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Behind Locked Doors

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Behind Locked Doors

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Sometimes nostalgia is right: They really don't make B-movies like they used to, and it's a shame. With the high cost of theatrical distribution, today's B-movies premiere on video and tend to adhere to a predictable blood-to-breasts ratio. The art of turning out interesting, low-budget, genre-oriented material now seems largely lost, a notion again confirmed by the video appearance of 1948's Behind Locked Doors. An early low-budget film from boxer turned matador turned filmmaker Oscar "Budd" Boetticher (best known for his '50s westerns with Randolph Scott), Doors turns its lack of funds to its advantage, using a small cast, a few small sets, and creative noir lighting to suggest the claustrophobia of its sanitarium setting. There, a corrupt judge has chosen to hide out from the law, an arrangement that works until a jocular private eye (Ross Stewart) goes undercover as a mental patient after he's hired by a pretty journalist (Lucille Bremer) in search of a scoop and some reward money. Before long, Stewart is in over his head, able to locate his prey but unable to escape from abusive attendants and a crazed ex-boxer played by Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson. A probable inspiration for Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, Doors suffers in comparison; Fuller made transcendent B-movies, and this isn't one. In just about every other respect, however, it's everything it should be: fast-paced, stylishly shot, a little lurid, a little topical, and thoroughly entertaining. Too bad you can't bottle those qualities for a time that badly needs them.