Secret Beyond the Door... (Fritz Lang / U.S., 1948):

Poetry of architecture, rejection of Freud. "This is no time for me to think of danger, this is my wedding day!" Fritz Lang’s great noir hallucination opens in a viscous dream-pond and proceeds to the brilliantly loaded Mexican knife fight, where the heroine (Joan Bennett) gets the chill of death and desire ("I felt eyes touching me like fingers"). Her suitor is a refined scion (Michael Redgrave) with a yen for symmetry, they marry in a cathedral bathed in shadows. Awaiting in the husband's manse are a despotic sister (Anne Revere), a gnomish son (Mark Dennis), and the memory of a dead wife, plus the realization that the "felicitous rooms" collected by Redgrave are actually lavish replicas of crime scenes. The seventh chamber is locked. "Blood upon your crown of glory / Now I know it all, o Bluebeard" (Bartók). Lang’s close analysis of Rebecca envisions Mrs. Danvers as a saturnine secretary (Barbara O’Neil) faking her disfigurement to ensure steady employment, Suspicion and Spellbound (and Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan) are also taken stock of. The meticulous surrealism (circle of candles around a wishing well, brick wall behind a velvet curtain) is at the service of an oneiric clash between female and male illusion states -- the bride’s fantasy is a hacienda honeymoon with quivering blades, the groom’s is a Nabokovian peroration before judge and jury ("You can’t try a man for his thoughts!"), both are at the mercy of a world suspended between the deterministic and the unknowable. Der Müde Tod’s climactic inferno is adduced, for the benefit of Argento. A work of portals and corridors, masks and veils and people suddenly too small for the places and visions they find themselves wandering into. Cinematography by Stanley Cortez. Music by Miklós Rózsa. With Natalie Schafer, Paul Cavanagh, Anabel Shaw, and James Seay. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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