House On Telegraph Hill is an intriguing cliffhanger set in a spooky Victorian mansion below Coit Tower in San Francisco. Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese) has lived through World War II bombings and relocation camps, ... more »and has finally emigrated to America. Now, she should be blissfully happy with her devoted husband (Richard Basehart) in their mansion overlooking the San Francisco Bay, but Victoria is not who she seems, her child belongs to someone else, and her husband and housekeeper are frightening her half to death.« less
A Psychological Thriller Where People Aren't Who They Appear
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 03/29/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The House on Telegraph Hill may not be an A thriller, but it's a B-plus thriller trying hard. It has an intriguing premise, characters who may not be who they seem, a great locale in San Francisco and a big, gloomy mansion.
Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese; spelled Cortesa in the credits) is a Polish survivor of the Belsen concentration camp. Her husband was killed by the Germans and her home in Poland has been destroyed. Just before the camp is liberated her closest friend dies. This was a woman who had a wealthy aunt in America. Victoria's friend managed to smuggled her baby boy out of Poland and to the aunt just as the Germans invaded. Given a chance at a new life in America, Victoria grabs for it. She uses her friend's papers to assume her friend's identity. After spending time in a relocation camp, she learns the aunt has died. She makes her way to America and in New York meets the boy's guardian, Alan Spender (Richard Basehart). The boy will inherit the aunt's riches when he comes of age. Spender, who has adopted the boy, is initially suspicious of Victoria, but then he seems captivated by her. Victoria believes that she can love the boy as her own and find security with Spender. In a whirlwind decision they marry, return to San Francisco...and then suspicious things begin to happen.
If Victoria is not who she pretends to be, it may be than Alan Spender isn't either. Hovering in the background and living in the mansion on Telegraph Hill with them is Margaret (Fay Baker), the boy's nanny. Margaret is a tightly wound woman, controlling, and is not pleased with the marriage. Into this mix drifts Marc Bennett (William Lundigan). Before long, he and Victoria begin finding their way toward a relationship of their own.
The movie has several things going for it. Robert Wise, the director, takes his time setting the scene with Victoria, letting us know how her feelings for security were formed at Belsen. The action moves step by step, slowly and steadily building up our suspicions about Spender, leading us on to dislike Margaret and making everyday actions like driving a car or drinking orange juice something to be wary of. The film is carefully photographed to create mood. The bright San Francisco days and the busy streets of the city contrast nicely with the gloominess and tension in the old mansion.
What keeps this out of the A list is, I think, the actors. They all do fine jobs but there just isn't the camera-catching interest that many first-rank star actors can bring to a role. Cortese is effective and sympathetic. Basehart does a skilled job of slowly letting us see little, disquieting emotions. He was a skilled actor but somehow seemed to lack the charisma that makes evil or derangement fascinating. Lundigan was a big, handsome guy but who always seemed like the extra man invited to fill out a dinner party, attractive but not much there. Fay Baker, however, nearly manages to steal the movie. Her role is more complex than we're led to believe, and she pulls it off with skill.
I've always admired Richard Basehart even if I seldom found any individual role he played, especially later on in his career, very interesting. He always turned in a solid performance and he was versatile. When he started out in movies he managed to land several roles in interesting movies that helped establish his career. On DVD check him out in He Walked by Night (1948) as a very cool criminal or in Reign of Terror (1949) as a paranoid Robespierre. He steals every scene he shares with the movie's hero, Robert Cummings. On late night cable you might get a chance to see him in Decision Before Dawn (1951) as a sympathetic army officer dealing with a German POW, Oskar Werner, or in Fourteen Hours (1951), a flawed film with some excellent performances, or in a supporting role in Repeat Performance (1947), his first movie. Repeat Performance is a gem; a woman kills a man, runs to a friend for help, and when she arrives realizes that time has moved back a year. She has a second chance, but will anything she do make a difference?
Some call The House on Telegraph Hill a noir. It isn't, in my view, especially with the term "noir" now seen as a great marketing device to sell old movies. It's a skillfully put together psychological thriller with a great premise. The DVD picture looks good and there is a commentary track, which I didn't listen to, by Eddie Muller. He's listed as being a noted film historian."
Lady in the dark
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 06/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Intent on making a star with this vehicle out of the unusual Italian actress Valentina Cortese, Fox opened up its coffers for THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL and also used some of their finest technical talent: the gowns, the sets, and the cinematography are absolutely first-tier, and the director, Robert Wise, does his usual intelligent tricky work with editing to make this woman - in - jeopardy film extraordinarily compelling. The script seems to be a mélange of several 40s melodramas, including REBECCA, GASLIGHT, DRAGONWYCK and (most of all) SUSPICION, but the film's excellent use of its San Francisco locale helps tremendously, as does Cortese's extraordinary performance as the guilt-ridden concentration-camp survivor who steals another woman's identity."
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 05/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is a real buried treasure. I found it to be reminiscent of Hitchcock at his best. Director Robert Wise perfectly captures the ominous sense of dread by letting this tale unfold subtlely to a satisfactory climax. The film is anchored by a powerhouse performance by Valentina Cortesa. You appreciate the depth of Cortesa's work here because she plays a flawed character, a Polish refugee who assumes the identity of a wealthy heiress who died in the concentration camps. The fact that we root for Cortesa's character against the potentially malevolent forces working against her is a testament to her skill as an actress. Also contributing excellent work here is an understated Richard Basehart."
Solid Suspense that Keeps Us Wondering: Paranoia or Real Per
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 09/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""House on Telegraph Hill" is a gothic suspense loosely based on Dana Lyon's novel "The Frightened Child". Sometimes categorized as film noir, this film is only vaguely so. It's very much in the mold of "Gaslight" or Hitchcock's "Rebecca" and "Suspicion" in placing a possibly paranoid woman in an imposing house with an inscrutable husband and a series of suspicious accidents. Is she the victim of foul play or simply neurotic? The film was conceived as a vehicle for Italian actress Valentina Cortesa, who struggled with her English but gives as strong a performance as the script allows. The art direction by John De Cuir and Lyle Wheeler was nominated for an Academy Award. The façade of the "house on telegraph hill" that appears to overlook the San Francisco Bay was assembled over top of real buildings on that very site. The interior of the house is a set, but the antique Victorian furnishings are real.
In 1939, Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortesa) lost her home and husband to the German advance. In a concentration camp, she befriended a fellow Polish woman named Karin de Nakova whose infant son was sent to live with a rich aunt in the United States before the war. In spite of Victoria's efforts to keep her friend healthy, Karin died before the camp was liberated. Victoria assumed Karin's identity and tried to contact her aunt in the US, only to learn that Aunt Sophie had died. Four years later, Karin arrives in the US and finds that Aunt Sophie's American nephew Alan Spender (Richard Basehart) adopted young Christopher (Gordon Gebert) and lives in the aunt's grand mansion on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. Alan romances Karin and proposes marriage, which she happily accepts. But, between Christopher's possessive governess (Fay Baker) and odd occurrences around the house, Karin begins to suspect that Alan wants her dead. She turns to sympathetic ex-Army officer Maj. Marc Bennett (William Lundigan), whom she knew in Germany, for advice.
We know that Alan married Karin/Victoria in order to secure his inheritance. And Karin married Alan for wealth and security. We can hardly blame them for this mutually beneficial arrangement. Alan is always polite and generous toward his wife. He seems to be concerned about her happiness. Could he be a cold-blooded killer with no regard for life, not even a child's? Or have Karin's constant struggles for life in the deplorable conditions of the concentration camp made her pathologically fearful? We don't know if the danger Karin sees is real or imagined. She doesn't either. And this really works. The film's ability to keep us guessing is its strength -along with the spectacular house. Valentina Cortesa has a warm, appealing presence. Richard Basehart is charmingly ambiguous. I think that Karin's confused emotions could have been stronger. "House on Telegraph Hill" is not the caliber of "Rebecca", but it is a solid suspense nonetheless.
The DVD (20th Century Fox 2006): Bonus features include 4 still photography galleries (5 posters, 38 production stills, 52 behind-the-scenes, and 9publicity stills), a theatrical trailer (2 ½ min), and a good, nearly constant audio commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller. Muller provides some interesting tidbits about the cast, points out what footage was left out of the film, and comments on the art direction. Muller also offers some criticism of the film's early scenes and weak aspects of the script. His observations of what would have made this film stronger and also more "noir" are spot-on. Subtitles are available for the film in English and Spanish. Dubbing available in Spanish."
Somber film noir mystery
Cory D. Slipman | Rockville Centre, N.Y. | 12/27/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Using contrasted black and white cinematography director Robert Wise created the proper mood for a film noir theme in "The House on Telegraph Hill". Noir femme fatale Victoria Kowelska played by Valentina Cortesa was an unfortunate Warsaw born native who endured the horrors of WWII and incarceration in the Belsen concentration camp. Upon her liberation she assumed the identity of her closest friend who had passed away in the camp, Karin, who had sent her young son Chris to relatives in San Francisco prior to the war.
After a hard life in refugee camps she made her way to America where she learned that Karin's and now her great aunt was the matron of a huge family fortune. The son Chris was the sole heir seeing that the old woman had recently died. Ambitious and unctuous relative Alan Spender played by Richard Basehart was appointed the young boy's guardian. In a whirlwind romance Basehart and Cortesa are soon married and move into the palatial Victorian mansion atop Telegraph Hill. Cortesa and the the boy Chris played by Gordon Gebert hit it off but all is not well.
She befriends Basehart's longtime acquaintance Marc Bennett played by William Lundigan who is his lawyer and actually met Cortesa as a major involved with repatriating European refugees. She needs a friend because she almost immediately butts heads with the sinister and sketchy Margaret, the young boy's governess, played by Fay Baker. Cortesa also is becoming paranoid that Basehart is trying to kill her when the brakes in her car fail.
It all turns out well in the end as a righteous twist in the plot rights all that was wrong."