The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
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That said,the movie is good,suspenseful,sometimes excellent and shows how great Robert Wise is as a director when he creates a disturbing atmosphere in an old house;he would take his skill to its absolute perfection with "the haunting" (1963) IMHO the best movie ever made about a haunted house (the remake should be carefully avoided);his talent emerges here and there: the playhouse where a wall is missing,the branch behind the curtain,the shadow on Valentina Cortese's white dress in the garage and the picture of the late old lady who seems like a judge beyond the grave ;her expressive face seems to have changed in the last pictures .Best performance comes from Richard Baseheart who shines in his last minutes on screen and the rest of the cast rises to the occasion.
My parents (unknown to them until two years later) got their 15 seconds of fame. They're the man carrying an infant (me, face down-I wasn't ready for my cameo) and the woman with glasses carying two suitcases.
The ship was the SS Marine-Jumper (pretty odd name) which left Hamburg, and it arrived in New York on July 7th 1949.
The crossing was uneventful except that my mother told me she was angry with the sailors for playing catch with an orange. She hadn't eaten one since 1940.
Four years later, she succeeds to go to the United States and meets Sophie's lawyer. She learns that Alan Spender (Richard Basehart) was assigned Chris' trustee and he invites her to travel with him to San Francisco to see Chris. Along their journey, they get married to each other and Karin has a cold reception from the housekeeper Margaret (Fay Baker) that raises Chris at the mansion on Telegraph Hill. Karin meets Major Bennett, who is a friend of Alan, in a party at home and she befriends him. Soon Karin is connected to Chris, but when she has a car accident, she suspects that Alan wants to kill Chris and her to keep the money for him. Is she paranoid?
"The House on Telegraph Hill" is an enjoyable thriller with a story of greed. The movie has an impressive scene when Victoria's car loses the break on the hills of San Francisco. The mystery is kept to the end when the truth is shown. The Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp is the place where Anne Frank died. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Terrível Suspeita" ("Terrible Suspicion")
Robert Wise does a good job with this suspenser, which combines some diverse elements - hidden identity, romance, shady nanny and a murder plot - though the script isn't the best. It drags in spots. Cortese is an effective actress while not being a conventional beauty; her star shone brighter in Italy, where she worked until 1993 and then retired.
"The House on Telegraph Hill" does hold the viewer throughout. It's enjoyable but nothing special.
The House on Telegraph Hill is a suspense thriller constructed out of some unusual elements. It opens in the shambles of war-torn Europe, where a Displaced Person from Poland (Valentina Cortesa, sometimes "Cortese") has assumed the papers and identity of a close friend who died in the camps. The dead woman had sent her young son to San Francisco to live with a wealthy aunt. Cortesa travels to America to claim the son and, incidentally, the inheritance as her own.
The estate's trustee (Richard Basehart) sweeps her off her feet and soon they're ensconced in the Gothic pile overlooking San Francisco and the Bay. But shades of Rebecca! discord appears in the person of the boy's governess (Fay Baker), a blonde, American Mrs. Danvers (Baker played a hard case opposite Marie Windsor in Double Deal and quite held her own; pity her career wasn't bigger).
Next, frightening things start to happen. Cortesa almost topples to her doom from the son's playhouse, never repaired after a mysterious explosion. And she almost careens into that same doom when her roadster's brakes fail on the steep hills of the city. Finally she reaches out to a acquaintance (William Lundigan) who happens to be the Army officer who processed her papers in Germany.
The surprising Robert Wise has a knack for papering over holes, keeping us from wondering what the one plot the stolen identity has to do with the other the standard-issue woman-in-distress (or `jep'). He builds up an atmosphere of menace but keeps his cards very close to his vest.
Reservations? The House on Telegraph Hill was made when the noir cycle was under full steam, and shares many of its conventions. But the story and acting hark back to a style that's about a decade out of date. So when Cortesa declines some orange juice that she suspects contains poison, the point is pressed, and she graciously downs the whole glass. In post-war America, wouldn't she fling it into a face, or just say `Shove it'?
A lot of the story depends on appropriate emoting. Fortunately, it's a powerhouse cast, but I especially like Fay Baker's icy nanny Margaret. She's quietly intimidating without overdoing it. Too bad she didn't get bigger roles in more movies. I can't help noting, however, that Cortese may be the only Hollywood leading lady without a perfect nose. It's a fine regal beak and I'm glad she hung on to it. I can also see why Basehart fell for her in real life.
The San Francisco locations make a good open air contrast to the dark mansion interiors that dominate the characters. I expect director Wise applied his noir skills from the great Val Lewton series of horror flicks. Also, the ending amounts to a delicious twist, both unpredictable and very well thought out. My one problem was figuring out who's related to whom since that's important to the plot. I don't know if that's the screenplay's fault or mine.
Anyway, it's an effective thriller with a fine cast and an imaginative ending, worth tuning in for.
Thus the ticket-selling brief was borne chiefly by William Lundigan, a competent player within a very limited range. I always thought he had little charisma, but there were fans who liked him. Not a sufficient number, however, to make House on Telegraph Hill a rousing success. Which was a shame, because House is a very deft noir thriller, with atmospheric photography by Lucien Ballard and excellent, moodily over-plush art direction from John De Cuir and set decorator, Paul Fox. True, Ballard does not photograph Miss Cortesa very attractively, but her stunning Renie costumes help to disguise this problem. Lovely Fay Baker brings considerable presence to the support cast. And I enjoyed the brief café glimpse of Chinese singer, Mari Young, who renders the opera ballad, "Lover's Broken Dream", accompanied by Gew Wong on the butterfly harp, Lung Wong (Chinese banjo) and Lee Wong (two-string violin).
In short, House on Telegraph Hill fulfills two essential noir requirements: (1) The prevailing mood, both photographically and story-wise is dark; (2) the central character is not only threatened and in danger, but finds herself in a situation from which it seems impossible to escape.
The problem is that - at least with today's audiences - that drawn-out suspense on will-or-will-he and how? - the story is way too slow. It's like, "Okay, we get the setup here. Now how about something actually happening?" Nothing much did until the final minutes, with the exception of a very short automobile scene.
The first part is the most interesting, when we see how the "heroine" of the story, "Victoria Kowelska" (Valentina Cortese) makes it to America to take the place of another woman in San Francisco. She was interesting, to me, only because she was a new face, sometime I don't recall seeing before on film. Most of her fine film career has been done in Italy.
I did enjoy the two main male actors, too, Richard Basehart and William Lundigan, but they were nothing super, playing routine roles. The set designs with the big house on Telegraph Road were nice. It was another of those big old mansions in which these kind of stories always took place in the 1940s films. Great lighting always makes these houses, with the long stairways, look Gothic and foreboding, especially in black-and-white photography.
For those who see the title and read the "previews" and thus, are excepting more of a film noir, or even a thriller with horror overtones, consider yourself warned. Instead, it's more of a women's film and a stereotypical one, at that. It's okay, but nothing memorable.
A very solid movie with a bit of a forced hand, and something like a familiar plot in new clothes. The key innovation is that it ties the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp to a conventional American melodrama, and has the lead woman taking on the identity of her best friend in the camps. It is filmed with precision and drama all the way through, and makes a visually strong statement, as well as one with the social message that the adjustments of Nazi victims and their survivors is really hard to fathom. It kludges along a little with a narrative fix to make the information clear and fast at the start, and get us to San Francisco, 1950.
The leading character, played by Italian actress Valentina Cortese (though she might well be intended to be a Polish Jew, given her situation in the camp), is very strong, a somewhat awkward leading woman but different than some of the types populating post-war movies. I liked her increasingly, and her difference (as an actress) helps cement her difference (as a character) from her American friends. She deserves our sympathy, and overall she gets it.
Oddly, that element of surviving a death camp six years after the liberation of a string of them in Europe from the Nazis, becomes less and less salient, so that when the woman's duplicity is brought up toward the end, the growing male protagonist brushes it off as just one of those things. He's right, really, but the fact that the woman returns and has to pretend to be a young boy's real mother is tough going, if you consider something like the truth of it. It's convenient that the surrogate mother figure, who has apparently done a pretty good job raising the kid, is also a meanie in good Hollywood caricaturing style. The other man in the story, the one who you expect to be on our leading lady's side, turns out to be weak, duplicitous, and a bit of pretty wash by the end.
Robert Wise is one of those smart directors who seems to make something unique happen no matter what the material. And the odd angles to this story, even with the inevitable outcome, make it really good.
In this film, Cortese is an inmate at Bergen-Belsen and adopts the identity of a friend who dies. Not that this makes any difference in the rest of the story. She might as well be who she claims to be.
Anyway, with her new identity, she returns to a Gothic house on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco that she has inherited from a deceased aunt. Her young son -- or rather the son of her dead friend -- lives there with his guardian (Richard Basehart) and a strangely distant maid servant (Fay Baker). She and Basehart, after a too-quick romance, have been married, but the moment they move into this cockeyed American Gothic house things seem askew.
Basehart has the difficult job of projecting politeness and caring towards his wife without even the underlying hint of warmth. And Margaret, the icy maid, seems to have wandered in from "Rebecca." The only person Cortese can depend on for honesty and confidence is William Lundigan, in the Kent Smith role.
In fact, everybody and everything seems to have wandered into this rather unfocused romantic drama from someplace else. The young kid has a playhouse in the back yard, bigger than the domicile I now occupy. It has a hole in the floor and wall and there is a scene in which Cortese, snooping around as usual, almost falls through to the street half a mile below when she is surprised by the ominous Basehart. I thought surely the climactic scene will involve that dangerous hole, but no. It's never seen again, thrown in willy nilly like so many other adventitious elements. The whole production is a patch work of vague threats, all seen from the point of view of the uncertain and perhaps imbalanced Valentina Cortese.
I didn't much care for it. Not so much because it's a mixture of romance, mystery, and drama in which everyone seems to be scuttling around behind everyone else's back, but because little of it seems to hang together. Pretty thoughtless.
Others might enjoy it more than I did.
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
Valentina Cortese was one of the most glorious stars to come to Hollywood from Europe. Clearly this is a vehicle for her. Yet, she can't salvage the routine screenplay.
We meet her at Bergen Belsen. This was a daring way to start a film that was going to have nothing to do with the War or Nazis. She isn't convincing as a Pole, but that isn't the film's main problem.
She comes to San Francisco, to another woman's family. (We see her exchange identities with another ex-prisoner at the start.) Richard Basehart does his best as the dark character she finds herself marrying. William Lundigan is fine as a family friend.
At the center of the film is an actress I'd never before heard of: Fay Baker. She has a very important role in the film and, I'm sorry to say, this actress was not up to it. She has an anodyne quality that nudges the movie further into soap opera.
Robert Wise directed. I'd love to know the story of how he went from Orson Welles's editor and a Val Lewton director to helmsman of down and dirty noir like "Born to Kill" -- and then to "The Sound of Music" and his other big-budget musicals of that later period.
Here he does a very decent job. It's beautifully photographed by Lucien Ballard, too. But it left little impression on me -- even though it's a movie I'd long wanted to catch up with.
Valentina Cortesa plays a woman who is released from a concentration camp and takes on the identity of a woman who died in the camp. She uses this new identity as a ticket to America, marries Richard Basehart and assumes the mother role to the son the dead woman left behind. All the while, a possessive and meddling nanny lurks in the background and resists all of Cortesa's overtures to create a happy family.
Richard Basehart was terrific as a villain. He had leading man good looks but was so good at being oily and duplicitous. There is some attempt at making the audience guess how much Cortesa's character is actually in danger from her husband (there's an inheritance involved) and how much the nanny is implicated, but only some. Mostly, the plot is straightforward, and we know Cortesa will get out of everything o.k., just not exactly how.
The film has the look of a film noir, heightened by the San Francisco atmosphere, but it's really more of a conventional suspense thriller than a true noir. It received a sole Oscar nomination for its black and white art direction, courtesy of the many-times-nominated team of Lyle Wheeler and John DeCuir (art direction) and Thomas Little and Paul S. Fox (set decoration).
This is a decent movie but has a few problems. The most obvious is that once the leading lady realizes there is a problem in the house, she behaves so stupidly. First, she acts totally high-strung and hides her feelings so poorly. Second, you'd think that given her fears, she'd just get the heck out of the house! In fact, that's a problem with a lot of films--when the leading character is afraid for their life but don't just runaway to avoid being killed. Duh. This just wasn't handled very well. However, despite this, the film does have an interesting plot, it maintains a nice creepy atmosphere, it ends well and the actors all were quite good.
By the way, get a load of the car wreck. It was amazingly unconvincing-especially when the intended victim just got up and walked away after being thrown from the crashing car. Again, duh.
Sharing many similarities to Hitchcock's Suspicion as well as Notorious, this was a beautifully shot film about a woman who assumes the identity of a friend who died while they were both in a NAZI concentration camp. The deceased woman had a son who inherited a large wealth of money from a death in the family. The imposter woman plays the role of mother, believable as the true mother was away for many years, along with trustees who live in the house caring for the boy who never met the true mother. Various parties jockey for the family wealth in a manner of ways, creating much distrust and suspicion. There are many good tense moments, clues to uncover and plot surprises. Well- paced, well-edited and smart cinematography with great rich black & white film stock.
You might think the scenes from Telegraph Hill are forced perspective, but it really is that steep, one false move and you're cartwheeling all the way down to the bay.
Well, it's not Vertigo, but it does keep you on the edge of your seat. There is a happy ending, Karin/Victoria has a son to care for, a potential male suitor, and she's loaded. Not bad for a Polish country girl.
Last night we were looking for an older film to watch that we had never seen before. We found this movie. It was a strange offbeat mix of friendship, love, infidelity, greed, stolen identity and murder. Richard Basehart shows here just what a fine actor he was. Sadly, I feel he is mostly associated with his role on TVs 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' and not his earlier films that showed his versatility. He was convincing here as a seemingly loving new husband who might just be hiding a murderous side. In some ways much like Gary Grant's character in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Suspicion' (1941). I wonder if that earlier film influenced the character for this one? 'The House on Telegraph Hill' was directed by the usually very talented Robert Wise.
I did like this film and it's worth seeing, however, I couldn't help thinking how much better it may have been if directed by the master of suspense 'Alfred Hitchcock'. It's hard to explain, some scenes just didn't ring as real to me as they might have in a Hitchcock film. Also, the occasional surprises should have had much more impact than they did. I really don't understand that, I expected more from Robert Wise. This was a good film that should have been a great film. The acting talent was all there, something else was missing.
It's interesting to note that the two leads Valentina Cortese and Richard Basehart met making this movie and were soon married. This may have added to the chemistry they had on screen together early on as two lovers. Their marriage lasted 9 years and they had one child together.
I do recommend this movie to people who enjoy crime dramas with some surprises. The story does have a very satisfying ending to it. Also, the resolution of the stolen identity story rather surprised me. I can't explain without giving too much away. I'll only say it seemed justified. I rate this a 6 out of 10.