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Behind Locked Doors (1948)

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Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby moira finnie » February 28th, 2014, 4:23 pm

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Above: Douglas Fowley (right, with the specs) looks on with disgust as Richard Carlson pitches woo to Lucille Bremer, though there are no indications of this baseless relationship existing between the love birds until the last quarter of the movie. Prior to this, Bremer's character treats the awkwardly lecherous Carlson as a schoolboy to be manipulated.

Budd Boetticher directed Behind Locked Doors (1948) when he still went by the moniker of Oscar Boetticher, cranking out a terse little bit of suspense for distribution by Eagle-Lion Films that clocks in at barely 62 minutes. Like several films in the period, such as Val Lewton's Bedlam (1946), the Vincent Price potboiler Shock (1946), Curtis Bernhardt's High Wall (1947), and the big daddy mommy of the genre, The Snake Pit (1948), this B film ducks behind the walls of a mental institution where the mad confusion, cruelty and injustices of the outside world are magnified and sometimes unchecked by cumbersome things like ethics and empathy. Written by Eugene Ling (whose noir credits include Shock, Between Midnight and Dawn, and Scandal Sheet) and Malvin Wald (The Naked City), the movie saw Boetticher exploring the clash of two disparate groups jockeying for power in a contrived but suspenseful situation, as he would later do much more powerfully in such films as The Tall T (1957).

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Above: Herbert Heyes as a sourpuss judge on the lam, Douglas Fowley as the muscle in the aslyum, and Tom Brown Henry as the sweaty Doctor running the laughing academy scheme to prevent the fact that they are using a sanitarium to hide the fugitive judge.


The screenwriters seem to have been inspired by the New York tabloid stories of the very real, quite corrupt Judge Crater, who disappeared in 1930, and his showgirl girlfriend "Ritzi". In the film, an unscrupulous judge has absconded before he could be taken into custody by the police for some vague crimes against jurisprudence. A San Francisco newspaper reporter, played by the beautiful dancer Lucille Bremer, who looks more likely to be writing about garden parties for the paper, seeks out a freshly minted private investigator (Richard Carlson) to help her track down the fugitive magistrate. It seems that the reporter has traced the movements of the Judge's girlfriend Madge (Gwen Donovan), leading right to the door of the private sanitarium, La Siesta.

The eager lady scrivener proposes to the p.i. that the pair of them split the $10k reward that has been placed on the head of the judge. "All" that is needed is for Lucille and Richard to pose as husband and wife. Carlson wisely declines this kind (and lop-sided) offer, but is so taken with his beautiful visitor that he seeks her out after she none too discreetly leaves behind a clue to her whereabouts. Banding together, Carlson soon imitates a sulking depressive hubby so effectively that his faux frau is able to commit him to the private loony bin for treatment, allowing him to investigate the presence of the crooked judge at his leisure. The spa sanitarium is run a bit like the prison in Brute Force: there's a weak head medico beholden to the judge (Thomas Browne Henry, who usually plays flustered bureaucrats) an observant but resigned aide (Ralf Harolde, who had effectively played a creepy doc in another insane asylum in Murder, My Sweet), and a sadistic orderly (Douglas Fowley, who steals every one of his scenes with his avid leers and officious manner--even those shared with Tor Johnson).

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Above: In Behind Locked Doors, there was no scene when Lucille Bremer swooned in the arms of Tor Johnson, but this lurid image may have given the producers the inspiration to rename the film, "The Human Gorilla" when it was re-released some time after its initial unveiling.

The gargantuan Johnson appears to be a psychotic former wrestler of some sort kept in a padded cell and reserved for pummeling any inmates who ask too many questions. Mr. Johnson's character, dubbed "The Champ" by his keepers, has episodes of explosive belligerence triggered by the clicking of a key on a fire extinguisher just outside his cell, mimicking the sound of a gong at ringside in his foggy memory. As with most of the characters, the inmates, including a mute (and uncredited) Dickie Moore who is treated like a whipped puppy, and an arsonist (Trevor Bardette), exist merely to give the protagonist a chance to look caring or canny in using the firebug's predilection to create a needed distraction (never mind the mortal danger he puts the rest of the inmates in during this ploy).

Best of all, there is the glimpse we have of the judge's meager digs in the loony bin. Understandably, the crooked court officer seems to be getting cabin fever pacing around his chintz-curtained room with bars on the windows. The place looks a bit like a cross between a bomb shelter with a lousy wine cellar and a basement apartment (known far and wide as "the rat hole") where I "lived" during my college days.

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Above: Richard Carlson as the undercover gumshoe, captured through bars in an asylum of his own choosing. The excellent (and heavy) use of chiaroscuro by cinematographer Guy Roe gives this film more drama than the script, though sometimes it is difficult to tell who's who in the darker scenes.

As the ineptly prepared sleuth turned inpatient, Richard Carlson once again proves himself charismatically challenged throughout this movie (my apologies to Carlson fans everywhere, but has he ever been anyone's fave?). Given the number of people deliberately allowing themselves to be committed to hospitals in late '40s movies strictly for research purposes, one wonders if Carlson's bloodhound might have learned his trade via The Edmund O'Brien Academy of Undercover Work for Latent Masochists as a correspondence school. Sadly, this is the last movie in the CV of the lovely Lucille Bremer, who soon married Abalardo Louis Rodriguez, the son of a former interim president of Mexico, and retired from film forever.

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This movie is available on Amazon as a streaming video and is available on youtube under its later title, "The Human Gorilla":
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUoapa2lAZ4[/youtube]
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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby RedRiver » March 1st, 2014, 6:09 pm

As a teenager, I saw a movie very much in keeping with this description. Reporter (or friend of reporter) fakes insanity; investigates asylum. It may have been this one, but doubtless there are other films that employ this concept. Whatever it was, I loved it! Haven't seen it in 40 years.

And no, I'm not thinking of Samuel Fuller's painfully campy SHOCK CORRIDOR. "Nymphos!"

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby CineMaven » March 4th, 2014, 11:50 am

I saw and liked "Behind Locked Doors." Thought Richard Carlson might be good as a soft kind of tough guy ( a la Dick Powell. ) He's one of my favorite cutie pie boy-next-door types that I loved; him and Jeffrey Lynn. Good review, Moira, that had me chuckling.

* * * *
RedRiver wrote:As a teenager, I saw a movie very much in keeping with this description. Reporter (or friend of reporter) fakes insanity; investigates asylum. It may have been this one, but doubtless there are other films that employ this concept. Whatever it was, I loved it! Haven't seen it in 40 years.

And no, I'm not thinking of Samuel Fuller's painfully campy
SHOCK CORRIDOR.
"Nymphos!"

HA! Well Red...I'm sorry your forty-year search will have to continue. One of my favorites of this genre would be:

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby JackFavell » March 4th, 2014, 4:49 pm

I like Richard Carlson, but no, he's not going to set the world on fire...

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby CineMaven » March 5th, 2014, 4:57 pm

Dang it JaxXxon, and I almost made an executive decision to add Richard Carlson to the bad and sexy video tribute I made for you. Awww Richard.

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby Brian McFadden » March 7th, 2014, 4:32 pm

Thanks so much for bringing this film up. It's one of those low-budget little gems that came from an unlikely studio but had the advantage of a solid cast and crew. When this film came out, Eagle-Lion had just taken over Producers Releasing Corporation and PRC was considered the lowest of the low on poverty row.
There are some great character actors in the cast. Ralph Harolde never got the recognition he deserved, but he was excellent in The Phantom Speaks, and Douglas Fowley seemed to be in just about every movie that came out around this period.

It was a little sad, though, to see Wally Vernon ... who did such a great job providing comedy relief in so many movies ... looking older and having little more than a bit part here. Dick Moore's part was rather small too and he played a mute to boot, but it was good to see him in it. I was lucky enough to interview Dick Moore back in the eighties when he came out with a very good book about child actors. He worked in advertising at the time and was married to Jane Powel. An extremely intelligent, friendly guy who would never hurt a fan's feelings if they addressed him as if he were still a child, but he told me he absolutely HATED being called Dickie!

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby ChiO » March 7th, 2014, 6:35 pm

It's one of those low-budget little gems that came from an unlikely studio

Have to quibble.

PRC had several gems (albeit in retrospect...but isn't it all in retrospect), especially the film noir of Ulmer. Eagle-Lion continued on, unfortunately without Ulmer, and - largely because of John Alton, and especially when he was with Anthony Mann - made some of the finest films noir. Eagle-Lion (followed by Monogram and Columbia and RKO - Poverty Row and ex-Poverty Row and mid-major) is my favorite film noir studio. A studio on the fringes makes the finest movies on the fringes.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby Brian McFadden » March 7th, 2014, 10:09 pm

You have a good point. I wasn't, of course, thinking of the Ulmer films. I was considering the rest of PRC's output, like the Lash La Rue westerns that Eagle-Lion continued to release after it took over. And you are so right about John Alton and Anthony Mann. Both men did some remarkable work earlier at Republic. Mann's rarely seen Strangers in the Night is worth going out of your way to find.

And it's fascinating to see the way John Alton worked around budget problems on another rarely seen gem, The Madonna's Secret. The lead, Francis Lederer, is supposed to be on the edge of the Hudson River as he talks with character actor Will Wright about a body that's washed up. It's a night scene and, rather than resort to rear screen projection, Alton uses a crane shot from above the two actors with only a street lamp to illuminate a little sand and a small amount of water. Alternated with close-ups of the two, it's enough to give the impression that they actually are at the edge of a large river. Alton really was a master at doing more with less!

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby ChiO » March 7th, 2014, 10:30 pm

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT is definitely an important introduction of the Mann to come and one that should be seen. I reviewed it here. And I certainly agree that THE MADONNA'S SECRET is another John Alton wonder. An atmospheric gem oddly reminiscient of Edgar Ulmer's BLUEBEARD. It is Exhibit A that a great film need not be dependent on script or acting...that set design and a genius behind the camera can provide all one needs to to be glued to the screen. Plus some love from Mommy.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby moira finnie » March 9th, 2014, 10:41 am

Ah, based on your kind responses, I now see that Richard Carlson appears to have some hidden, unknown power that my calloused heart cannot respond to though I am sure glad I learned to appreciate Douglas Fowley's antic presence in the last few years.

Brian, from what I understand based on Moore's book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and interviews, he not only grew (understandably) resentful of the "Dickie" diminutive, but he was pretty fed up with acting in general by the time he appeared in Sergeant York (1941) as a teen. I am curious if his mute role in Out of the Past (1947) led to this peculiar and also silent part in Behind Locked Doors?

He's no John Alton, ChiO, but the cinematographer of the low budget Behind Locked Doors, Guy Roe, certainly deserves greater recognition. Trained under Bert Glennon, Roe, who died relatively young, brought imaginative lighting and a mobility to the camera in several noteworthy films made on a tight budget with noirish flashes of dark brilliance, including Sirk's A Scandal in Paris (1945), Mann's Railroaded (1947), Fleischer's Trapped (1949), the little known but powerful Whispering City (1947) and particularly Cy Enfield's Try and Get Me (1950).
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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby ChiO » March 9th, 2014, 3:16 pm

He's no John Alton, ChiO, but the cinematographer of the low budget Behind Locked Doors, Guy Roe, certainly deserves greater recognition.

Oh, I agree. Love his work in his first credit, A SCANDAL IN PARIS. In addition to those you mentioned, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY is nicely done, and he helps make the King of Cool look cool in WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE. Using TRY AND GET ME in the class I'm teaching this Spring.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby RedRiver » March 10th, 2014, 5:00 pm

I wish I had a cinematographer to follow me around and make me look cool!

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby kingrat » March 10th, 2014, 8:13 pm

ChiO, what else are you teaching this spring? Could it be a class in . . . film noir?

I'll be interested to hear how your students like Try and Get Me, which I really liked.

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby ChiO » March 10th, 2014, 11:32 pm

ChiO, what else are you teaching this spring? Could it be a class in . . . film noir?

Never. I'm a firm believer in diversity. Here is the course description (semi-edited):

NOT JUST OZZIE & HARRIET: PARANOIA IN THE ‘50s!!!

They're here already! You're next! You're next! You're next...!
-- Invasion of the Body Snatchers

With the social turbulence and upheaval of the ‘60s, the ‘50s are fondly remembered as a time of peace, prosperity, nuclear families and tranquil suburbs. But there was another side: the Korean War, the Cold War, the Red Menace, McCarthyism, atomic bombs, nuclear fallout, juvenile delinquency and oppressive conformity. The movies recorded the underlying public fears and neuroses that permeated American society in the ‘50s. From Science Fiction movies to JD films, we will watch six feature-length movies (and clips from others) and discuss how Paranoia made its way from everyday life and into the movie theaters.

The line-up at this point (hey -- I have a couple of weeks before it starts) is:

The Incredible Shrinking Man
I Married a Monster from Outer Space
(no, Moira, it is not about an irrational fear of torpedo bras)
Try and Get Me
Shack Out on 101
The Violent Years
5Ive
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Postby CineMaven » March 11th, 2014, 1:10 am

Hmmmm, if I bring an apple to the teacher...
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