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The unsuccessful writer Stephen Byrne tries to force his servant Emily Gaunt sexually while his wife Marjorie Byrne is visiting a friend and accidentally strangles her. His crippled brother John Byrne coincidently comes to his house in that moment, and Stephen asks him to help to get rid of the corpse and avoid an scandal, since his wife would be pregnant. The naive and good John helps his brother to dump the body in the river nearby his house. Stephen uses the disappearance of Emily to blame her and promote his book. When the body is found by the police, all the evidences points to John, and he becomes the prime suspect of the murder.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Cold-blooded and callous murder and a flawed cover-up
House by the River (1950)
A straight up Gothic murder scenario with echoes of the 1945 "Spiral Staircase." A family with two brothers at odds with each other is living in a house and one of them is a murderer. And at first only the audience knows who. Their relative isolation on the banks of a wide river means only that they will have little help when danger occurs. The neighbors and police and few and far.
Louis Hayward plays the main character, Stephen Byrne, a writer and a bit of a self-important cad. Hayward has an odd style on film during this era, attractive and likable at first, but with an acerbic humor and some kind of unworkable stiffness, as if you know he's always performing. But he's clever about it, and when you realize he isn't meant to be exactly lovable, he's pretty well cast. Byrne's brother, wife, and maid all come through with solid if uninspired performances, and you wonder exactly what held everyone back. Fritz Lang has many more successful melodramas than this one.
I think the weakness is largely the raw material, the story itself, which is a bit straight forward. One brother commits a murder, the other is drawn into helping cover it up, and then the tensions build between them as an inquest raises questions. It has moments, but there are no further twists that work. The ending is out of character, almost comical in its false (and unlikely) horror.
Along the way, though, are a series of nice scenes, inside the house at night, along the river at night, at a party meant to hide the killer's guilt, and so on. The music is especially helpful in jabbing the audience at key moments. American Georges Antheil was a composer famous for his avant-garde pieces in the 1920s in Europe before settling into a Hollywood routine. You can detect, and appreciate, the edge he brings to the score. The photography by contrast is good without rising up to the possibilities of these kinds of settings--the house, the river, the dock, all have more dramatic potential that we just don't see.
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