Secret Beyond the Door (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: May 28, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Secret Beyond the Door (Blu-ray Review)


Fritz Lang

Release Date(s)

1947 (May 7, 2024)


Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: C
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Secret Beyond the Door (Blu-ray)

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Film noir flourished from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. Called B pictures or bottom-of-the-bill programmers at the time, many over the years have taken on classic status. Fritz Lang, most famous for the groundbreaking Metropolis, made several noirs in his later career, among them Secret Beyond the Door.

New York socialite Celia (Joan Bennett, Father of the Bride) has never been able to sustain a romantic relationship. On vacation in Mexico, she meets architect Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave, The Lady Vanishes) as a brutal knife fight breaks out practically in front of her. Celia’s off-screen narration indicates she’s in control of the developing relationship with Mark and, even though she hardly knows him, she very quickly falls in love and they marry.

Mark has secrets. Celia arrives at his gloomy estate only to be greeted by his authoritative sister Caroline (Anne Revere, National Velvet) and told that Mark is not yet there. She also learns, to her surprise, that Mark was previously married and has a teenage son, David (Mark Dennis, The Thirteenth Hour), who is extremely reticent. While exploring the vast house, she blunders into Mark’s secretary, Miss Robey (Barbara O’Neil, Gone With the Wind), who wears a strategically placed scarf to hide a gruesome facial burn scar. Later, David surprises Celia by introducing himself.

One wing of the mansion has six rooms transported from around the world, added by Mark and preserved exactly as they were when a notorious psychosexual murder of a female victim took place. A seventh room in that wing, with the number 7 stenciled on the door, is locked.

These elements sound like the makings of a juicy noir. Instead, the script by Silvia Richards devolves into an over-narrated jumble of Freudian psychology, old-dark-house melodrama, red herrings, hints of serial murder, and a significant bow to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The film is interesting to a point, until it gets mired in its own bizarreness.

The role of Celia is so poorly developed that she comes off as a capricious cipher. For a woman in love trying to remove layers of mystery surrounding her new husband, she goes about it in an oddly detached manner, more like an amateur detective than a worried wife. Bennett’s performance does little to enrich the character.

Redgrave is completely miscast as Mark. This is a role that demands an actor with greater charisma than Redgrave, who seems more like a humorless university professor than a romantic mystery. He has a cold screen presence that totally fails to convince us of Mark’s love for Celia. In fact, both main characters come off as distant and mechanical. There’s virtually no screen chemistry between Bennett and Redgrave.

Revere, as the sister who runs the household with efficiency, conveys authority and intelligence as well as sisterly concern for Mark’s welfare. O’Neil is haunting and forbidding as Miss Robey, the secretary who pops up unexpectedly and has her own secrets. Much like Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, Miss Robey is a largely hidden presence, secluded on an upper floor in her own suite and Mark’s adjacent office and unsettled by the presence of a new lady of the house. Everyone in Secret Beyond the Door has a secret backstory gradually revealed in an attempt to stoke suspense.

Director Lang and screenwriter Richards have given all the characters personality quirks, eccentricities, and flaws. Mark, though honestly in love, is obsessed to the point of psychosis. His son David is fixated on the morbid. Caroline has a peculiar relationship with her brother that combines maternal, paternal, and control impulses. Miss Robey is obsessed with Mark. Celia has commitment problems and emotional insecurity. The story is so cluttered with psychobabble that Secret Beyond the Door comes off as silly.

Secret Beyond the Door was shot by Stanley Cortez on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the original Academy aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is sourced from a new 4K scan of a 2022 HD Master by Paramount Pictures. There are no visual imperfections to hamper enjoyment. Clarity and contrast are excellent and show off Lang’s use of shadows and atmospheric lighting. Shots of Celia walking through deeply shadowed corridors in the large house are visual stand-outs. Blacks are deep and velvety. Details are well delineated, particularly in the studio-filmed Mexican village, Celia’s dresses, decor in Mark’s vast estate, long, creepy corridors, a sudden rain storm, and Celia’s rush into fog-shrouded woods behind the house. This is the same set in which Lon Chaney, Jr. stalked a victim in The Wolfman.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Sound effects include a rain storm, wind blowing through trees, and a crackling fire. Ambient noise is heard during a party scene. Miklos Rozsa’s score is overly grandiose (this is not Ben-Hur) and often swells at suspenseful moments, leading us to expect some momentous revelation, but the cues are false, raising expectations for undeliverable payoffs. The narration by Joan Bennett as Celia should have been used much more sparingly. It’s a lazy way to do the job that should have been the province of the script, the actors, and the director.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Alan K. Rode
  • The Woman in the Window Trailer (1:45)
  • The Mad Doctor Trailer (2:09)
  • The Web Trailer (2:17)
  • Alias Nick Beal Trailer (2:23)
  • Night Has a Thousand Eyes Trailer (2:23)
  • Love Letters Trailer (2:48)
  • So Evil My Love Trailer (1:59)
  • Human Desire Trailer (1:57)

Audio Commentary – Author and film historian Alan K. Rode describes Secret Beyond the Door as a “checkered... unfortunate film that tarnished the... career of (Fritz) Lang and nearly everyone else prominently involved in the picture.” Rode provides an extensive overview of the career of Lang and discusses both his European and American pictures. The animated dream sequence that opens the film was created by the Disney studio. Lang wanted to use a second actor for the voiceover narration but he was overridden and Joan Bennett provided the post-production narration instead. Secret Beyond the Door is emblematic of how a director’s personal life can affect his work. The director originally wanted James Mason for the role of Mark, but Mason turned it down and Lang cast Redgrave after seeing his performance in Dead of Night. Redgrave admired Lang’s films and was eager to work with him, thinking he could learn a lot, but he began to wilt under Lang’s pressure and lost confidence because of the director’s incessant criticism. Lang left his native Germany when the Nazi government banned his films, but not all directors who left Europe for America became successful. Lang had to learn a new language and acclimate himself to Hollywood’s studio system. His tyrannical manner with actors made many enemies and earned him the designation “stormtrooper of Hollywood directors.” Henry Fonda likened Lang to a puppeteer manipulating and micromanaging actors. Lang felt that Alfred Hitchcock stole ideas from him without attribution. Lang’s camera “is supple; it just glides.” After Universal merged with International Pictures, the studio started making more prestigious films. Though Joan Bennet’s sister Constance Bennett was earning $30,000 a week in the early 1930s, Joan enjoyed the longer lasting career. Secret Beyond the Door is notable in that it provided a new spin to film noir, using psychological themes rather than those of returned, disaffected servicemen. Lang aimed this film at a niche rather than a mainstream audience and it did not fare well at the box office. Critics were put off by the film’s “wall of implausibility.” Among Lang’s more famous films are M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Fury, The Big Heat, and Clash by Night. His final film as director was 1960’s Journey to the Lost City.

Fritz Lang had greater success with other films noir, specifically Scarlet Street and Ministry of Fear. Secret Beyond the Door was made at a time when his career was waning and he was not at the top of his game. There are good moments in terms of photography, suspense, and atmosphere, but the film relies too much on simplistic movie psychology and endless narration that creates unwarranted complexity where there should be straightforward narrative. The ending appears terribly abrupt, as if Lang succumbed to Hollywood’s prevailing penchant for a crowd-pleasing conclusion.

- Dennis Seuling