Wednesday 3 July 2013

Movie Review: Someone Behind The Door (1971)

A slow-paced psychological crime thriller, Someone Behind The Door is a French production set in England that offers some intriguing moments, but then over-thinks its own boundaries and drifts into the silly sphere.

In the small English town of Folkestone near Dover, Doctor Laurence Jeffries (Anthony Perkins) is a neurosurgeon with an interest in psychology. When a stranger (Charles Bronson) suffering from severe amnesia is found wandering among the sand dunes and dropped off at the hospital, Laurence takes him to his own home, claiming that he will try to help. Hesitantly, the stranger accepts the hospitality despite the doctor's somewhat creepy behaviour.

Laurence's wife Frances (Jill Ireland) asserts that she is off on a trip to London to visit her brother. Actually she is travelling to Paris to meet her lover Paul (Henri Garcin). Laurence is aware of his wife's infidelity, and starts to plot a complex revenge, using the stranger's lack of memory as an opportunity to have another man do the dirty work.

Severe memory loss is always a warning sign of a plot looking for a cheap device to play with, and Someone Behind The Door is no different. The stranger's amnesia is an empty vessel filled by Dr. Jeffries to concoct his revenge fantasy, but the script (co-written by director Nicolas Gessner) veers into extreme convolutions requiring plenty of suspended disbelief. Past the manipulation of a confused soul, Jeffries' plot simply does not hold together, and the amount of explaining he would be required to provide overpowers any limited amount of cleverness he may think he is demonstrating.

Gessner does succeed in setting a deliberate, slow and thoughtful pace, Someone Behind The Door at least allowing its two main characters time to plot, assess, and shape each step in their chess game. The setting of an interesting house in a sleepy seaside town is a plus, and the film demonstrates good potential as a stage production.

The acting is more entertaining than good. Charles Bronson stretches more than usual as the stranger, a character struggling against total amnesia and not even aware of his own name. It's quite the different role for Bronson, and despite frequently dropping into close-to-camp territory, he has fun conveying confusion, frustration and uncertainty. Perkins is expressionless, but his eyes work overtime to reveal the dark plotting going on behind the passive face. And Jill Ireland, in a relatively small role, appears more fetching and vibrant compared to most of her other performances in Bronson vehicles.

Someone Behind The Door ends with confrontation, anger and violence, the best laid plan reduced to a single heartbeat connecting two desperate people who have run out of options. It's more artistic than realistic, the person behind the door ultimately less important than the person in the mirror.

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