The film opens with Oscar Krug (Hobart Bosworth), who is an American of German ancestry. The story is set during war and Krug is subjected to criticism and outrage from his fellow Americans for having German ancestry. Krug nonetheless works with the navy and sets out to be a patriotic American.
Alice Morse (Jane Novak), Oscar's wife, becomes kidnapped by Lieutenant Brandt (Wallace Beery), who is a German officer and commander. Oscar decides to seek out revenge against Brandt during the course of the story. The film leads to a shocking conclusion out on the sea.
The cinematography by Frank M. Blount (The Grim Game) and J.O. Taylor (King Kong) is technically impressive for the time. Though many viewers who are unfamiliar with silent films seem to think of early motion-pictures as solely being presented in black and white that was not universally the case.
The color grading and tinting on Behind the Door is quite impressive. It is one of the most technically innovative aspects of Behind the Door. Filmmaking evolved because of early experiments with color such as the work that was done by Blount and Taylor as demonstrated with this production. From blue tinted oceans to orange-hued sky, Behind the Door demonstrates color quite well.
The music was composed by Stephen Horne (Escape from Dartmoor). Horne is known for being a composer of accompanying music for many silent film efforts. Classic films are not complete without some accompanying music and Horne helps restore the film with his own approach to the film. The dark piano music thematically matches the underlining storyline.
The story by Gouverneur Morris (The Penalty) is quite shocking for a silent era film. This was pre code Hollywood, so the concluding scene were more shocking than they would have been had been this produced years after 1919. The horror of the ending scenes are played for shocks by director Irvin Willat (The Grim Game).
This restoration effort was a huge undertaking by the SFSFF. The continuity script written by Luther Reed (A Favor to a Friend) was used in the process to reconstruct scenes. Intertitles became created for missing cuts in the footage.
Though Behind the Door is highly regarded by many silent film enthusiasts, I cannot personally attest to having much enthusiasm for the production myself. The pacing during the first half of the film is lacking in excitement or good storytelling. Willat mistakenly seems to feel shock value is all that he needs to make the film compelling. The characterizations and storytelling devices aren't as distinctive or memorable as they could have been.
Behind the Door is certainly a technically innovative film for the time-period though. That much is certain: especially given numerous scenes at sea that are unlike many other sequences in film productions of the time period. Much of the success of this is owed to cinematographers Frank M. Blount and J.O. Taylor.
Flicker Alley has done a tremendous job presenting Behind the Door on Blu-ray. The restoration effort done by San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Library of Congress is exceptional. The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame with an impressive1080p MPEG-4 AVC high definition encode. It is close to being a full reconstruction effort.
No complete print of the film exists. At almost 100 years old, Behind the Door had to be restored based on existing incomplete prints primarily taken from 35 mm sources. Some footage was also taken from the Russian version. New intertitles with text taken directly from the continuity script were used when needed.
Though most of the footage was successfully reconstructed, the film still had some missing reels. These reels have been replaced with production photographs and stills which are of the missing moments in the film. These moments fill in the gaps so the story and film can still be viewable as a finished film.
Considering the tremendous effort done by the restoration team, the clarity and detail that is visible on this presentation is both surprising and astonishing. This is a great high-definition release with good detail. The use of color in the film is also astonishing. Though some minor damage is still noticeable throughout, it's clear that tremendous effort was put into this major restorative effort. No silent film fans will be disappointed by the effort here. It's a painstaking restoration.
The film has received a lossless 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio sound presentation with 24 bit depth. As a silent film, there is no spoken dialogue. The film also lacks sound effects. Yet the music score composed by Stephen Horne is well reproduced and is a strong effort that helps enhance the film presentation successfully.
Please Note: This is a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack release.
This release includes a booklet featuring essays on the film and production/cast information. On disc supplements include:
Kevin Brownlow Remembering Irvin Willat (HD, 31 min.) is a lengthy interview about the director of Behind the Door.
Restoring Behind the Door (HD, 11 min.) is a behind-the-scenes look at the reconstruction effort with interviews with those involved with the project.
Original Production Outtakes (HD, 11 min.) showcases footage which was cut from the film.
Original 'Export' Russian version of Behind the Door (HD, 47 min.) is a considerably different cut from the standard U.S. version with a shorter run-time and alternate takes. Presented with Russian intertitles.
Photo Gallery featuring lobby cards, production stills, and movie posters.
Behind the Door is well regarded by many silent film fans but it's lacking in great character development or storytelling. The film is technically impressive for the time-period though. In that regard, it's shocking that the film is almost 100 years old.
Flicker Alley has delivered an exceptional quality Blu-ray release which a great restoration effort. Though I don't recommend the film, fans of Behind the Door won't be disappointed.