"Hidden Love! Hidden Hate! Hidden Fear!" and an Acid Bath in Obsession, Formerly Known as The Hidden Room
November 12, 2014
The brief one line synopsis of 1949's Obsession (aka The Hidden Room) on TCM.com is as follows: A jealous husband plots to dispose of his wife's lover in an acid bath.
If a logline ever prompted a must-see movie in my mind, this was it. Acid bath? How deliciously twisted! (Warning: Spoilers abound)
Something is up with Dr. Clive Riordan (Robert Newton), or, more precisely, his wife Storm (Sally Gray), from the very start of Obsession. Why do we get that feeling? Well, minutes into the film, Clive calmly waits in a darkened room for his wife to return home, a crossword puzzle and gun neatly laid out in front of him. He knows Storm has been engaging in countless affairs and is quite ready to confront her latest conquest.
That poor sap happens to be Bill Kronin (Phil Brown), who Storm claims is a distant cousin from America (yeah right) when they enter the house and are surprised by Clive.
Caught! You won't be able to get out of this, Bill (Phil Brown) and Storm (Sally Gray).
Storm and Bill attempt to cover up their whereabouts, but Clive proves too smart and trips Storm up at every corner as they engage in a malicious cat and mouse game to prove each other wrong. Obviously, their marriage is no longer a very loving one, and they seem to hate each other enough for us to question if they ever could have loved each other.
Love doesn't usually involve guns. Sally pulls one on Clive (Robert Newton), but it doesn't work.
“I decided what to do with the next one before you even met my wife,” Clive tells Bill. “I’m going to kill you.” Clive reveals that he has basically followed their relationship from the start, which thoroughly humiliates Storm, who, pardon the pun, storms away. Clive, now alone with Bill, leads him out.
Bill: You’re not going to take this harmless flirtation seriously?
Clive: That’s the problem. There’s been so many harmless flirtations. You’ve heard of the last straw, haven’t you?
Bill: Uh huh.
Clive: Well, you’re it.
With that, Bill is gone - vanished, as far as the world is concerned. And by now, it’s quite easy to identify Clive as completely devoid of human emotion and most likely several shades of psychopathic.
What's Clive doodling?
Several days later, Storm enters Clive’s office with a letter from Bill, though Clive doubts it’s real and insists on calling the police. Nevermind, answers Storm. The cat and mouse game continues...So where could Bill be?
Later that same day, Clive fills a hot water bottle in his lab. He then walks into a hidden, isolated room and hears a sneeze.
Clive: Bless you.
Bill: Thanks friend.
There's Bill, shackled to a wall and confided to an area cordoned off by a white chalk circle drawn on the ground. Clive dumps the contents of the bottle into what looks like a tub in a small separate room just out of Bill’s reach. What the?!
What's in the water bottle Clive?
As Clive makes sure that his prisoner - I mean friend - is comfortable (checking that the bathroom is fine and the blankets are satisfactory) it’s clear that Bill is already feigning a Stockholm Syndrome-inspired type friendship with Clive in hopes of saving his life: “I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful, but there’s one or two more important things I’d like to get cleared up, such as where am I and what am I doing here?”
Clive responds that Storm has been “flaunting” her affairs under his nose for years, which has led him to “insensible and uncivilized behaviors.” “Through you, I’m going to make my wife suffer,” he tells Bill, further explaining that he will kill him, and though Storm will suspect Clive of the crime, she won’t be able to prove it.
Thus far, Clive’s plan is going well. He holds too much over Storm’s head (or she does herself) to prevent her from involving the police, and Clive ensures that Bill’s transition to the prisoner role is smooth. Well, as smooth as it can be:
Clive: I brought you a martini.
Bill: Much obliged.
Clive: And those indigestion tablets you asked for.
Bill: You’re too kind.
Bill: Can’t you stick around a little while and talk? It gets kind of lonesome.
Clive: What shall we talk about?
Some buddy buddy time between captor and prisoner.
How about Bill’s imminent death? Seems like a great topic to discuss. Bill is skeptical that Clive actually has a plan, but Clive laughs it off. Explanation: While in theory, Bill is already as good as dead, he can be produced alive at any time, and “your transition from the living state to the dead won’t add any further clues to the mystery of your disappearance,” Clive tells him. But Bill still doesn’t believe he’ll actually kill him. “You hold on to that,” Clive tells him as he leaves.
The next day, Storm and Clive’s dog Monty follows Clive down to his secret room and starts barking, forcing Clive to take him inside. Bill's ecstatic to see another living being - especially since this one isn't trying to kill him - though Clive knows the dog will be a problem.
Bill now has a friend, one who is furry and not trying to murder him.
With all this free time on his hands, Bill's got to wondering what will happen to his body after Clive murders him. Will Clive burn him, throw him out to sea, dig a hole and bury him, chop him into pieces? None of the above, Clive insists. He's found a "unique and effective" way and nonchalantly explains that the hot water bottle he pours in the tub everyday actually contains acid, which will easily dissolve Bill's body in a matter of hours.
Bill: So I'm to be poured down the drain, is that it?
Clive: You'll appreciate the convenience. Any questions?
Just a few...
How does Clive know it will work? Well, with Monty in the room, he's got an (unwilling) victim, but before Clive's attempt, Bill chucks an object at Clive's head, knocking him over and freeing Monty, who runs over to Bill, safely within the confines of Bill's chalk circle that Clive apparently can't cross. After Clive leaves, Bill begins to train Monty in something having to do with the tub...hmm...
Don't get too close to that tub, Monty.
With the dog missing too, it's only a matter of time before Scotland Yard, in the form of Superintendent Finsbury (Naunton Wayne), comes knocking at Clive's office door; Monty's disappearance was one Storm could safely report. Clive remains calm and Finsbury soon leaves, but when Clive returns to his car, Finsbury suddenly reappears. He's now inquiring as to the whereabouts of Bill, telling Clive that Scotland Yard received an anonymous letter soon after Bill disappeared revealing that the missing man was having an affair with Storm, and it was hinted that Clive was somehow involved. Of course, Clive denies the allegations but when he returns home, Scotland Yard is there once again! And they take his gun this time, just to run some tests...
A calm and collected Clive with Finsbury (Naunton Wayne), who turns up three times in the course of several minutes.
Though he should be a bit unnerved, Clive acts cool around his future victim, because he thinks Scotland Yard is bluffing. Bill, on the other hand, isn't holding up as well. It's clear the prisoner is losing it, and though Bill grasped onto the hope that Clive's gun would somehow be the key to his rescue, Bill's been asking "Is it tonight?" for a while. To his relief, Clive said Storm's story to Scotland Yard has helped lengthen the time he has left.
But Finsbury can't stay away long, and he pays Clive another visit, this time to return the gun. As Finsbury walks home through a nearby park, he overhears some members of the American military chat and a light bulb goes off. When he returns home, he phones Clive's house. Storm answers (but Clive picks up in another room), and Finsbury asks her if her husband has a habit of saying, 'Thanks pal,' which is a very American expression. No, Storm replies; Clive is very British and hasn't spent time recently around any Americans. Well, except one a while ago...
Such a great shot of Finsbury - on the phone with Storm.
When Clive confronts Storm about the call, she lies, but we all know how that usually ends. She guesses that Clive paid Bill to leave and killed Monty to get back at her and is sure Bill is alive. To her surprise, Clive says she's right; in fact, he'll prove it.
Well, now that Storm knows her husband is involved in Bill's disappearance, she informs Scotland Yard about her hunch that Clive is about to finish Bill off...wherever he's concealed him.
Finsbury's back, and Storm's a bit nervous...
Cooped up in the hidden room, Bill obviously has no clue what's been happening in the real world and thinks all is still 'normal' when he takes the martini Clive hands him when he comes to see him. Bill tells Clive he knows he won't do anything until Clive gets his gun back, but guess what - Clive's got it! Grasping onto whatever sliver of hope he's still got, Bill accuses Clive of having it all figured out...except how to actually pull the murder off. Wrong again, Bill. "It was in the martini," Clive tells him.
But really, the jokes on Clive! "Take a look at the bath!" Bill exclaims. The Monty experiment was a success! Bill successfully taught the dog how to drain the tub so all those hot water bottle acid trips went down the drain. Literally. "You've got a body on your hands," Bill mocks.
Score one for Bill.
Somehow, Bill's chain extended long enough to the tub...and he could train Monty to drain it on cue.
Clive attempts to refill the tub, but Scotland Yard is hot on the trail. They've traced Clive's car to his garage next to Bill's confined area and follow a power cord through the grass to the hidden room, where they find a poisoned but alive Bill. He's rescued! But where's Clive?
At the club having a cocktail, naturally.
Well, Finsbury didn't have too hard a time finding Clive.