Don’t Knock On… – The Strange Door (1951)

Sometimes all you need is a good villain to really make a film.  This movie features one such scoundrel as personified by Charles Laughton.  Oftentimes when you see Laughton in a film you find the man as the dignified sort, a captain of one thing or another or even The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But it is as a villain where he really shines.  He is pure evil, menacing and nasty and full of impurity.  His English accent only adds to the malevolence when he speaks and the nefarious behaviour that he exhibits.  Laughton makes this film what it is and if he were absent, it would most likely have been a different beast altogether.  The film also happens to star Boris Karloff in a supporting role as a servant named Voltan, as well as Sally Forrest and Richard Stapley as the other two leads in the film.


Frankenstein’s Monster and the Hunchback!

The movie is a cross between a horror, sort of, and a costume drama.  It does have a very atmospheric tone and quality to the film that gives it that specific feel, but it is more of a suspense-thriller than it is a straight out horror film.  It does make reference to torture, though none is ever shown on film and the brother who is quite mad from being in prison for so many years is only seen to be sitting in his cell often moaning or whining.  The bit of horror which is present has more to do with Laughton’s attitude and the treatment of his character, Alain de Maletroit’s brother and family.  It truly is despicable and it is over something that has plagued mankind for millennia – a woman.  Sadly, that woman is nowhere to be found in the film as she had passed away many years before from giving birth, but it does not stop Alain from carrying on that hurt, day after day.

The film was based upon a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson and was adapted by Jerry Sackheim.  It provided a fantastic role for lead actor Laughton and was expertly directed by Joseph Pevney.  The one thing that hurt the film just a little bit was the pacing which was a little slow in a couple of places, but on the whole, it had a nice flow and kept your attention from start to finish.  Another downside, though also minor, is that actual lack of horror.  The evil that man can commit against another of his race is one thing, but by horror standards, it has been seen and done before many times over. While the film essentially takes place within the confines of a few sets, probably to keep the budget down, your eyes never wander or get tired as they are always focused upon the stars of the film.


Problems? I’m barely in this film!

Aside from Laughton’s remarkable and over-the-top performance, the movie also has the incomparable Boris Karloff.  His role is short, as he merely supports everyone else, but even in such a small part he is magnetic and is a fine addition to the cast.  Rounding out the picture is Sally Forrest as Blanche de Maletroit, Alain’s niece and a leading factor into the cause of his dementia and revenge, and Richard Stapley as Denis de Beaulieu, the scoundrel he thinks will ruin Blanche until his plan is foiled when they fall in love.  Stapley is decent, but not as electric as he could have been, especially as he was supposed to be the hero of the film.  Sally Forest was good as well without rising above that, filling a role almost any actress could have played.  There was nothing overtly outstanding or even special about the part, but she did a good job and there is not any more you could ask for.

By this point in time, Karloff was not the box-office draw that he used to be though he would continue onwards for some time appearing in film and television and the same could be said for Charles Laughton.  Laughton would have one more notable role in Spartacus and Karloff would continue to be prolific, but the best roles they had would be behind them.  The Strange Door, released by Universal Pictures, was ultimately a good film and though it might not have been the best film ever made, or even the best film those two giants of cinema might have starred in, it was entertaining and fun.  If you like costume dramas, suspense films or nasty villains, then this one is for you.

3.5 out of 5

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