Sunday, September 9, 2012

Murder Was The Only Way Out!

Behind Locked Doors(1948)
Director: Budd Boetticher
Cast: Richard Carlson, Lucille Bremer, Douglas Fowley

What the hell is Human Gorilla? That's what I thought when I glanced at a horror DVD set that I picked up and saw the title as one of 40 films available. Was it a safari film? A werewolf type picture? A caveman movie? Or was it a re-titled exploitation film from the golden age of Film Noir?
It turned out to be one of those wonderful re-titled oddities, originally released as Behind Locked Doors. The film is a pretty good noir about a detective who goes undercover at a private asylum, looking for a judge who is on the run from the law. Why'd they call it Human Gorilla? My guess is that when this was re-released, it was meant to fit on a bill with another horror movie and they probably capitalized on the presence of Tor Johnson, who portrays a violent loony named, "The Champ," who still thinks he's in the ring when he hears a bell sound. It's an oddball part for an oddball actor and one of many highlights in this pleasant non-horror diversion, that I discovered on a horror set!

Richard Carlson portrays the detective who is put on the case and it's easy to see how he was so popular in 50s sci-fi movies. He's very likable and has chemistry with lovely Lucille Bremer, despite some cheezy banter between the two, that I actually found rather cute. Lucille wants Richard to go undercover into an insane asylum called, "Le Siesta" and find a judge who is wanted by the police, whom she believes is hiding there. The reward for finding him is 10,000 bucks and they plan to split it.
Posing as her depressed husband, Rich is committed and discovers the place is far from hospitable, especially with sadistic Douglas Fowley as a particularly memorable nurse, who brutalizes the patients and antagonizes  Tor Johnson, which we just know will have repercussions later.
The doctor who runs the place will probably look familiar to 50s sci-fi fans, as he and Morris Ankrum were often playing generals in every other movie made then. He's played by Thomas Browne Henry and is quite effective in his role as the shady doctor, who is harboring the judge, because of a past debt.
Ralf Harolde, who usually plays sneaky types in B-movies, gets a nice role as a good guy intern, who has sympathy for the patients and eventually aids Carlson in getting the police and shutting the whole place down.
Carlson predictably gets in too deep and has to suffer a few rounds with "The Champ," before Bremer is able to sneak in and they fight they're way out, though "The Champ" escapes and takes revenge on Fowley and gets peppered with a 38. for his troubles. Everybody gets arrested and Carlson and Bremer start the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Behind Locked Doors is a real pleasant surprise. It's a briskly paced and fun little noir that seems ahead of it's time, it's basic plot later recycled for Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor(1962). There's real atmosphere in the asylum and much is made out of the low budget, including the use of spartan sets and the effects of shadows.
The budget shows, but not as plainly as similar features from the same period. Part of the film's success lies with director Boetticher, who would later become a major player in the 50s, directing some of Randolph Scott's best western films, including Seven Men From Now(1956). He builds a nice mystery, but also handles it with a subtle slab of sentimentality and some welcome light touches, including a playful romance between Carlson and Bremer.
The cast is above average and everyone performs well, with Johnson ideally cast in one of his lesser known parts, but one that must have influenced his later Ed Wood opuses. Bremer is very attractive and nice, but sadly, this is one of her last films, as she retired from the screen shortly afterwards.
I've always been a fan of noirs and while this has little business being on a horror DVD set, and less business being referred to as Human Gorilla, it's a fun and enjoyable low budget mystery that should entertain the classic film buff, aka. readers of this blog.

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