The Strange Door (1951)

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*. You know when you see the name Charles Laughton in the credits that the movie is at least going to be worth watching. Not that all his films were good, but he was always good in them.
*. He’s terrific here, hamming it up as the sly, soft-spoken Sire de Maletroit, affecting a nervous hand and punctuating his lines with all kinds of pregnant beats. It’s a great performance, but Laughton so rarely delivered anything less.
*. The story is loosely, very loosely, based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short: “The Sire de Maletroit’s Door.” The film has little in common with its source. All that happens in the Stevenson story is that Denis is captured by de Maletroit and made to marry Blanche, who has compromised herself by carrying on an affair, thus bringing the Maletroit name into disrepute. After a (chaste) night spent commiserating together, Blanche and Denis fall in love and are happily married the next morning. There is no back story involving Blanche’s mother and her father is long dead.
*. There’s also no character of Voltan, the dim but honest jailor played by Boris Karloff in the movie. It’s not much of a part and one suspects they were just trying to come up with something to get Karloff in the picture (it would reunite him with Laughton for the first time since 1932’s The Old Dark House).

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*. I wonder what film was the first to use that “walls-are-getting-closer” trap. Something from the silent era no doubt. It’s probably best known today from the scene in the Death Star’s garbage compactor in Star Wars.
*. It’s a good-looking production, but aside from Laughton’s character there isn’t much to care about. Luckily, he’s given lots of chances to shine. Given how little there was to work with in Stevenson’s story the script tosses him a treasury of juicy lines. I think my favourite is when Denis reproaches him for killing Count Grassin (another character not in the source story), saying that he could have saved himself an unprovoked murder. De Maletroit responds: “‘Unprovoked?’ Well, I won’t dispute that point, but it did upset me.” That’s gold!
*. 1951 seems late for a film like this, and it doesn’t show up on many radars today. But it is worth hunting down, and if you’re like me you’ll want to come back to it every now and then just to savour Laughton doing his inimitable thing.

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3 thoughts on “The Strange Door (1951)

  1. John Longo

    This is my all-time favourite horror / melodrama / love story motion picture and I have watched it hundreds of times over the decades, never tiring of watching it and listening to the rich, olde English, full of substance dialogue between the characters. I have always had one question about this film. In the first dialogue exchange between Talon and Denis, Talon says, “You perhaps heard of Cabrizon (sic)?” to which Denis replies, “The torturer!”. Without seeing the actual script and being unable to find any reference to that name or a similar one on the Internet regarding the French Middle Ages, I am wondering if “Cabrizon” was a made up name in the script or if there was such a person and I am just not spelling the name correctly when doing my Internet searches. Any help from the experts will be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
      1. John Longo

        Thank you for this information regarding a movie that I have had a lifelong obsession and interest in! I did some research pursuant to reading your reply and I believe that the name “Cabrissade” was NOT made up and was used DELIBERATELY in The Strange Door for reasons unknown. Cabrissade is indeed a French name, and Cabrissade was one of the lead characters in the 1939 French drama film, “La fin du jour” or “The End of the Day”. Knowing absolutely nothing about that film, I looked it up and found that it won Best Foreign Film at the 1939 National Board of Review Awards and came in second at the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Possibly “Cabrissade” was mentioned by the character Talon in The Strange Door to somehow connect it to the1939 French film? We might never know for sure, but it is an interesting motion picture observation nonetheless! Thanks again for your reply. —- John

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