Archive for the ‘Robert Wise’ Tag

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)   Leave a comment

telegraph poster

Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese) loses her husband in the war and the Nazis send her to Belsen. She befriends a sick woman in the concentration camp and tries to help her regain her strength. When the woman, Karin Dernakova dies just before the allies liberate the camp, Victoria assumes Karin’s identity. Neither woman had relatives left alive in Poland, but Karin has family, including a young son in the United States so New Karin travels to the US to care for her friend’s son. No one there has seen Karin so they believe her story. Once in New York, Karin meets the handsome and charming Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), executor of Karin’s rich aunt’s will and guardian to her son.

oj
Did you say iocaine powder?

Alan sweeps her off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, they marry and move to the family mansion in San Francisco’s toney Telegraph Hill section. Almost immediately, Karin senses tension in the household. The housekeeper, Margaret (Fay Baker) resents her presence and seems too attached to both Alan and her son, Christopher (Gordon Gebert).

margaret
Margaret’s domain.

Karin perseveres because of her increasing attachment to the boy, but her worries increase as a series of accidents plagues the household. She also meets and falls for attorney Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan) who happens to have helped Karin at the refugee camp in Poland. Karin begins to suspect her new husband, but are her fears rational or is guilt about her own lies making her paranoid?

scary rich
Hi honey!

Directed by the talented and eclectic Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still), The House on Telegraph Hill is a thriller with a crime/noir feel that keeps you guessing. The death of her friend paves the way for Karin to start a new life in America. Is survivor’s guilt making that life impossible or are Karin and the child really in danger? Richard Basehart can play naïve innocence or cunning evil equally well and he leads a decent cast of actors in this little gem of a picture. Fay Baker channels Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers at times and Valentina Cortese was convincing as the beleaguered concentration camp survivor. Gordon Gebert as the little boy does a nice job too.

margaret1
Hands off! He’s mine!

I’ve always liked this film. The small cast and relatively simple story line give the characters room to develop and their acting chops carry off the mystery and deception well. The locations in and around the Telegraph Hill section of San Francisco are lovely even without Lucien Ballard’s cinematography and the sets and costumes also help set the mood. If you like crime films with a bit of old school flair, you’ll like The House on Telegraph Hill.

house

Psst: Richard Basehart and Valentine Cortese married in 1951…

…and divorced in 1960.

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The Haunting (1963)   1 comment

The Haunting poster

Based on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and written for the screen by Nelson Gidding (Andromeda Strain, Odds Against Tomorrow), The Haunting tells the story of a disparate group brought together in a long unoccupied New England mansion by Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) to discover whether or not spooks reside there. The actual house was Ettington Hall in Warwickshire, England and is now the Ettington Park Hotel, for those who dare to stay there.

Anyway, the house has seen its share of mysterious deaths and weird occupants over the years and the locals won’t go near it.


“We don’t stay. We go back to our cottage near Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Markway’s archaeologist/parapsychologist wants to prove places can retain the spirits of people and their actions and proposes an experiment. He and a hand-picked group of people with histories of psychic ability will inhabit the manse, study its original owners, the late and somewhat sadistic Hugh Crain and family, and report any ghostly happenings, thus justifying Markway’s career choice to his conservative family and possibly securing him a government grant.


“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”

Markway’s serious and academic demeanor lends the expedition gravitas and makes the coming events seem that much more real. Julie Harris as the put upon Eleanor Lance gives a terrific performance. Her character narrates the film and her interior dialogue delves into her thoughts without being overly expository. Claire Bloom as Theo, the clairvoyant, gives a layered performance which could easily have descended to mere snarkiness, but shows some real vulnerability and empathy. Russ Tamblyn, as Luke, a playboy related to the wealthy owner of the house, goes along to protect the house from damage, both physical and moral. The owners hold little stock in Markway’s spiritual phenomena. Tamblyn surprised me with the humor, subtlety, and credibility of his acting.


“Colonel Mustard?”

Together this motley crew of paranormal researchers begin what they think will be a painless week in a great house. Needless to say, Hill House holds many secrets and, as Eleanor points out, “This house—you have to watch it every minute.”

The Haunting’s main attraction, its cinematography by Davis Boulton (Brighton Rock, Night Train to Munich) gives the house a sinister quality. Gorgeous angles and ominous shadows abound and the direction, by the always fantastic Robert Wise, fills each scene with a sense of doom. After each frightening encounter, the director cuts to an odd angled shot of Hill House’s exterior, letting the viewer know the house is always watching.


“Gotcha!”

I love The Haunting. It’s one of my favorite films of any kind and you can’t beat it for atmosphere. If you’re looking for a literate, atmosperic haunted house film done in beautiful black and white, pop some corn and watch The Haunting.

Haunting exterior
Boo!

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