Home Video Hovel: Behind the Door, by David Bax
Irvin Willat’s 1919 Behind the Door, out now on Blu-ray from Flicker Alley, is an early example of the relationship between technique and emotion that makes a good film a good film. At only 70 minutes, Willat sweeps up the viewer from the jump and never lets them down. There’s always something thoroughly engaging going on, whether it be big and loud like fisticuffs or spectacle at sea, or whether it be yearning and quiet, like the hero’s heartbreaking daydream of what post-war life could be like with his wife. Willat holds you in his sway, just like the boat the swinging camera makes you think is rocking back and forth on the ocean.
Behind the Door begins in the near future of 1925, as a haggard man returns home from World War I. From there, we leap back to his happy pre-war life, his courtship of a local dignitary’s daughter and his time in the Navy during the fighting.
When the war first breaks out, Behind the Door becomes sadly relevant to our world a century later. Krug (Hobart Bosworth), an American-born citizen of German descent, suddenly finds himself the victim of violent, anti-immigrant sentiments (and fists) from ignorant folks who believe that they have the right to define what an American is so narrowly that it only includes people like them. Krug sounds oddly prescient when he responds, “If there is ever a stain on America’s reputation, it will come from curs like you!” Ignoring for a moment that there were already plenty of stains on America’s reputation by 1919, it’s alarming to realize that our current situation, in which everything that it means to be an American is under threat from those calling themselves patriots, is nothing new.
If you want something really shocking, though, stay tuned for the ending. The less said the better but when Behind the Door suddenly became a straight up horror movie, well, I just about jumped out of my skin.
The transfer comes from a 35mm print as well as some other sources, including the negative of the Russian version. Some footage is missing, replaced by stills and title cards and some shots are hopelessly marred. Overall, though, the cleanup is extensive, stability has been restored and the finished product is well worth your hard earned money.
Special features include the Russian version, some outtakes, a featurette about the restoration, an interview with historian Kevin Brownlow about Willat and more.