HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL, THE (director: Robert Wise; screewriters: from the novel The Frightened Child by Dana Lyon/Elick Moll/Feank Partos; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Nick DeMaggio; music: Sol Kaplan; cast: Richard Basehart (Alan Spender), Valentina Cortesa (Victoria Kowelska), William Lundigan (Major Marc Bennett), Fay Baker (Margaret), Gordon Gebert (Chris), Henry Carter (Detective Ellis); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Bassler; 20th Century-Fox; 1951)
“Heavy on eerie atmosphere.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Robert Wise (“West Side Story”/”The Sound of Music”) ably directs this Gothic film noir, a story much like Gaslight and Suspicion but not nearly as good. It’s based on the novel The Frightened Child by Dana Lyon and written by Elick Moll and Feank Partos. Heavy on eerie atmosphere, using the same style as The Spiral Staircase. The film is told in flashback by the heroine, who says of this empty house that’s for sale: “This is the House on Telegraph Hill, where I once thought I’d find peace and contentment.”
After her husband is killed and her house wrecked Victoria Kopwelska (Valentina Cortese), a Polish woman imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp of Belsen but who survives her ordeal, thinks only of coming to America. When her best friend inmate Karin de Nakova dies in the camp just days before liberation, Victoria takes her identity and under the name of Karin arrives in America after World War II with her false papers. Victoria learns through a New York lawyer that her wealthy aunt died and left her estate and San Francisco mansion atop Telegraph Hill to Karin’s young son Chris (who lived with his aunt since birth) thinking his mom is dead.
Victoria falls in love and quickly marries the estate’s handsome trustee and guardian of the child, Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), not seeing his shady side. Soon, after several attempts on her life that are meant to appear as accidents, Victoria becomes suspicious that Alan has teamed up with the child’s controlling governess Margaret (Fay Baker) to murder her and that they possibly murdered the aunt. Now convinced that Alan is a sinister cad and is scheming to steal the child’s inheritance, she becomes especially vigilant. Alan’s attempt at poisoning Victoria backfires, as she tricks him and he gets poisoned to death instead. The police arrest Margaret for the murder, and the governess pleads with Victoria “to let her conscience be her guide.”
The stark black-and-white photography by Lucien Ballard, the good performances (especially by Basehart) and the intriguing plot developments kept me tuned in throughout even though it was slow going. Of personal interest, Basehart and the Italian actress Cortese met for the first time on this film, and fell in love and married.
REVIEWED ON 3/21/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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