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SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, THE(director: Fritz Lang; screenwriters: from a story by Rufus King/Silvia Richards; cinematographer: Stanley Cortez; editor: Arthur D. Hilton; cast: Joan Bennett (Celia Lamphere), Michael Redgrave (Mark Lamphere), Anne Revere (Caroline Lamphere), Barbara O’Neil (Miss Robey), Natalie Schafer (Edith Potter), James Seay (Bob Dwight), Mark Dennis (David), Paul Cavanagh (Rick Barrett); Runtime: 99; Universal; 1948)
“Even Lang himself thought this was a poor film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The premise of this thriller might be good, but even a great director like Fritz Lang and a superb cast consisting of Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave can’t save this film from its sophomoric use of Freud. The pop psychology tried was never convincing.

Celia (Bennett) and her much older brother Rick Barrett (Cavanagh) are very close. The young socialite relied on him for sound advice on life and in business investments. His sudden death leaves her crushed, but the young family lawyer, Bob Dwight, ably handles the business affairs of the family trust fund she inherits while also falling in love with her. But she has no romantic feelings for the nice guy lawyer.

Vacationing in Mexico, Celia falls madly in love with an architect, Mark Lamphere (Redgrave). But she knows very little about him. She has feelings even on her wedding day that there’s danger in this marriage, but she puts those cloudy thoughts out of her mind by thinking “this is not the time to think of danger.”

Soon Celia catches her hubby in lies. She also learns from her lawyer that Mark’s broke and his home is heavily mortgaged — that he’s scraping by only on a magazine he runs. When Celia joins him in his suburban estate outside of NYC, she’s stunned to learn from his sister that he was married before and that his wife died. There’s also an unsettling teenager, David, who accuses his father of murdering his mother.

Mark is not only weird in his views on women, but he compulsively collects original rooms in which historical murders have occurred. He reasons that murder fascinates him because it is a stronger emotion than love.

For some unfathomable reason, which in this film is called ‘reckless love,’ Celia remains loyal to her possibly murderous husband. She chooses to stay with him even when she unlocks the secret room he keeps locked from everyone and realizes he might have another room prepared for her immortality. Irrationally, she thinks she can unlock his mind like she did the room.

If Lang was not the director, this film could have been a real stinker. But he evokes as much suspense as you can out of such nonsense, and the visual images by the great cinematographer Stanley Cortez are truly remarkable. The film is worth seeing for those reasons. Even Lang himself thought this was a poor film, and he’ll get no argument from me.

REVIEWED ON 9/15/2001 GRADE: C –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”