Early Mary Astor in Pre-Code Vehicle
Mark Savary | Seattle, WA | 04/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a pretty interesting slice of Pre-Code movie-making from 1931. While there isn't anything too spicy going on by today's standards (no nudity or obvious sexual innuendo), there are highly veiled hints of naughtiness and fallen women.Mary Astor plays Mary Linden, a secretary that helps a crass salesman named James Duneen rise up the corporate ladder until he becomes top dog of the company. She's secretly been in love with Duneen forever, and stays loving and loyal even though he likes to tramp around with all the stray alley cats he can score with. Eventually, she gets fed up with being overlooked, underappreciated, and taken advantage of. She quits, leaving the helpless Duneen to fend for himself. The ending is rather predictable, and seemed slightly "tacked-on". Some minor comedy relief is provided by Mary's co-workers, but this is more or less an office drama. The print is remarkably clear for the age of the film. Minor blemishes and scuffs are visible throughout, but not to excess, and do not interfere with viewing.While it wasn't groundbreaking cinema, "Behind Office Doors" was not a boring or slapdash production. It was also interesting to see a young Astor still ten years away from perhaps her most famous role, Bogart's love interest in "The Maltese Falcon".The Roan Group has to be commended for finding such rarities as this film, and putting them on DVD."
Behind Office Doors
Steven Hellerstedt | 10/01/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"An unidentified woman hears a woman scream behind a locked apartment door. She knocks on the door and we in the audience, along with Mary Linden (Mary Astor), discover that behind the door they're playing Blind Man's Bluff and the man in the blindfold picks her. Pulling off the blindfold Ronnie Wales (Ricardo Cortez) demands "payment." Pre-code payment, of course, is a kiss. Mary, playfully objecting, tells him "It's the woman who pays and pays and pays!" Thus does BEHIND OFFICE DOORS, a smart romantic tale, present its major theme, that of the underappreciated woman.
BEHIND OFFICE DOORS is an old movie. Ancient cameras and microphones limit and anchor movement and make for static scenes. The actors walk into camera range, chasing the camera rather than being chased. Title cards pop up here and there to explain things (Three months later...) In one scene Astor can stretch back on a bed and ask Cortez if he's going to "spurn her too," but both of her feet remain on the floor. A "modern woman" achieves success by coaching and mentoring and maneuvering the man she secretly loves into a position of power and prestige.
And yet I was totally captivated by this movie. Astor won me over with her intelligent portrayal of the hyper-efficient girl friday. Cortez is an interesting case, as well. In this movie he played a philanderer, an adulterer, a gigolo. Seeing as how he was molded by the studios as the heir apparent for the late Valentino, the PR people selling him as the new bedroom eyed Latin lover, his character is subtly cast. Instead of the lecherous wolf he could easily have been, Ronnie Wales is sympathetic and quite likeable. He is the tempting devil with the gentle soul.
The other man in Astor's life is played by Robert Ames. His James Duneen begins as a brash, loud, and fairly obnoxious sales manager. Under Astor's sure tutelage he promoted promptly and, probably, a few steps above his head. Ames died in 1932 at the age of 43, and I doubt anyone but the most loyal of old movies fan have even heard of him. Ames' Duneen is another character that in less sure hands would have remained two-dimensional, but under Melville Brown's sure direction the Duneen character evolves more than any. By the end of things he is very much the sober executive.
At the end of one dance filled, liquor washed evening Duneen sees Mary "as she really is." Not the "perfect machine in the office," but... well, if this had occurred at the end of the movie, rather than at the end of scene two, we'd be talking about a totally different movie. Any further plot exposition would be a spoiler.
Movies don't normally age well. Photography and sound recording styles harden about the arteries, they lose the cutting edge beauty of their youth as they mature into a quaint middle age and then into primitive dotage. Vibrant story lines gray to implausibility - we laugh when we should weep. Modern acting styles that speak to their generation become senile mimes. The reason we don't watch old movies is because they ARE old, and in the way, and no longer speak to us.
That said, BEHIND OFFICE DOORS retains a good deal of its supple youthfulness. We may no longer buy a story about a woman finding fulfillment through a man, but stories of those who sacrifice for love (requited and otherwise) will always have currency. And the acting is uniformly good and natural.
A bit of trivia - Born in a Jewish ghetto in Vienna, Jacob Krantz was transformed by Hollywood into the Spanish romantic hero Ricardo Cortez and marketed as the new Valentino. Cortez was a serious actor, though, and demanded roles that took him beyond the bedroom. Mary Astor is probably best remembered as Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the dame that Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade wouldn't take a fall for in John Huston's THE MALTESE FALCON.
In 1931, the same year BEHIND OFFICE DOORS appeared, Cortez starred as Sam Spade in the little remembered DANGEROUS FEMALE. It was the first appearance of Dahiell Hammett's detective in a movie. It's alternate title? THE MALTESE FALCON.
And now you know the rest of the story.
A pleasent surprise!
Fernando Silva | Santiago de Chile. | 08/28/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I got this dvd as a birthday gift, bought here in amazon, recently, and although much of the movies from this period are static antiques, due to sound problems and lack of camera movements, this early talkie is not that static and I had fun watching it!. Mary Astor's screen presence is strong, Robert Ames' acting is good, and the rest of the cast is uniformly o.k. The plot has neither got big surprises or mysteries, nor is it too sophisticated (let's say it's no Lubitsch), but this modest picture is sincere and definitely deserves a watch. The quality of the image is great, considering it's a 1931 feature. Also note the pre-code "daring" (for then) aspects of the film, compared to movies made in Hollywood from 1934 onwards. A pleasent discovery!"