Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On BEHIND LOCKED DOORS (1948)

I always get a kick out of watching some obscure movie late at night and getting hooked because...it may be low budget and obscure, but it's surprisingly good.  I had that experience last week with an undercover reporter drama called BEHIND LOCKED DOORS.  This crisp 1948 crime story is only about 1 hour long and it moves.  It's entertaining, it has energy and style.  There's noir-ish quality to its black and white cinematography.   The top thing that caught my interest was when I read that actor Richard Carlson was the star.  When I was a kid, his was a familiar face on TV shows.  Also, he was known to us kids because he was in very popular 1950s horror movies that aired frequently on local TV.  One of his best roles was in The Little Foxes, directed by William Wyler.  He's the young man who stands up to the intimidating Regina Giddens, played by Bette Davis, and courts her innocent daughter.  I liked Richard Carlson.  He had looks, class, charm and he could act.  You see that in Behind Locked Doors.  He's so cool as the private investigator.
The other thing that grabbed me was that this drama is the last film Lucille Bremer made before she decided to leave movie-making, marry and have a successful life as a businesswoman.

Behind Locked Doors has a plot that may have seemed familiar to some moviegoers when they saw Sam Fuller's 1963 thriller, Shock Corridor.  In 1948's Behind Locked Doors, a newspaper reporter (played by a non-dancing Lucille Bremer), is hot on the story of a corrupt judge who's on the run.  She believes he's hiding out in a mental institution and dodging the law by pretending to be crazy.  She hires a private eye to pose as her husband and become an institution patient so he can bust the crime from the inside.  Yes, there are shady staff members running the asylum.  And, yes, the private eye falls for the gorgeous reporter.

In Shock Corridor, a journalist hungry to win a Pulitzer Prize gets himself committed to mental institution and pretends to be crazy so he can solve an odd murder case from the inside.

For hardcore classic film fans, you look at Behind Locked Doors as being "Six Degrees of An A-List MGM Musical."  Four of the actors were in top MGM musicals.  Richard Carlson, at far right in the black and white photo, played opposite Judy Garland Presenting Lily Mars (1943).

Lucille Bremer (to the left in the color photo) and Judy Garland played sisters in Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), produced by Arthur Freed. Bremer and Garland shared screen time again in Freed's Till the Clouds Roll By.  Formerly a Radio City Rockette who went on to dance in a hit Broadway musical and was reportedly discovered by Arthur Freed, Lucille Bremer was Fred Astaire's lovely, graceful dance partner in Yolanda and the Thief (1945) and the all-star Ziegfeld Follies (1945).

Douglas Fowley was one of those versatile character actors you saw but probably didn't know by name.  In MGM's excellent WWII drama, Battleground, he's the G.I. whose dentures slip.  In the musical Singin' in the Rain (1952), he's the high-strung director trying to get silent screen star Lina Lamont to speak into the new 1920s technology called a microphone.
In the first scene of The Band Wagon (1953), he's the auctioneer who tries to get a bid on the movie top hat once worn by former screen star Tony Hunter as played by Fred Astaire.
In the above photo from Behind Locked Doors, you see Richard Carlson (left), Douglas Fowley (rear middle) and Lucille Bremer (right).  Fowley's a heavy in Behind Locked Doors.
This movie was directed by Oscar "Budd" Boetticher, a man who got rich performances out of Randolph Scott in 1950s westerns.  Later in the Behind Locked Doors story, you see a nurse.  That bit part is done by the very recognizable Kathleen Freeman.  Freeman also had a stand-out small role in Singin' in the Rain as Phoebe Dinsmore, diction coach to Lina Lamont.
If you're familiar with the history of MGM, you know it was the Tiffany of Hollywood musicals.  No studio did them better the 1930s and 40s, the heyday of deluxe Hollywood musicals.  Arthur Freed productions were such gems that he had what came to be called "the Freed Unit," utilizing master craftspeople in the production of movie musicals.  Meet Me in St. Louis, Yolanda and the Thief, Ziegfeld Follies, Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon were Arthur Freed productions.  So were The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, Cabin in the Sky, For Me and My Gal, Easter Parade, On the Town, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat (1951), An American in Paris (Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1951) and Gigi (Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1958).
Freed was also an acclaimed song lyricist.  MGM's Singin' in the Rain is practically a tribute to him.  Just about all the songs in it are from the Arthur Freed music catalog.  Some of those Freed songs were "Make 'Em Laugh,"  "Good Morning,"  "You Were Meant For Me,"  "Fit As a Fiddle," "Broadway Rhythm" and the title tune, "Singin' in the Rain." Freed could also sing.  At the end of the Halloween section of Meet Me in St. Louis when actor Leon Ames as the head of the Smith Family sings in the living room, his "You and I" vocal was dubbed by producer Arthur Freed.  Freed was singing another one of his compositions.

As for Behind Locked Doors, keep it in mind.  It's a brisk little crime drama. Try YouTube.


















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