Behind the Door. 1919. USA. Directed by Irvin V. Willat. With Hobart Bosworth, Wallace Beery, Jane Novak. Silent, with live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne. 70 min.
MoMA presents the New York premiere of the newly restored Behind the Door—“the most outspoken of all the WWI vengeance films” (Kevin Brownlow)—which can finally be seen in a tinted reconstruction of its 1919 theatrical release thanks to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, The Library of Congress, and Gosfilmofund of Russia. Though it may have missed its calling as wartime propaganda—the film reached theaters after Armistice was declared—Behind the Door was nevertheless a hit for Paramount, a brutal tabloid drama of rape and retribution that pits Hobart Bosworth, a German-American sailor, against Wallace Beery, a sadistic German U-boat commander. The film’s director, Irvin Willat, who was instrumental in the making of Thomas Ince’s 1916 pacifist allegory Civilization, proves himself a gifted orchestrator of Old Testament violence. DCP.