Someone Behind the Door (1971) – Two Titans Against Type

Seeing actors play against type is always a treat, because it is there when you learn who are merely a “presence,” as this film’s costar, Charles Bronson, once described himself, and who is a true actor that can transform themselves to the level demanded of the film. And Someone Behind the Door proves once and for all that Bronson, despite his own assessment, is indeed an actor. And he gets to play opposite of one of the most underrated talents of the 20th century, Anthony Perkins.

Despite its deliberate pace, Someone Behind the Door proves gripping beyond its limitations. Doubling as a character piece and Hitchcockian thriller, the film follows duplicitous neurosurgeon Laurence Jeffries (Perkins) who suspects his wife (Jill Ireland) to be having an affair behind his back. His plan to resolve the matter?

Kill the lover in a roundabout way.

And the method of murder?

Hoodwinking an amnesiac, played by Ireland’s real husband Charles Bronson, into believing she has been cheating on him, thus giving “The Stranger” a false motive to kill “his” lover.

If you can set aside how convoluted the premise itself is, the film winds up a surprisingly engaging work. There is something remarkable in seeing Perkins shuffling the deck of lies throughout to set the stage for his darksome drama, contrasted by the unsettling innocence and rage of Bronson’s “Stranger.” In one corner, Perkins, a man whose boyish innocence made him endearing in Friendly Persuasions, unnerving in Psycho, and the subject of a naïveté destroyed in The Trial. In the other, Bronson, an action star known for his support roles and his rugged looks who has tangoed with vile villains and thugs, but rarely allowed to explore his own acting ability, with such few examples being his early TV role as an immigrant striving for American citizenship in the Cavalcade of America teleplay, “A Chain of Hearts,” and glimpses of a man shattered in such films as The Valachi Papers and Death Wish.

And yet, both command their reversed roles to great effect, amplified by the two-man, one-room play setup of the film, allowing for a strong dynamic to build between the two.

With its dry observational look at mind games, and the uniquely cold production design, Someone Behind the Door is the kind of film that screams “European” from the rooftops, but somehow, someway, director Nicolas Gessner manages to make the piece work. It’s perhaps thanks to how, despite four writers having penned the script, he gives the film an even pace with no subplots or anything ornamental. A straight-forward progression for a complex and convoluted web of deceit. The subtle lyricism of the film and its mini-montages are the cherry on top it all to cement it as a truly underrated work. If you want a nice, cozy, curious kind of psychodrama, Someone Behind the Door is more than worth a look.


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