Directed By: Joseph Pevney
Starring: Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Sally Forrest
Tag line: "Robert Louis Stevenson's masterpiece of TERROR"
Trivia: Despite being billed second in the advertisements, Boris Karloff plays only a minor role in this film
As punishment for stealing the woman he loved, Sire Alain de Maletroit (Charles Laughton) has kept his brother Edmund (Paul Cavanagh) locked away in an underground dungeon for the last twenty years. During that time, Alain has raised Edmond’s daughter, Blanche (Sally Forrest), as if she were his own, never telling the girl that her father is still alive (she believes he died when she was a small child). Now that she’s of marrying age, Alain has taken it upon himself to find Blanche a husband, but instead of setting her up with a refined gentleman, he intends to marry her off to Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley), a cad of the highest order and a drunken womanizer (it’s the final part of Alain’s diabolical plan to take his revenge on his brother). After framing Denis for murder, Alain lures him to the castle and introduces him to his niece, hopeful that the two will immediately despise each other. Lo and behold, Denis is not the scoundrel everyone assumes he is, and with the help of Alain’s disloyal servant Voltan (Boris Karloff), he and Blanche may just beat the bitter old man at his own game.
Based on the short story The Sire de Maletroit's Door by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Door makes great use of its gothic setting to tell a wonderfully twisted tale of revenge. It’s an entertaining ride from start to finish, due mostly to the boisterous performance delivered by Charles Laughton, who’s so perfectly over-the-top that you can’t help but smile at his often-disturbing antics (the cruelty with which he chides and ridicules his imprisoned brother grows more intense as the movie drags on). At times, Laughton’s performance even crosses over into dark comedy (Having just stirred up the animosity between Blanche and Denis, his Alain, quite pleased with himself, turns to one of his servants and says, “I’m in the mood for relaxation. Let’s visit the dungeon!”), yet despite the occasional laugh, we never lose sight of how mean and vindictive his character truly is.
Because he plays only a minor (albeit important) role in the film, Karloff fans may find The Strange Door a bit of a disappointment. But even if his part had been more substantial, the great Karloff wouldn’t have stolen this picture away from Laughton; The Strange Door is his movie, and he makes the most of it.