I can only assume that Charles Vidor’s DOUBLE DOOR hasn’t had much attention because the title is so off-puttingly banal. Might was well call it FRENCH WINDOWS or WAINSCOTING. Or ORNATE CORNICE. In fact, the movie is a somewhat stagey but very watchable thriller with some very pleasing direction by the Hungarian rhapsodist. Those of you who have exhausted the most celebrated 1930s horrors, moved onto the less-renowned ones, and are still hungry for more, should seek it out. Not quite a horror movie, it still hinges on the idea of premature entombment, and has a nasty villainess who sometimes provokes gasps of horror just by the way Vidor throws in a sudden close-up of her.
She’s played by Mary Morris, in what seems to be her only movie role. Very theatrical, with a scary old woman voice that’s obviously put on for the occasion — she was only 39! Her job is to be the audience’s hate-figure as she rules her family with an iron fist, deliberately trying to break up her half-brother’s marriage to Evelyn Venables (whose character name, Ann Darrow, appears to have been a popular one in the 30s). All to justify a chilling ending where comeuppance is visited with Old Testament viciousness.
A great shame MM didn’t do more movies. I like flamboyant hambones, and anybody who can do a really hissable villain as unapologetically as this should’ve been in regular work.
The title refers to the “mysterious sleeping room”, an airtight, soundproofed chamber designed to protect the house’s first owner from the noise of 5th Avenue traffic. Bizarrely, it has a combination lock which operates from the outside — I guess that’s a later addition. Due to the script’s rather rigid adherence to its source play, we never SEE the hidden room, but that does make the place seem all the more fearful.
Vidor has great fun with the townhouse’s grand staircase, dividing the main set into two levels and getting a lot of compositional play out of the bannister. The hero’s memory of being forced to hold his dead father’s hand is presented via an atmospheric flashback, and Vidor generally does enough with the stagebound scenario to make one wish he’d been given a crack at DRACULA. Despite the brilliance of GILDA, I do feel he was a little smothered at Columbia.
To back up such a tendentious statement, I’d point to Vidor’s short THE BRIDGE, which has more visual and narrative genius in its ten minutes than… well, just about anything.