Day 216-- House on Telegraph Hill (1951)

Over the past few years, 20th Century Fox has released a slew of DVDs under their Fox Film Noir label, from the classic (Laura, Panic In the Streets, Call Northside 777) to the questionable (House of Bamboo). House on Telegraph Hill splats somewhere in between.
I recognize that film noir is more of a stylistic/thematic set than genre, and with that in mind the movie works, in a way. While the film noir cloak usually adorned hardboiled private eye stories (the Maltese Falcon, the Big Sleep, etc.), House on Telegraph Hill is a Hitchcockian--maybe even gothic--suspense tale. And despite what the poster shows, there aren't any lugs waltzing around in two-fisted gun fights.
Polish woman Victoria Kowelska (a very non-Polish Valentina Cortese) watches her life implode as Germany invades her homeland in the second World War. Thrown into a death camp, her only chance of a new life is to impersonate her dying friend, a fellow Pole with wealthy ties in the United States. Victoria takes on a new identity, moves to America, and tries tries to find her "aunt" and "son" (both of whom haven't seen her now-dead friend in decades, so Victoria figures her guise will work).
Meeting and marrying charming American socialite Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), Victoria moves into her new home, an imposing Victorian mansion on San Fran's Telegraph Hill. Creepy things soon happen, including morbid housekeepers and near-death experiences.
Frankly, the plot is bad; the few good parts generated from the plot are isolated set pieces (there's a runaway car scene that's horrifically realistic). And the ending is high comedy, unintentional of course. It seems like the good atmospheric elements are dragged kicking and screaming into the (high contrast) light by the noirish themes. Cortese does a great job sulking, preening, moping, shrieking and investigating...and despite the bonkers casting job, she at least LOOKS fairly Polish. William Lundigan also pulls off his role as the rakish, all-American chiseled-jaw soldier who tries to help Victoria out.
It's also worth noting the great art direction--the San Francisco location shots drip with atmosphere and realism, and the sets look amazing (except for the matte house exterior, which looks like a HO-scale train backdrop). In the end, it's worth a watch. But if someone ever told me this was their favorite movie, I'd question their sanity.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 4/09/2007 10:55:00 AM,


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