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'Hidden Room': Terror With a Twist

August 19, 1993|KENDAL PATTERSON

Long before "Fatal Attraction" came along to scare the bejabbers out of any man contemplating infidelity, there was 1949's "The Hidden Room" (later retitled "Obsession").

It's the story of a methodical British psychiatrist (played by Robert Newton) who has had enough of his attractive young wife's dallying and decides to do away with the next man she befriends.

That unlucky young man is a jaunty American named Bill Kronin (Phil Brown), who soon comes to wish he weren't so irresistible to women.

The doctor spirits him away to a deserted bomb shelter, where he will remain until the media hubbub dies down and the coast is clear--for the perfect murder. "You've heard of the last straw, haven't you?" the doctor asks Bill. "Well, you're it."

What makes this old-fashioned potboiler special are terrific performances and an intriguing twist: The good doctor intent on carrying out the very passionate act of murder is a man with no apparent emotion.

He does not rail at his victim or scream at his wife for infidelity. He simply makes a plan--as though deciding how best to clear the lawn of that troublesome chickweed--for it is his intelligence, not his heart, that has been insulted by his wife's affairs.

The doctor is not only good at planning, he's good at whipping up batches of acid that melt flesh and bones but not plumbing. He intends to fill a bathtub with the stuff and his victim, and away goes trouble down the drain.

Bill is so likable that we're sure the doctor will relent as he gets to know him and that they'll both end up at the pub quaffing Guinness. And the doctor does like him--and that makes his immovability even more chilling.

Bill covers his terror in typical American fashion, with humor, as though by refusing to take the death threat seriously, it won't become real. "At least I've taught you to make a decent martini," he tells the doctor, who visits each day with food, the newspaper and a thermos of gin. But we know that he is struggling not to scream for mercy.

A wily detective (from whom Columbo must have stolen his "Just one more thing" line), and the pluckiest little dog since Toto help bring about a rousing conclusion.

Your husband's eyes won't stray for weeks.

"The Hidden Room" (1949), directed by Edward Dmytryk. 98 minutes. No rating.

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