For this month’s Mad Movie Challenge, Kristina of Speakeasy has assigned me a British thriller that also is known under the title The Hidden Room. It’s a twisted tale of supposed murder, infidelity and a Columbo styled detective before the world was introduced to Peter Falk.
Robert Newton stars as a doctor and a man of means. From his gentleman’s club he journey’s home with a rather anxious look upon his face. With time on his hands he sets a revolver down and calmly works on a crossword puzzle into the wee hours of the night. Soon his wife will be home with one of her many lovers. Newton is supposed to be away for the night and so the duo are caught in a rather delicate situation as he goes about taunting them and poking holes in their alibis at gun point.
Tempers flare and when his wife Sally Gray storms off to the bedroom, Newton begins to fence with her lover, Phil Brown. He points out to the condemned man,”It’s all part of my perfect murder.” Soon afterwards, Brown disappears without a trace.
The Hidden Room of the alternate title is located in a bombed out ruin where Newton keeps Brown prisoner. Shackled to a wall within. Not hiding any of the plot details, scriptwriter Alec Coppel adapting his own novel freely allows Newton to communicate his intentions and reasons to Brown. The point of the exercise is to make his wife suffer and while he fully intends to kill Brown, she will always suspect it but never actually be able to prove it. Months begin to go by with Newton visiting his prisoner daily bringing him food and water to live on and some conversation that Brown needingly craves for. He’s lonely and when the Gray’s dog follows Newton to the hideaway, arguments ensue over the fate of the dog billed as Monty in the opening credits.
Starved for company and affection, the heavily bearded rather gaunt looking Brown refuses to give up the little fellow and amusingly ties him up alongside of his chained area with the floor clearly marked how far he can go before Newton can snatch him leading to certain death.
Into the story comes a detective who begins asking questions and turning up at rather awkward times for Newton. Played by Naunton Wayne, the best description possible is a Columbo like detective who continually pesters Newton believing full well he’s guilty of murdering his wife’s lover. He just needs to find a body.
Not surprisingly this British feature was filmed at Pinewood studios but what you may find interesting is that it was directed by Edward Dmytryk. It was his first feature after the Noir flavored Crossfire in 1947 which may be the only film in history to have it’s three leading actors with the same first name of Robert. I’ll let you look up the last names.
The banter back and forth and attempts to out do the other between Newton and Brown is where the heart of the film lies. The intended date of Brown’s death is put off when our detective begins nosing around so their strained relationship of prisoner and would be murderer goes on. Newton is very good as the calculating, soon to be killer who has let his jealousies cloud his thinking.
As good as Newton is, I was surprised by the depth of the performance Brown gives as the doomed man. At first he plays it like a cad. But as he comes to realize Newton is obsessed with carrying out his stated intentions, Brown’s performance alters to that of a man giving in to his inevitable fate and the futility of his situation. The physicality of his performance only enhances it’s luster.
The growth of the beard and the supposed loss of weight while in chains for a period of months gives him a haunted holocaust look. That and his his affection for the dog and even his willingness to talk to Newton cries out to the viewer of his loneliness.
As a Canadian I had to give a chuckle over the film’s opening banter at the gentleman’s club where Newton and his cronies discuss Canadians and their “lingo.” Amusing from my vantage point at least. Collectors of model trains may find this film a nice time capsule as Newton has a huge set up in the basement of his home where he tinkers while fending off accusations from both his wife and our on set Columbo.
Bravo to Kristina for suggesting I catch up to this Dmytryk film that is a fun ride with a noticeable slant toward the Noir genre.
A while back I had assigned a 1956 film to Kristina starring two major leading men of the fifties. That same duo had made another film three years prior which is her current challenge to watch this month. Be sure to check it out as it features a solid supporting cast including James Whitmore, Keenan Wynn and lovely Ann Blyth.