Review: Carlos Hugo Christensen’s ‘Never Open That Door’ on Flicker Alley Blu-ray

Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray comes outfitted with a beautiful transfer and a stellar slate of extras.


Never Open the DoorCarlos Hugo Christensen originally conceived of a single anthology film consisting of three adaptations of Cornell Woolrich short stories. After the initial cut came in at over two hours, the Dutch-Argentinian filmmaker was forced to recut the footage he shot, resulting in two separate feature films: Never Open That Door, which comprised two of the adaptations, and If I Should Die Before I Wake, which was an extended cut of the third.

Adapted from 1950’s “Somebody on the Phone,” which Woolrich published under the pseudonym of William Irish, the first part of Never Open That Door is by far its most conventional, following the suave Raul (ngel Magaa) as he struggles to help his sister, Luisa (Renée Dumas), out of a jam. The catch is that, however helpful Raul is, he can’t get the full story from Luisa about who is blackmailing her, so he’s left only with the knowledge that the perpetrator announces himself only via phone call by letting the phone ring five times before hanging up and calling Luisa back.

Relying on the classic noir trope of the woman in trouble and the protagonist navigating mysterious circumstances that he never fully grasps, this segment relies far too heavily on coincidence and a final twist that’s a bit too telegraphed. Still, a crisp expressionism is brought to the proceedings through both the production design (African art in the club and surrealist and primitive art in Raul and Liusa’s home) and the elegantly moody cinematography. A stunning shot in which Luisa stands against a wall in a halo of light only to slowly glide through darkness to pick up the phone on the other side of the room hints at the constant interplay of shadow and light to come in the second part, but it’s unfortunately an anomaly here.


The next segment adapts 1937’s “The Hummingbird Comes Home,” and also plays on a fracture within a family, namely that between a kindly old blind woman, Rosa (Ilde Pirovano), and her son, Daniel (Roberto Escalada), whom she hasn’t seen for eight years. Soon after committing armed robbery with his accomplice, Juan (Luis Otero), Daniel returns home to the loving arms of his mother, who only gradually susses out her son’s recent misdeeds.

Christensen takes care early on to show Rosa’s comfort moving about her home without help, which pays off in spades once she decides not to aid her son in his escape. What follows is a masterful 20-minute sequence that’s as gripping as you’ll find in any noir. As Rosa skulks around the house in the middle of the night, stealing Daniel and Juan’s guns while they sleep and locking them in their rooms, the filmmakers intensify the suspense with well-timed close-ups and an acute attention to sound that subtly mirrors Rosa’s heightened aural awareness.

The sequence is rife with deep shadows that accentuate the labyrinthine quality of Rosa’s baroque house, visually fragmenting the space in a way that’s disorienting without being confounding. And the sequence is bolstered by Pirovano’s performance, which is vulnerable and resilient in equal measure as Rosa’s sweet exterior dissipates to reveal the tough, protective shield underneath—perhaps having logically developed from her very blindness.


If this segment ends on a rug pull that’s a tad predictable by today’s standards, the stylistic manner in which it unfolds renders it unforgettable, especially in how its use of off-screen space and whispered voices replicates the vulnerability and uncertainty that Rosa experiences in those moments. Indeed, that final moment is indicative of Christensen’s sheer aesthetic prowess—evidence that even working with tropes that may have grown tiresome by the time he made the film, he injects them with a stylistic vigor that renders them fresh and vibrant.


Featuring a transfer of recent restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray of Never Open That Door looks truly gorgeous. Image detail is immaculate and contrast is strong, highlighting the film’s magnificent use of shadows and darkness. Occasional signs of damage are so slight as to be negligible, while the grain is tight and even. On the audio front, things aren’t quite as strong, as there’s a pervasive staticky sound throughout, though it’s never loud enough to drown out either the music or dialogue.


The inclusion of Carlos Hugo Christensen’s other 1952 Cornell Woolrich adaptation, If I Should Die Before I Wake, is certainly the biggest selling point to this Blu-ray. It’s not fully restored like the titular feature, but even with a fair amount of damage and a lack of strong contrast, the HD image makes this rare film very watchable. The other main attraction is an audio commentary for Never Open That Door with author and film historian Guido Sega, who talks at length about the influence that Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, and other Hollywood filmmakers of the 1940s and ’50s had on Christensen. Sega also touches on the city/country dichotomy in the film’s second part and how both segments of the film complement one another.


In a fantastic new 30-minute featurette, produced by Steven C. Smith and writer and film historian Alan K. Rode, the two men and several other participants focus on the career and life of author Cornell Woolrich. It’s a fascinating extra that delves into the various tropes Woolrich uses throughout his work and the many film adaptations that were made from his novels and short stories all over the world, from Hollywood and Argentina to France and Mexico.

The last extra on the disc is an interview with film historian and archivist Fernando Martín Pea, who provides a detailed account of the rise of Argentinian film production starting in the late ’30s, contextualizing Christensen’s career within the rising popularity of Argentinian film into the ’50s as he went from making melodramas to comedies to noirs. Lastly, the accompanying booklet comes filled with beautiful black-and-white stills from both Never Open That Door and If I Should Die Before I Wake but unfortunately doesn’t include any essays.


Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray of Carlos Hugo Christensen’s Never Open That Door comes outfitted with a beautiful transfer and a stellar slate of extras, including the director’s follow-up film—another Cornell Woolrich adaptation that’s every bit as good as its predecessor.

 Cast: ngel Magaa, Renée Dumas, Nicolás Fregues, Diana de Córdoba, Roberto Escalada, Ilde Pirovano, Norma Giménez, Luis Otero, Pedro Fiorito, Orestes Soriani, Percival Murray, Rosa Martín, Arnoldo Chamot, Luis Mora, Rafael Diserio, Alberto Quiles, Carlos D’Agostino  Director: Carlos Hugo Christensen  Screenwriter: Alejandro Casona  Distributor: Flicker Alley  Running Time: 85 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1952  Release Date: June 4, 2024  Buy: Video

Derek Smith

Derek Smith's writing has appeared in Tiny Mix Tapes, Apollo Guide, and Cinematic Reflections.

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