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Monday, September 5, 2016

THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951)

The main thing telegraphed in this Hitchcock wannabe is the plot, heavy with juicy bits out of REBECCA and SUSPICION. Actually, there’s more interest in the film’s under-served backstory which has Valentina Cortese’s WWII Concentration Camp survivor using the identity papers of a friend who didn’t survive; a friend who left a young son with a rich aunt in San Francisco. But the aunt has died, and now the estate will go to distant relative Richard Basehart if Cortese can’t prove her identity. A dicey problem, one easily solved when Basehart abruptly marries Cortese. Is it for love or money? If only the child’s nanny weren’t so officious & domineering. Or so close to Basehart. Maybe it’s just her imagination & outsider status acting up. So thinks smitten family lawyer William Lundigan . . . even after Cortese’s car runs out of brake fluid on those hilly San Fran streets. Yikes! There’s fun to be had watching a first-rate technician like director Robert Wise working Hitchcockian terrain. He may not bother to stick a lightbulb inside a glass of poisoned milk (it’s orange juice here), but many shot choices & shadowy stairs give away his game. Still, it's all largely boilerplate stuff. (Here we go again . . . again. Forgot all about writing this one up a few years back! Hey, it’s that kind of pic. Sometimes there’s a big change of mind when that happens . . . not this time.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Wise moved up from superior technician to finding a real voice on his very next pic, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL/’51.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: A better mystery than any found in the film is why the career of solidly handsome, sympathetic leading-man William Lundigan never quite took off.

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