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The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)

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Concentration camp survivor Victoria Kowelska finds herself involved in mystery, greed, and murder when she assumes the identity of a dead friend in order to gain passage to America.



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Title: The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Alan Spender
Victoria Kowelska (as Valentina Cortesa)
William Lundigan ...
Major Marc Bennett
Fay Baker ...
Gordon Gebert ...
Steven Geray ...
Dr. Burkhardt
Herbert Butterfield ...
Joseph C. Callahan
Kei Thin Chung ...
Kei - Houseboy
John Burton ...
Mr. Whitmore
Katherine Meskill ...
Mrs. Whitmore
Mario Siletti ...
Tony, the Grocer
Charles Wagenheim ...
Man At Accident
Tamara Schee ...
Natasha Lytess ...
Karin Dernakova


Victoria has survived Nazi concentration by assuming the identity of one who died there. She arrives in San Francisco to see her "son" just as the boy's great-aunt dies leaving a lot of money to be inherited. Victoria falls in love with the boy's trustee Alan Spender, and they move into the mansion on Telegraph Hill. She then learns that Alan and his lover, the boy's governess Margaret, murdered an aunt and are planning the same for her. Written by Ed Stephan <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Their emotions, their passions, their fury race headlong from the House on Telegraph Hill! See more »


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

27 August 1951 (Sweden)  »

Also Known As:

A Casa da Colina  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Furnishings and props for the mansion interior were acquired by property master Tom Little from the estates of the Aga Khan III and David Belasco. See more »


In the establishing shot of the house at the beginning, the fact that the water in the bay in the background never moves indicates is it a matte painting. See more »


Victoria Kowelska: Everything will be all right, Margaret. I'll be your witness.
Margaret: My conscience will be my witness, Mrs. Spender.
See more »


Blue Moon
Music by Richard Rodgers
Played immediately after the performance at the Chinese restaurant
See more »

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User Reviews

This is the House on Telegraph Hill, where I once thought I'd find peace and contentment.
10 February 2011 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The House on Telegraph Hill is directed by Robert Wise and adapted for the screen by Elick Moll & Frank Partos from the novel The Frightened Child written by Dana Lyon. It stars Richard Baseheart, Valentina Cortese, William Lundigan & Fay Baker. Filmed on location primarily in the Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco, the film features photography by Lucien Ballard and a musical score directed by Alfred Newman.

Victoria Kowelska (Cortese) survives Belsen, but with her family killed by the Nazis she is all alone in the world with no identity. With her Belsen friend Karin Dernakova (Natasha Lytess) not surviving till liberation, Victoria decides to take on Karin's identity to get to America. Under the guise of being Karin, Victoria winds up in San Francisco, living in a prime mansion, married to Dernakova trustee Alan Spender (Baseheart), mother to young Chris (Gordon Gebert) and heiress to the family fortune. But the House on Telegraph Hill is home to many secrets and unanswered questions: Can Alan be trusted? Why is Margaret (Baker) the housekeeper cold towards her? What really brought about the death of the recently deceased aunt? And can she even trust her only real friend, Major Marc Bennett (Lundigan)?

Director Robert Wise was one of the most versatile men to have ever worked in cinema . He pretty much covered all genres in his long and distinguished career, here for The House on Telegraph Hill, he blends Gothic melodrama with film noir leanings. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Wheeler, DeCuir, Little & Fox), the film is certainly a lavish enough production, and for sure the story is well elaborated, but the picture as a whole is not all that it can be. For although it's rich with an eerie ambiance that's occasionally punctured by the promise of some sinister intervention, it never delivers on its promises. The suggestions and heightened tensions grab the attention, but the screenplay doesn't allow the woman in danger scenario room to grow. None of which is helped by the fact that the film opens with Victoria narrating her flashback in past-tense voice over! It's hardly a smart move by the makers that, is it? Perhaps it's wrong to judge it as being part of the group that contains, Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Gaslight (1940/1944) and The Spiral Staircase (1946)? But fact remains it's a long way from being half as good as any of those films.

However, there is still enough in Wise's film to keep it above average and make it a safe recommendation to fans of the "woman-in-mansion-in-peril" sub-genre. The story is well played by the principal actors. Baseheart has to play his cards close to his chest in the tricky role that requires him to keep us guessing as to if he is good or bad. That he offers no clues is testament to the good performance Baseheart gives. Italian actress Cortese binds the film together with a layered performance that contains excellent visual acting, where nervous smiles and saddened eyes tell of guilt and longing that the screenplay has sadly not let the character expand upon. Baker is a touch underwritten, but does a neat line in icy cold veneer, while Lundigan offers up a nice counterpoint as the other man in Victoria's life. Having Lucien Ballard on cinematography is a good move. Be it capturing the expansive colour vistas for Budd Boetticher & Sam Peckinpah in Westerns, or shooting in atmospherically stark black & white for the likes of John Brahm & Jacques Tourneur, Ballard showed himself to be a master photographer. Here in the brooding Dernakova mansion he deals in shadows and low lights to great tonal effect. Alfred Newman's (a record 9 time Academy Award winner) score, aided by Sol Kaplan, is very dramatic and flows freely around the house and is at one with Victoria's various emotional states.

The House on Telegraph Hill contains menacing undertones that are boosted by camera, music and acting. If only the writing was in tune with those things then we would be talking about a classic of its type. 6.5/10

5 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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