So, your spouse is cheating on you, again, and you’ve had enough. You decide the lover must die, but you don’t want to land in jail for murder. How do you best cope with this common noir problem, and what does this have to do with Animals in Film, the subject of a blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood? Let me explain…
In Edward Dmytryk’s Obsession or The Hidden Room (1949), Robert Newton (just a year from being immortalized as Long John Silver) plays the wronged hubby, one Dr. Clive Riordan,, a scientist married to the flagrantly unfaithful Storm (Sally Gray). Newton inhabits the role with a calm menace, having worked out every detail of his plan to get away with murdering Bill (Phil Brown), Storm’s most recent paramour, a very nice American fella.
The plan involves patience, the wonders of modern chemistry, and a hidden room. It also comes to include a ridiculously cute little dog called Monty. (We know the importance of the dog from the original title of the novel and play on which the film is based, Alec Coppel’s A Man About a Dog.)
Dr. Riordan realizes that he must keep Bill alive for a time, letting others (including the police) think he has left town. Only after a requisite number of weeks will he then murder the man and dispose of his body. And how he disposes of the body is key: he will dissolve it in a special acid bath he is preparing. (For more about the evil Dr. Riordan, visit my post for the Mad Scientist Blogathon earlier this year, which you can find here.)
But how to test the acid bath’s effectiveness? Enter Monty, Storm’s precious pooch, who follows the Doctor to the hidden room one day. His furry little life is saved (at least temporarily) when Bill captures him in his arms. If the Doctor goes to take him, Bill might just grapple away the key to the chain that binds his ankle and keeps him in the room. So Riordan lets Bill keep the dog as he slowly but surely mixes his acid cocktail and pours it into the bathtub just out of Bill’s reach.
Monty keeps Bill company, which helps the poor man from going mad. Soon, he begins teaching the pooch little tricks, with the goal of flushing the acid down the bathtub drain before Riordan can kill either of them.
SPOILER ALERT! PAST THIS LINE IS THE REVEAL!
The joy of this film is that both Bill and Monty survive in tact. Riordan is caught, Storm goes on a cruise, and though at first she plans to take Monty (but not a recuperating Bill, who has no more interest in Storm), but it’s clear Monty and Bill belong together. A man’s best friend in this film is neither a cheating dame nor a crazed husband, but a ridiculously cute little dog!
Director Edward Dmytryk made this film soon after fleeing the US when he refused to testify before HUAC regarding alleged communism in Hollywood. I can’t help but think in allegorical terms about this film, with Dr. Riordan standing in for the malevolent House UnAmerican Activities Committee, Storm as Hollywood celebrities who supported the committee’s efforts (e.g. Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor), Bill as Dmytryk, trapped and seeking escape, and Monty as those who supported the exiled director, granting him work in England.