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Film / The Strange Door

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The man with the chains is not the one to worry about...

The Strange Door is a 1951 horror film released by Universal Pictures starring Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Sally Forrest and Richard Stapley, based on the short story The Sire de Maletroit's Door by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Denis de Beaulieu (Stapley), after making one trouble too many at the tavern due to his reputation as a cad, finds himself on the run for shooting a man. His desperate escape leads him to be trapped in the castle of the eccentric Sire Alain de Maletroit (Laughton), who wants him to marry his niece.

However, the sire's beautiful niece, Blanche (Forrest), doesn't want to be forced into marriage because she desires someone else. What's more, Alain hides secrets in the castle, some of which would be dangerous should he ever be crossed. Their only chance to survive lies in the hands of the servant Voltan (Karloff), who holds no loyalty to the sire of the house.

The Strange Door welcomes these tropes to the Sire's home:

  • Arranged Marriage: Alain wanted Denis to marry his niece, Blanche. The arrangement was actually part of his revenge plan against his brother, hoping to use Denis to ruin Blanche.
  • Assassination Attempt: Voltan attempts to kill Denis under Edmond's orders. This fails due to Denis' wariness of him and the struggle against two minions of Alain.
  • Bribe Backfire: Denis attempts to bribe the coachman to keep driving, promising payment afterward. It doesn't work.
    • He attempts this again, this time to convince Talon to give him a possible escape route. Talon offers one...that could potentially kill him.
  • Death by Childbirth: Blanche's mother died after giving birth to her twenty years prior.
  • Disinherited Child: Count Grassin recounts knowing a son of Beaulieu who was disinherited by his father for his womanizing, troublemaking ways. Said son was Denis de Beaulieu.
  • Evil Uncle: Alain de Maletroit
  • Faux Affably Evil: Alain presents himself as an eccentric but otherwise respectable man, but there's noticeable shades of sadism and cruelty.
  • Handsome Lech: Denis, at the beginning. He grows out of it when he actually comes to love Blanche and suspects malicious machinations from Sire de Maletroit.
  • In the Back: When the couple's escape is thwarted, Denis discovers Grassin had been stabbed in the back before they arrived.
  • Lost Lenore: Armand for Blanche, who disappeared without a trace.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Edmond has been faking losing his sanity, preventing Alain from killing him for twenty years.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Gender flipped. At the end of the film, Edmond is seen better groomed and dressed, fit for the proper master of the house.
  • Staged Shooting: Denis shot a man, promoting his escape from town. He comes to discover in the aftermath of a struggle against two of Alain's men that one of them, who he barely recognized, faked his death.
  • Thwarted Escape: Denis and Blanche are intercepted at the gate during their attempted escape.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Alain's justification for killing Armand, Blanche's first love.
  • Undying Loyalty: Voltan has been loyal to Edmond despite Alain's control over the estate, from sneaking in food to carrying out his orders to protect his master's niece.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: The dungeon cell actually houses a death trap that crush any unlucky prisoner trapped inside. It almost happens to Denis, Blanche and Edmond, but Voltan narrowly saves them with the cell key.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: Invoked by Alain to Blanche as justification for marrying her to Denis.
  • You Remind Me of X: Discussed by Corbeau as he points out to his master Blanche's resemblance to her mother among other matters.