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Monday, November 16, 2009

HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951)

Hard to believe that helmer Robert Wise was assigned this modest-to-a-fault noir @ FOX the same year as his seminal sci-fi thriller THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. It’s largely a by-the-numbers suspenser with heaping helpings of Hitchcock (REBECCA/’40, SUSPICION/’42*, SHADOW OF A DOUBT/’43) and a weirdly unsympathetic cast of characters. That lack of rooting interest is the lone spark here and was probably unintentional. Valentina Cortese is a WWII refugee who gets to San Francisco under false papers. She finds herself with a mansion, a big inheritance and a child who never knew his real mother. And she’s the film’s sympathetic figure! The three other characters are a rich lush who falls for her, a resentful housekeeper and a controlling guardian who sweeps her off her feet and marries her, played by Richard Basehart who really did marry Cortese. One of these folks is also a psychopath. Wise pulls off some nice scary surprises in the second act, but the big climax is so talky & over-extended that it’s hard to hold back the giggles.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Instead of a possibly poisoned glass of milk, we get a possibly poisoned glass of orange juice!

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