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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
Fritz Lang originally wanted a black woman to play the role of Emily Gaunt but the producers refused. See more »
Stephen... I can't go through with this.
You promised to stay up there.
Listen to me. The only thing to do is go to the police. Tell then exactly how it happened. It was an accident.
But, they'll never believe me. Even you don't believe me!
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It's people who should be blamed for the filth, not the river.
House by the River is directed by Fritz Lang and adapted by Mel Dinelli from A.P. Herbert's novel The House on the River. It stars Louis Hayward, Jane Wyatt, Lee Bowman & Dorothy Patrick. Music is by George Antheil and photography by Edward J. Cronjager.
Novelist Stephen Byrne (Hayward) makes a play for the house maid and unwittingly kills her when she repels his advances. Enlisting the help of his disabled brother, John (Bowman), to dispose of the body in the river, Stephen suddenly finds that the publicity surrounding the maid's disappearance has put him in vogue again. In fact he finds his muse sufficiently stoked enough to craft another novel. But as easy as Stephen finds it easy to have no conscience, the opposite is the case with John, and with the river refusing to hold its secrets, something is going to give.
Working out of Republic pictures, Lang refused to let the low budget production hamper his vision of a bleak Cain & Abel like Gothic-noir-melodrama. He did, however, meet some resistance when requesting that the maid be played by a black woman, which was quickly shot down by nervous executives at the famed "B" movie studio. House by the River is far from being among the best of Lang's work, but the final product is still a triumph considering it's basically a three character piece set virtually in just two locations. It scores high on eerie atmosphere and finds Lang dealing in moral bankruptcy/responsibility and the eye for an eye mentality. Ushered into the narrative, too, is a Lang fave of people irked by loving someone they can't have. These themes allow the director to gloss over the simple script and dally in some truly arresting visuals.
Aided considerably by Cronjager's (Desert Fury/CanyonPassage) chiaroscuro photography, Lang's film is a lesson in how to maximise effect from limited sets. The actual house on the river, and that of the neighbour (resplendent with creepy scarecrow in garden), has a very disquiet feel to it, fronted by shimmering water that carries the dead carcass' of animals, it's a most haunting setting. And the eerie atmosphere continues inside the house, where shadows work their wonders and Antheil's music sticks rigidly (and rightly) to the creaky house formula. The cast don't pull up any trees, but they don't need to. Hayward is perhaps too animated for a study in snide villainy, but it works and he has a nice line in visual mocking. The rest fall in line for what is required, with the best of the bunch being Ann Shoemaker as nosey neighbour Mrs. Ambrose.
Once a hard to find film, House by the River is now easily accessible after gaining a DVD release (the print is fine, some age spotting and crackles, but completely watchable). It's a film that is easily recommended to Lang and Gothic house based movie purists. Driven by a despicable protagonist and cloaked in a creepy noirish vibe, it deserves to now gain a better and more appreciative audience. 7.5/10
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