Budd Boetticher. Boetticher, who was billed with the first name Oscar at this stage of his career, was still a few years away from making standout films such as BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY (1951) and his numerous Randolph Scott collaborations. The style and pacing of this early film reflects the up-and-coming director's talent and is well worth seeing.
Ambitious reporter Kathy Lawrence (Bremer) suspects that a judge on the run from an arrest warrant is holed up in the La Siesta Sanitarium, a mental hospital. She convinces broke P.I. Ross Stewart (Carlson) to fake mental illness in order to gain admission to the sanitarium, with the promise that they will share the $10,000 reward if they locate the judge and turn him in.
Ross finds the judge, all right, but he also finds out that the sanitarium is a pretty nasty place, and it may take Kathy's help if he's going to make it out of La Siesta alive.
It's interesting to note that a mental hospital was also a plot point in Carlson's earlier film noir, FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942), directed by Richard Siodmak. This was Carlson's third film following his service in World War II, coming after SO WELL REMEMBERED (1947) and THE AMAZING MR. X (1948). He's appealing as the earnest, determined detective who uncovers the unsavory goings-on at La Siesta. (Love that name!) Carlson and Bremer have good chemistry, as they pretend to be husband and wife and discover they might want to play the roles for real; there's a nice scene where he uses the excuse of being "married" to lay a whopper of a kiss on his "wife" when she visits him in the asylum.
I would have liked it if less of the film were set in the insane asylum, as it's a pretty unpleasant place, but I can't fault the film's pacing or performances. It's a well-done, tight little movie with some fantastic shadowy black and white cinematography by Guy Roe. Roe also filmed Anthony Mann's RAILROADED! (1947), Richard Fleischer's ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950), and Cy Endfield's THE SOUND OF FURY (1950), which is being restored by UCLA. In my favorite shot, a wall reflects the shadow of smoke coming from Carlson's cigarette, and then the actual smoke wafts into the picture, across the shadows. Brilliant!
Ambitious lady reporters seemed to be a trend in "B" films of the late '40s; Dorothy Patrick played a similar role the following year opposite William Lundigan in FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949). I wonder if there were other such characters?
This was the last film of Lucille Bremer's short, fascinating career. She achieved a level of cinema immortality due to appearing in one of the most perfect films ever made, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), in which she played Rose Smith, the older sister of Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien. From there she danced with Fred Astaire in ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1945) and the underrated YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1945); she also appeared in MGM's TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946). After that there were just four more films, including the well-regarded RUTHLESS (1948) with Zachary Scott. She married in 1948 and retired to raise a family.
The supporting cast includes Douglas Fowley, Ralf Harolde, Dickie Moore, Thomas Browne Henry, Kathleen Freeman, Herbert Heyes, Gwen Donovan, Tor Johnson, Trevor Bardette, and Morgan Farley.
BEHIND LOCKED DOORS has been released on DVD by Kino; it can be purchased as a single title or as part of a Kino film noir boxed set. It's a no-frills DVD, but it's a beautiful print which should please fans of obscure film noir.
BEHIND LOCKED DOORS is listed at Netflix, but unfortunately it's one of a growing number of DVDs which has moved into Netflix's "Saved" category. In recent months this seems to mean that Netflix's inventory of the film is gone, for one reason or another, and it won't be replaced.
Huge thanks to Kristina for sending me this DVD! I very much enjoyed having the opportunity to see it.