When a handsome but poor young man falls for a plain but rich young woman, does he really love her or is he just after her money? This is the central question in Henry Slesar's short story, "Behind the Locked Door," first published in the January 1961 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine under the pen name O.H. Leslie.
The story opens as Davey Snowden and Bonnie Daniels visit a large, old house that belongs to her family. "The house was a sphinx, squatting on the hillside," writes Slesar and, like the Sphinx of ancient myth, it holds a secret. Davey believes that, if he solves the riddle, he will be rich, yet solving the riddle of this sphinx will result in his death. Bonnie and Davey drive up to the house and she runs ahead of him and ventures inside, turning on lights to reveal cracked ceilings and white-shrouded furniture. Already, Slesar is hinting at the hidden nature of their relationship, with initial excitement leading to disappointment.
Bonnie states that she lived in this house until she was nine years old--she's 17 now and Davey is 22. They playfully explore the house until Davey finds a locked door on the fourth floor. Bonnie tells him that it has always been locked and she does not want him to open it. In a sense, the locked door represents Davey's heart and Bonnie is afraid of discovering the true nature of his feelings for her. Davey's mind immediately goes to thoughts of wealth and he wonders if there is something of value behind the door; he knows that Bonnie will inherit the house when she turns 21. Bonnie convinces him to leave it alone and he builds a fire downstairs as she dozes off.
Suddenly, a car drives up and Bonnie's mother marches in "like some matriarchal figure of vengeance." She demands that Bonnie come home with her but Davey tells her that they were married that afternoon in Elkton, where a 17-year-old girl may legally wed (a couple of hours' drive from New York City, Elkton, MD, was once known as the quickie wedding capital of the East Coast). Davey insists that he loves Bonnie but Mrs. Daniels bluntly tells him that she is a plain girl and that a handsome boy like him only wants her money. Bonnie threatens to kill herself and her mother leaves as "the last clutch of flames flared up and died on the blackened log." Is this a metaphor for the end of romance between Davey and Bonnie? Possibly, since the next day the young couple goes to Davey's small apartment in the city to begin their married life together.
|James MacArthur as Davey Snowden|
|Lynn Loring as Bonnie Daniels|
|Gloria Swanson as Mrs. Daniels|
|Trying to pick the lock|
|The first appearance of Mrs. Daniels|
|Unable to revive Bonnie|
Mrs. Daniels tells Davey that his new bride is 17, not 19 as she claimed, and concludes her scene with the young couple by stylishly blowing out the three candles on the candelabra that they used to light their way. Like the dying fire of the story, the extinguishing of the candles shows how Bonnie's mother puts an end to her daughter's romance.
|Davey's real nature is revealed|
|Watching from the shadows|
|Through the door at last!|
|At the bottom of the elevator shaft|
What a tremendous ending, and what a brilliant alteration to the story! The final scene brings everything together: the great score by Herrmann, the shadowy set, and Gloria Swanson's powerful acting. Her lifting and lowering of her black veil and her slowly backing away from the doorway demonstrate the skills she used in silent film. "Behind the Locked Door" is a very good story that was turned into an unforgettable hour of television. True, it drags in the middle section, but once you have seen the ending you will not soon get it out of your mind.
|Bonnie assures Davey she is happy|
Gloria Swanson, playing Mrs. Daniels, was a great star of silent cinema who made a brilliant comeback in Billy Wilder's classic Sunset Boulevard. She made her film debut in 1914 and her TV debut in 1948. She did not make many appearances after Wilder's film but when she did act onscreen she was impossible to ignore. This was her only time on the Hitchcock series.
As Davey, James MacArthur plays a very different role than the one viewers most remember him for today--that of Danno on Hawaii Five-O (1969-1979). MacArthur's father was playwright and screenwriter Charles MacArthur; his mother by adoption was the great stage actress Helen Hayes. He grew up surrounded by literary and theatrical greats and surely met Gloria Swanson before acting with her in this episode. His TV and movie career began in the mid-1950s and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. Learn more about James MacArthur here.
Anything but plain, Lynn Loring gives a very emotional performance as Bonnie. She started out as a child actress in 1951 and worked into the mid-1970s before becoming a producer. She was president of MGM/UA Television from 1984 to 1989 and today runs her own production company in Los Angeles. She appeared in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
|Whit Bissell as Adam Driscoll|
Finally, Robert Douglas (1909-1999) directed this episode. He began his movie career as an actor in 1931 and appeared twice as an actor in Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He began directing episodic television in 1960 and directed four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Sign of Satan."
"Behind the Locked Door" is not currently available on DVD or online.
"Behind the Locked Door." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 27 Mar. 1964. Television.