|Double Door (1934)
Run time: 75 min | Drama, Horror, Mystery
Director: Charles Vidor
Writers: Jack Cunningham, Gladys Lehman
Stars: Evelyn Venable, Mary Morris, Anne Revere
When a young bride marries into the Van Brett family, she comes up against one of the most truly monstrous women ever seen in film. Mary Morris gives the performance of a lifetime in this wildly melodramatic, abashed, and unapologetic film treatment.
Toronto Film Society is back in the theatre! However, we’re still pleased to continue to bring you films straight to your home! Beginning Season 73 until now we have...
After the Paramount logo, we see the title appear in ordinary white text on glass, followed by credits for cast and crew. Through the glass, behind the text, we see a heavy set of doors. Then an enormous face appears between the credits and the doors, drifting forward. It is the stern face of a bitter old woman; a crazy and arrogant witch of a face. Then suddenly the image presses against the text and the glass shatters!!! That's right, the old woman has a look so hard, a face so tough, that it shatters glass!!! With acting and dialogue that film festivals live for, this near-campy drama of psychological manipulation and domination pushes the limits of pre-code thrillers.
Inspired by the eccentric, reclusive Wendel family of New York's Fifth Avenue, Elizabeth MacFadden's stage melodrama, Double Door, was adapted for the screen in 1934. Set in 1910 Manhattan, the film stars Mary Morris and Anne Revere, repeating their stage roles as the domineering, calculating Victoria Van Brett and her weakling sister Caroline.
SPOILERS: The title refers to the door guarding the Van Brett's secret vault, wherein are stored the family jewels. Years earlier, Victoria, the only member of the family who knows the vault's combination, locked Caroline in the dark, airless chamber, literally frightening her into madness. At present, the misleadingly sweet and sour-natured Victoria has embarked upon a campaign to destroy Ann Darrow (Evelyn Venable), the new bride of her half-brother Rip Van Brett (Kent Taylor). I initially planned to just check out a few minutes of this film to see if it was any good, but could not stop watching it until the end, which will leave you breathless…
Is how it was introduced in the opening credits. With a confronting beginning – an elderly woman's face in extreme close up – and she is extremely scary!!!
The setting is Fifth Avenue, New York in 1910 and a wedding is about to be celebrated between Anne Darrow (Evelyn Venable) and Rip Van Brett (Kent Taylor), half brother to Caroline (Anne Revere). Caroline, a sweet spinster, is completely dominated by her embittered older sister Victoria (Mary Morris). Victoria is angry because of the marriage and because Anne will now be Mrs. Van Brett. Mr. Chase (Halliwell Hobbes), from Tiffanys, tells Victoria and Caroline about a room their late father built "a mysterious sleeping room" so he could sleep soundly amid the noise of Fifth Avenue. He has also bought over a family heirloom, a string of priceless pearls that are to be given to Anne, as the future Mrs. Van Brett. Victoria, in a silent rage, substitutes them for a string of worthless beads and takes great pleasure in seeing the disappointment on Rip and Anne's faces. An old friend of Anne's, Dr. Lucas, comes to congratulate her and also to warn her about the nutty family she now belongs to.
The sleeping room is no secret to Victoria – she uses it as a safe and on occasion as a "punishment" room when Caroline has displeased her. She now threatens to lock Caroline in there and suffocate her if she doesn't stand by her in her persecution of Anne. Victoria also sends for Rip (who has to cut short his honeymoon) to help manage all their property – once home she works him so hard he barely gets a chance to see Anne. She worries that their marriage is in trouble and confides in Dr. Lucas. After a dinner party in which Anne asserts her independence – a stranger calls, a private detective, hired by Victoria, who has evidence of Anne's secret meetings with Dr. Lucas.
The climax is extremely chilling as Anne is shown the secret of the sleeping room. The film has a lot in common with "The Silver Cord", only instead of a monstrous mother there is an evil sister and Mary Morris is just outstanding as Victoria. It is extremely surprising to find out that this was her only film. In the film Rip is telling Anne of his terrible childhood, being forced to sleep in the same room as Victoria. There are a couple of words cut out and it is obviously (probably more so in the play) of an incestuous relationship. For 1934 either before or after the code it was meaty stuff.
Anne Revere, who in the 40s had a wonderful career as a character actress, had originated her role as Caroline Van Bret on Broadway. Alas, this was also her only film in the 30s. Evelyn Venable should have been a much bigger star but apart from a Will Rogers film "David Harum" , her initial features – "Cradle Song" (about nuns), "Death Takes a Holiday" (Frederic March played the Grim Reaper) and "Double Door" (about a bitter old woman) where not exactly the types of films that were going to send people racing to the theatres. Then, before she knew it, she was Shirley Temple's mother in "The Little Colonel" and then had to be snooty to Katharine Hepburn in "Alice Adams" so the writing was on the wall. Kent Taylor, who was Rip, was a good looking leading man, but again like Evelyn Venable, with whom he co-starred in several films, he never reached stardom.
Highly, Highly Recommended.
Everything about this movie is masterful, from the story to the performances to the costumes to the sets. Charles Vidor did an excellent job of adapting a stage production to the screen. It is appropriately claustrophobic but never stale.
Rip Van Brett (Kent Taylor) is getting married. He comes from one of the oldest established and wealthiest families in New York, so when he chooses a nurse (Evelyn Venable) to be a his bride, his spinster sister Victoria (Mary Morris) is unhappy. She has already foiled one sibling Caroline (Anne Revere) from finding wedded bliss, and she intends to break up her brother's happiness too with her underhanded schemes.
This film was shown at Cinevent 2014, and everyone I knew who saw it at another film festival urged me to see it. Apparently word of mouth spread because the screening was packed. The audience ate it up, to the point that several times people began yelling at the screen. If you ever get a chance to see this, DO NOT miss it.
During the last depression, moviegoers were obsessed with the wealthy. As with the aristocrats in Europe, these folks neither created nor managed wealth. They just had it and wanted more. Here we have a domineering woman who believes she deserves it all, taking from rich peers in the same family.
The thing can only be justified in terms of developing a feeling of moral superiority in the audience.
The story is: old maid matriarch terrorizes her younger old maid sister who is demented and her weakwilled younger half-brother. He has just gotten married and will inherit the fortune, something the witch wants to prevent. The climax has her locking the new bride in a secret vault to suffocate. This is discovered and the aristopeach saved. The witch then locks herself in, guaranteeing doom but at least she will be with some pearls, worth almost $10 million in today's dollars.
This was a successful play before being a successful film. Its all about the domineering witch, who must have been the model for Oz, and the simpering sister. Both were carried into the film from the play.
It is an odd notion to me, building a movie around characters only, with no other scaffolding.
Ted's Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.