The movie unfolds like a play. Laurence Jeffries (Anthony Perkins), a doctor specializing in memory loss, is working third shift at a hospital in the south of England. A fisherman brings in a disoriented patient (Bronson) he found wandering a nearby beach, apparently suffering from amnesia. Clearly up to no good, Jeffries dismisses the patient as merely intoxicated, telling his co-workers that he's going to give the stranger a ride to the train station on his way home. In fact, Jeffries takes him back to his house for reasons initially unclear.
The doctor's purpose in "treating" the stranger's amnesia in secrecy and the stranger's identity are gradually revealed like peeled layers of an onion. Without giving anything away, it soon becomes apparent that the stranger may have killed someone near where he was first found, and that Jeffries is manipulating the man into committing some sort of act of revenge against the doctor's unfaithful wife, Frances (Jill Ireland, Bronson's real-life wife and frequent co-star).
(Spoilers) An Italian-French co-production filmed in England, and bearing French rather than English opening and closing titles, Someone Behind the Door operates from an interesting but basically absurd conceit, that Jeffries, unable or unwilling to kill his wife's lover, Paul (Belgian Henri Garcin, The Eighth Day), feeds The Stranger (as Bronson's character is billed) Jeffries' own repressed rage, slipping in little pieces of his own identity: a nude snapshot of Frances, a faked diary, etc., and convincing him that Paul has murdered Frances - all so that the man will come to believe that he's essentially the person he's in fact talking to (shades of Man without a Body!).
Jeffries' scheme is extravagantly improbable, with a "personality transplant" bordering on science fiction and begging endless questions: Even if Jeffries can convince the stranger to murder his wife's lover, then what? What will happen when Paul explains that Frances isn't dead at all, but alive and well? What happens after the police question the stranger about his motives? What was Jeffries planning on doing with the dead body after, he hopes, the Stranger murders Paul?
Wild improbabilities aside, other aspects of the film are unusually well done anticipating, in some respects, director co-writer Nicolas Gessner's later and far superior The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976), a one-of-a-kind ingenious and evocative thriller made in Canada. Someone Behind the Door creates a strong, similar atmosphere in its first half, and while the improbabilities eventually catch up with it, it's still engagingly unusual.
Though Jeffries' ultimate aim is absurd, his manipulation of the stranger is fascinating and almost believable. Anthony Perkins had played variations of this type of character ever since Psycho (1960), and he's fine here. (A brief scene where he lies to police inquiring about the stranger's whereabouts recalls Perkins' dialogue with Martin Balsam in Hitchcock's film.)
But it's Charles Bronson who really impresses, in a part light-years removed from his usual screen persona: polite but repressing panic, increasingly paranoid and, especially unusual for Bronson, utterly vulnerable. He's excellent early on, appearing genuinely disoriented yet trying to maintain his composure. Later, Jeffries' machinations make him edgy and the madness the doctor unleashes within him is frighteningly real; that his paranoia about his "wife's" infidelity is entirely imagined makes it all the more disturbing. Bronson almost never got credit for his acting; after all those Death Wish sequels critics made fun of his seemingly disengaged, cigar store Indian inexpressiveness, but when the character challenged him, as this clearly did, he'd usually hit a home run. Though the film is disappointing in the end, Bronson gives one of his best performances. Perhaps inspired by her husband's work, even Jill Ireland, often quite bad in their films together, is very good in her smaller role.
(Despite some nudity, violent rape and murder, in those wacky early days of the MPAA ratings system, Someone Behind the Door snagged a GP rating, the forerunner to PG. Lionsgate was apparently too cheap to get the film re-rated, and the DVD box lists this GP rating, certain to confuse viewers too young to remember the MPAA's older rating system.)
Video & Audio
Kino's Blu-ray, presented in widescreen, looks great, with slightly grainy title elements while the rest of the film exhibits fine detail and subtle use of color. (Despite its French-Italian origins, the picture is presented in English-only, recorded on-set, with some supporting parts dubbed.) The DTS-HD Master Audio mono is fine, and the region "A" disc is supported by optional English subtitles.
The lone supplement is worthy of time and attention. It's an audio commentary by the director, 88-year-old Nicolas Gessner, who obviously very carefully plotted out and organized his occasionally screen-specific track. It's unusually well organized, thoughtful, and intelligent, one of the best director tracks to come along in a while.
Bronson fans expecting a hard-core action-thriller will be enormously disappointed by Someone Behind the Door's low-key intelligence and confined staging, while the film's unlikely plotting works against some fine acting and fitfully effective psychological thriller elements. Still, Recommended.