roe; editor: Norman Colbert; music: Irving Friedman; cast: Richard Carlson (Mr. Stewart), Lucille Bremer (Kathy Lawrence), Thomas Browne Henry (Dr. Clifford Porter), Douglas Fowley (Larson), Ralf Harolde (Fred Hopps), Herbert Heyes (Judge Finlay Drake), Tor Johnson (The Champ), Gwen Donovan (Madge Bennett), John Holland (Dr. J.R. Bell), Morgan Farley (Topper); Runtime: 62; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Eugene Ling; Eagle Lion Films/Kino Video; 1948)
“Aside from being well directed, this melodrama has little else to recommend it.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Budd Boetticher directs a fast-paced low-budget B-film thriller with a far-fetched idea as its storyline and presents a shaky portrayal of the mental health profession. The film’s claustrophobic and oppressive surroundings in a private mental hospital, moves this paranoiac tale somewhat into film noir territory. Though because the crime story is so straightforward, I think that might be a stretch. It’s the dark situation created by the narrative that brings out the perverse nature of those establishment figures in charge of the helpless that gives this film its creepy feeling, which makes this programmer more presentable than expected. A lesser director than Boetticher would have been caught in all the film’s snake-pit absurdities and never would have come away with such a decent result.
Attractive Kathy Lawrence (Bremer) is an investigative reporter for a San Francisco newspaper who has a tip that a crooked ex-judge, Finlay Drake (Heyes), who is on the lam and has a $10,000 reward posted by the law for his capture, is hiding out in a private mental hospital and is abetted on the outside by his girlfriend Madge Bennett. Kathy after the scoop agrees to split the reward money with the new P.I. on the block, Stewart (Carlson), if he would agree to go undercover as a patient in the mental hospital to make certain the judge is there. Kathy becomes his first-client, in a manner of speaking.
This plan calls for Stewart to have an alias and to convince a state psychiatrist that he’s mentally ill and needs to be placed in a sanitarium. Posing as a husband and wife, Stewart easily gets a letter recommending his admittance from Dr. Bell (John Holland) as a manic depressive. The letter is Stewart’s ticket into the sanitarium, where he finds one attendant, Hopps (Harolde), to be kindhearted but secretive about why he works in a place where the patients are regularly abused by the other sadistic attendant Larson (Fowley) while the sleazy director Dr. Porter (Henry) just ignores this behavior. Spending his time sniffing around for the judge while his wife acts as liaison on visiting days, the private detective hasn’t spotted his mark yet but believes he’s hiding in the locked ward–where they keep the violent patient called the Champ (Tor Johnson-cult fave Ed Wood icon). Armed with a photo Kathy slipped him of the judge, Stewart slips an arsonist patient (Morgan Farley) some matches and he responds by setting a blaze in the locked ward. Rushing to put out the fire, Stewart spots the judge in a private room. But the wary judge becomes suspicious of the inquisitive Stewart and when the evil trio take possession of Stewart’s photo of the judge, they realize he’s a spy and plan to deal harshly with him. Porter who agreed to keep the judge for a month and is handsomely paid, has kept him for 5 weeks and in a panic tells the judge he wants him out immediately. The judge executes a plan where he throw Stewart into the Champ’s cell and the ex-boxer obliges by giving Stewart a severe beating. But, as expected in such a predictable storyline, the enterprising Kathy devices a plan to rescue her private eye before the judge can escape with Madge.
No character was developed, the storyline never seemed believable, and despite the attempts made through the dark photography to create tension that wasn’t possible because we didn’t know enough about the lead characters and the villains were merely cardboard characters. Aside from being well directed, this melodrama has little else to recommend it. Boetticher is better known today for the many splendid Westerns he directed during the 1950s with Randolph Scott as star, which include Commanche Station, Ride Lonesome, and Tall T.
REVIEWED ON 12/6/2003 GRADE: C