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HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES (director: Joe May; screenwriters: based on the novel by Nathanial Hawthorne/Lester Cole/Harold Greene; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Frank Gross; music: Frank skinner; cast: Vincent Price (Clifford Pynchon), George Sanders (Jaffray Pynchon), Margaret Lindsay (Hepzibah Pynchon), Nan Grey (Phoebe Pynchon), Dick Foran (Matthew Maule), Cecil Kellaway (Philip Barton), Alan Napier (Fuller), Gilbert Emery (Gerald), Miles Mander (The Deacon), Edgar Norton (Phineas Weed), Charles Trowbridge(The Judge); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Burt Kelly; Universal Pictures; 1940)
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale about a cursed family.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joe May (“You’re Not So Tough”/”The Invisible Man Returns“/”Asphalt“) flatly directs this atmospheric family drama that’s basedon Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale about a cursed family (the pic changes all the relationships around, though it captures the spirit of the book). The book is great, the film is not– except for the fine performances. It’s hard to enjoy because it’s so dreary.

In the mid-17th century in New England a wretched Pyncheon ancestor stole the home, the Seven Gables, from carpenter Matthew Maule by accusing him of practicing witchcraft. Before Maule was executed, he put a curse on the house.

In 1828, in Salem, Ma., upstart lawyerJaffray Pynchon (George Sanders) is upset that his bankrupt fatherGerald (Gilbert Emery) plans to sell the Seven Gables to keep solvent. When his father dies from a heart attack the bitter Jaffray, upset that his musical composer brother Clifford (Vincent Price) wants to sell the house, falsely accuses his brother of patricide and gets him convicted to serve a life sentence on false circumstantial evidence. But his father changed the will and leaves the house instead of to his oldest son to their cousin Hepzibah Pynchon (Margaret Lindsay), the fiancée of his brother Clifford. After Hepzibah gives Jaffray the boot, she pays off the debts with the insurance money received from Gerald’s death and lives miserably alone in the house waiting for the release of her innocent would-be husband Clifford.

After twenty years pass, the governor allows Clifford to leave jail in order to prove his innocence. Clifford on his return home to Seven Gables finds a worn-out and embittered old maid Hepzibah living in near poverty in the run down place. Also living there is Hepzibah’s radiant cousin Phoebe Pynchon (Nan Grey), who helps run from the house a cent store. There’s also a mysterious boarder photographer who uses an alias, but is really Matthew Maule (Dick Foran), an Abolitionist who befriended Clifford when he was placed in the same cell when jailed for his radical activities.

The evil Jaffray now schemes to get his brother incarcerated in an insane asylum because of rumors reported in the newspapers that Clifford plans to tear down the house looking for secret passages that have hidden gold. Clifford has schemed with Matthew to get the avaricious Jaffray, now a wealthy judge, to fall for that lie and show his hand as someone capable of foul deeds to advance his nefarious purposes. Surprisingly trouble brews for Jaffray because he betrayed the Abolitionist treasurer Deacon Foster (Miles Mander) by investing the money collected by the Abolitionists, without the Deacon’s knowledge, in a slave trade ship. Jaffray now can’t pay it back when the Abolitionists demand the money immediately to use for a runaway slave. When the men come to question Jaffray about his part in this swindle, he goes into convulsions and dies the way his father did. But before he died, he was so frightened he signed a confession that he mistakenly accused his brother of patricide and as a trade off for his confession he was to get ownership of the house.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”