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March 05, 2006

Behind Locked Doors


Oscar Boetticher - 1948
Kino Video Region 1 DVD

It's too bad no one at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had the sense of humor to present an award to a filmmaker named Oscar. While there may be a few who remember the guy who directed Twist Around the Clock, more will choose the man better known as Budd. If Behind Locked Doors isn't as sublime a film as The Tall T, it is quite an entertaining film in its own right.

The basic narrative is about a private detective (Richard Carlson), hired by a reporter (Lucille Bremer), to discover if a judge is hiding in a mental institution. Yes, the basic premise sounds very similar to Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor. Curiously, one of the writers of Behind Locked Doors, Eugene Ling, had a hand in the screenplay of Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, based on the novel, The Dark Page by Samuel Fuller. The big difference between the two madhouse mysteries is that Fuller's film is an allegory about the United States in the early Sixties, while Boetticher made an economical film noir with no greater aspirations than to be a genial time waster.

Although Boetticher's best films usually involved Randolph Scott adrift in relatively deserted locations, Behind Locked Doors shows Boetticher capable of being visually expressive indoors. There is much use of depth of field, with characters coming in and out of big, deep shadows. Most of the exteriors are also dark and shadowy. Expressionism is not a word usually associated with Boetticher, but its in full display here. Light and shadow are used in tight close-ups of Carlson and Tor Johnson behind bars.

Behind Locked Doors slightly hints at Boetticher's themes. Somewhat like in the Scott westerns, Carlson plays a character who finds himself in a situation for personal gain in the beginning of the film, only to have circumstances force him to be the protector of a helpless person and perhaps seek a greater justice for society at large. The real enjoyment in this film is seeing character actors Herbert Heyes, Douglas Fowley and Thomas Browne Henry seen above scheming to make life miserable for Richard Carlson. Boetticher's films are grossly unavailable on tape or DVD. Until Columbia Pictures realizes there is a devoted audience for the Boetticher-Scott westerns, Behind Locked Doors is a worthy glimpse at the director previously known as Oscar.

Posted by peter at March 5, 2006 12:02 AM


Lucille Bremer! She of "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Yolanda and the Thief"! How was she? I think it is a shame her career was so brief.

Posted by: Campaspe at March 6, 2006 07:58 PM

"Behind Locked Doors" was her last film. Officially she retired to devote herself to married life but probably this was hastened by a career that began at MGM and ended at Eagle-Lion. Bremer was OK but kind of bland.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at March 6, 2006 10:19 PM

I think that was what Vincente Minnelli said in his memoirs. That she was beautiful and a fine dancer and competent actress, but didn't have whatever it was that catches fire on screen. Still, given the numerous actresses who destroyed themselves when their careers went south, I am always impressed with the ones that just said "Toodles" and got married or found another career or even joined a convent, like Dolores Hart ...

Posted by: Campaspe at March 8, 2006 09:37 PM