Secret Beyond the Door was a case of fourth time unlucky for Fritz Lang and Joan Bennett, who evidently put the past triumphs of the Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street behind them to fight like cats and dogs throughout the acrimonious and over budget production while at times reducing co-star Michael Redgrave to a nervous wreck with the director's tyrannical behavior to emerge with a film hated by its star, preview audiences alike and critics alike (one memorably described it as `a woman's picture made by a misogynist') that proved a disastrous box-office flop. Add to that censorship problems, Lang being singularly unimpressed by cinematographer Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons, Night of the Hunter) because Bennett overruled his original choice of Robert Krasker, the studio dropping his idea of having actress Colleen Collins deliver Bennett's voice-over narration as too confusing and having an affair with the screenwriter, Silvia Richards, that apparently led to some unfortunate rewrites, not to mention his leading lady and his co-producer Walter Wanger's marriage disintegrating throughout the shoot and the studio taking over and re-editing the film amid a flurry of lawsuits and it's no wonder that he dismissed it as `a very unfortunate adventure.' But it's certainly a fascinating one even if it never turns into the rediscovered masterpiece you'd like it to be to give all that blood, sweat and tears a belated happy ending.
Almost from the start there's a tangible air of suppressed perversity, be it Bennett's morbid pre-wedding thoughts about dreams set against opening Disney animation of weeds stretching out in the water like pained claws to her listless heiress being so transfixed by a knife fight and so jealous of the pride a peasant woman clearly feels that two men are willing to kill for her that she doesn't even blink when a blade lands an inch away from her. And that's before she falls for Michael Redgrave's architect with money troubles who collects `felicitous rooms,' has a strange son he never bothers to tell her about and more skeletons than closets. It turns out that he's been dominated by women all his life, and those rooms he collects, like something out of Madame Tussauds without the waxworks but with a bigger budget for furnishings, are all the scenes of famous murders of wives and mothers... and there's one murder room he claims is finished which he keeps securely locked at all times and forbids her to enter.
Playing like a perverse combination of the Bluebeard legend, Rebecca, Spellbound, Suspicion and all points east of sanity, it's an intriguing enough mystery even if the climax isn't entirely convincing - as Lang later noted, "Our solution was too glib, too slick. It would be very nice if a mentally disturbed patient could talk with a psychiatrist for two hours and then be cured; but such things cannot be done so quickly." Lang's dictatorial behavior may have made it an unpleasant set, but it pays dividends in the performances, with Bennett going from confidence to trying to assert some kind of control even though she doesn't know what on Earth is going on while Redgrave's own repressions come to the fore in a performance that's schizophrenic in all the right ways for the kind of man who dreams of putting himself on trial for murder and plays both defendant and prosecutor as logic gives way to an increasingly Freudian Liebestraum. Despite Lang's misgivings, Cortez's cinematography is particularly striking and is well represented on Olive's region-free Blu-ray, but the film's misfortunes have extended to the sound quality, with a combination of poor sound mix that seems a little dulled and a surprisingly low sound level for a film where much of the dialogue and voice over is already spoken very softly meaning you'll have to turn the volume way up to hear it properly (no such problems with Miklos Rozsa's floridly dramatic score). As usual with Olive Films' titles there are no extras.