Today’s review was written for TMP’s Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project, my quest to watch every film Barbara Stanwyck made. For more reviews, visit the Stanwyck Project index!

Frank Devereaux (Rod LaRocque) has invited his father’s secretary Ann (Barbara Stanwyck) out for a date. Much to Ann’s surprise, Frank takes her to a “rum boat” — a ship sailing just far enough out to avoid the restrictiveness of Prohibition.

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The night is a disaster. Frank tries to force himself on Ann, though luckily a police raid of the ship stops him. A photographer snaps a picture of the two as they are escorted off the ship, but wanting to avoid a scandal for his family, Frank buys the picture.

Over a year later, Ann and Frank are no longer in contact. Ann is actually happily married to a different (and much nicer) man, Lawrence Reagan (William Boyd).

On the eve of Ann and Larry’s first wedding anniversary, however, Frank comes back to haunt her, introducing himself as the boyfriend of Larry’s sister Helen (Betty Bronson).

George Fitzmaurice directs 1929’s The Locked Door. The film was written by C. Gardner Sullivan, based on a play by Channing Pollock.

Stanwyck’s character in this film is, at first, quite different from her well-known bad gals and femme fatales. A secretary pursued by her boss’s sleazy son, Stanwyck brings an appropriate sense of naivety and innocence to the character.

As the film gets more dramatic, some of that trademark outspokenness and badassery we’re used to seeing from Stanwyck comes out! Frank proves himself a truly despicable human being, but she stands up to him. And also shoots some pretty intense death glares his way.

Stany played many types during her career, but I can’t think of one time she played a pushover, and Ann Carter certainly isn’t one. While I’m about the most adoring “Fanwyck” around, I’ll readily admit Stany’s inexperience in front the camera shows a bit in this film, but she still delivers some of The Locked Door‘s strongest moments.

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Frank is easy to hate, so even with my Stanwyck fandom put aside, I think any viewer will easily root for Ann. Adding to the appeal of the character, she has a cheesy-cute romance with Larry, and the nice dynamic between Ann and her new family (Larry and his younger sister) gives the gives the viewer even more reason to take her side.

Rod LaRocque does a good job with his much-less-likable character. I also liked Betty Bronson’s performance as Helen, Larry’s spirited younger sister. (In one scene, Larry and Ann are smooching. Helen’s reaction: “When you get through with that Gilbert-Garbo, there’s a telegram on the table I forgot to give you!”)

Pretty great performances across the board account for much of the film’s appeal, though its story does hold interest as well. The pace lulls at times, but there’s enough drama written in to make up for it.

For appearing so early on in her filmography, The Locked Door offers a great example of Stanwyck’s God-given talent for performing, and her potential for strong, varied performances that showed from the very beginning of her career.