Very loosely based upon the Robert Louis Stevenson story, The Sire de Maletroit's Door, The Strange Door stars Charles Laughton as Sire Alain de Maletroit, a rich aristocrat with devious plans. He sets up a drunken cad named Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley) by making him believe he has murdered someone. In a bar, one of Maletroit’s men starts a fight with Beaulieu and fires his pistol at him. Beaulieu then grabs a planted gun filled with blanks from the bar and shoots back. The man pretends to be dead, forcing Beaulieu to run away from the angry mob. They lead him to Maletroit’s chateau, and Beaulieu enters hoping to escape. He finds himself trapped inside as the large door has no interior handle and it is locked.
He soon meets Maletroit and learns he is not only a prisoner there, but that he will soon be forced to marry his niece, Blanche (Say Forrest). We later learn that Maletroit’s brother, who is also Blanche’s father, has been imprisoned in the chateau’s dungeon for twenty years with Blanche believing he died way back then. The reasons Maletroit wants Beaulieu to marry Blanche aren’t revealed until the end of the film, and are ultimately rather silly, but neither do they really matter. What matters is that Beaulieu is a prisoner and there is no escape.
Most of the plot is pretty convoluted and senseless. Though he is a prisoner, Beaulieu has the run of the rather large chateau and is even allowed to attend a large party thrown by Maletroit. Blanche is both beautiful and kind and so they quickly get along. The idea seems to be that Blanche would hate to marry a dunk and a cad, but Beaulieu proves himself to be an all-together decent fellow and we never really see him behaving badly.
Director Joseph Pevney keeps things moving at a decent pace and the chateau sets are quite beautiful. Charles Laughton is quite good as Maletroit and he’s clearly having lots of fun in the role. Stapley is a bit of a bore as Beaulieu. His acting is stiff, but it works well enough. Boris Karloff plays Voltan Maletroit’s servant, who is secretly loyal to the brother. He’s not given much to do in the role but it's always fun seeing him on screen. Ultimately it is a decent film, worth watching if you a fan of the actors or of early 1950’s cinema.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Strange Door with a 1.37:1 aspect ratio with a transfer rate of 1080p. Extras include audio commentary by film historians Tom Weaver, David Schecter, and Dr. Robert J Kiss. It is full of factoids concerning the film and its adaptation with lots of quoting from the source material. There is also several trailers from other Kino Lorber films.
The Strange Door is the sort of film that I’d definitely sit and watch were it to come on TCM on a lazy afternoon. It isn’t going to wow you, but Laughton is great and the sets are nicely done. That’s enough to make it worth a try.