Based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, this classic film follows a family feud between two brothers and an ancient curse that haunts them.Based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, this classic film follows a family feud between two brothers and an ancient curse that haunts them.Based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, this classic film follows a family feud between two brothers and an ancient curse that haunts them.
The plot involves the fraudulent purchase of the titular abode and the subsequent retribution of its rightful owner in the form of a curse and sure enough, the usurper dies in the exact manner decreed by the jinx! The film actually starts years later with the current owners of the house reduced so close to bankruptcy that they seriously consider selling the property. However, one of the sons (George Sanders, here possibly at his most despicable – and that is saying a lot!) vehemently objects because, legend has it, a fortune is concealed within its walls! He manages to dissuade his father from going through with the deal, but his younger sibling (Price, another of Hollywood's great villains but in this case playing sympathetic) had been counting on the sale since he wanted to marry and settle in New York as a composer (we even get to hear the actor sing, and quite well too!). Confronting the old man, the latter suffers a heart-attack and fatally hits his head upon falling to the ground! Sanders (and a gathering crowd of onlookers) accuse him of murder and he is imprisoned for life but, before being taken to jail, he puts on Sanders the very same curse that had afflicted their family!
Sanders thinks he can now have free rein with the house, but it transpires that his father (through solicitor Cecil Kellaway, who had also undertaken Price's defence at the trial) had bequeathed it not to him but to Price and his heirs, that is to say fiancée Margaret Lindsay! The years pass, with the woman growing bitter despite her attempts to obtain a pardon from the Governor, and Price even getting to meet the descendant (Dick Foran, the hero of another Universal monster sequel from 1940 i.e. THE MUMMY'S HAND, in which Kellaway also appears) of the man who had given his kin the evil eye in the first place, incarcerated for his abolitionist beliefs – never having believed in the jinx himself, Price has no qualms about befriending him! When the young man emerges from prison, he takes up residence at the house itself albeit under an assumed name since Lindsay has decided to take a lodger to rack up some income. Later, a distant female relative (Grey) also comes to live with her and, of course, the two fall in love.
In the meantime, Sanders' career as a (crooked) lawyer has soared but, at long last, Price's sentence is revoked (on the condition that he provides evidence of his innocence!). When he returns home, Lindsay fears Price will think her looks have faded, while himself (in cahoots with Foran) starts acting strangely by digging the earth around the house and dismantling the property itself in the pretence of searching for the fabled treasure which, needless to say, arouses Sanders' curiosity and greed all over again. Incidentally, the latter has compromised one of Foran's associates (Miles Mander) by utilizing anti-slavery money for their very purchase. Pestering him repeatedly to return the funds before they are discovered, he commits suicide (at the Seven Gables) and, when the Police turn up soon after, Sanders' protesting voice goes hoarse and he starts bleeding from the mouth all the symptoms that indicate he truly is the latest victim of the curse (though Price, who had bestowed it upon him in desperation, does not blink an eye at its actual accomplishment)! Curiously enough, this form of reversal-of-fortune would eventually be undergone by Price himself in the recently-viewed ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN FABIAN (1951)!
In the end, both male leads leave their mark here, yet Price's character is clearly the more rounded one (at his best when putting down his 'glorious' ancestors' legacy early on) – incidentally, this is the first of 6 films he was featured in over the course of 43 years to have the word "House" in their title! On the other hand, somewhat surprisingly, May (hailing from the German Expressionist movement) does not impose a Teutonic style on the proceedings, letting the unfolding melodrama supply its own particular mood.
- May 13, 2011