Dr. Renault's Secret
by Evan ODell 2/28/09
(1942) Directed by Harry Lachman. Based on Gaston Leroux’s novel “Balaoo”. Screenplay by William Bruckner and Robert F. Metzler. Starring J. Carrol Naish, Shepperd Strudwick, Lynne Roberts, George Zucco, and Mike Mazurki.n.
From the story “Balaoo” by Gaston Leroux, author of “The Phantom of the Opera”. He was known in France to be a mystery author as well regarded as Edgar Allan Poe or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Dr. Renault’s Secret represents the third time Balaoo had been adapted for the screen. The two previous versions, Balaoo (1913, France) and The Wizard (1927), are considered lost films (though a shooting script still exists for The Wizard). The picture has been given an amazing restoration for the Fox Horror Classics Volume 2 collection.
This film came out the same year as RKO’s Cat People and a year after the Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both are stories which Dr. Renault’s Secret bear a resemblance to. Though it is said to be similar to a lost Lon Chaney horror, "A Blind Bargain," It was originally released by Fox as a double bill with another Fox horror classic, "The Undying Monster." I happened to see this after watching the Fredric March "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and it provided a good dovetail of similar stories in a double feature with that picture.
So, I’m betting you can surmise from the titles above, that this has something to do with man’s duality. And in that regard you’d be right. Though I don’t want to get too specific with the nature of the duality because Dr. Renault’s Secret remains a mystery until the end.
It might play a little slow to modern audiences, but I happen to like older horror movies. This one has plenty of atmosphere and good performances. And one thing about movies of the time period, they often topped out at an hour. To me, at an hour it never overstays.
J. Carrol Naish steals the show here with a great physical performance as Noel, the doctor’s unusual assistant. His voice mannerism is reminiscent of Peter Lorre. This movie came out shortly after veteran horror actor, George Zucco played a mad scientist in The Mad Monster. A role he would reprise here. It was also a pleasure to see towering tough-guy character actor, Mike Mazurki playing the ex-con grounds keeper of the doctor’s estate.
American Dr. Larry Forbes Shepperd Strudwick) arrives in a small French town to reunite with Madelon Renault (Lynne Roberts), his fiancée. His first night in town, a murder occurs. Noel (J. Carrol Naish) takes Forbes to Dr. Renault’s (George Zucco) estate where he will remain until they can wed. Noel is rather odd and very protective of Madelon, and she reveals she knows not whether he is patient or experiment. But he is not the only odd one, the doctor also employees an ex-con as groundskeeper (Mike Mazurki).