House on Telegraph Hill - 1951

House on Telegraph Hill - Released May 12, 1951. Directed by Robert Wise

Though the bulk of this film is a noir thriller set in San Francisco (on Telegraph Hill), it starts off with the unusual locale of the inside of Belsen Concentration Camp. Two female prisoners share a secret dream of going to America (the first woman is a Polish-American citizen), but by the arrival of the liberating Allied army, she dies from malnutrition and the second woman (Valentina Cortese) is left with nothing but the intimate knowledge of the other woman's life in the United States.

To make sure she isn't sent back to devastated Poland, she uses her dead friends identity to pull off a flawless impersonation, and she soon finds herself not only in America, but the heir of a deceased wealthy aunt and the object of affection of the Aunt's nephew, Alan Spender (Richard Basehart).

Robert Wise's movie (screenplay by Elick Moll and Frank Partos, based on novel The Frightened Child by Dana Lyon) is packed with post-World War II anxiety: displacement (the dead camp prisoner left behind a small child in America, cared for by a devoted and now angry San Francisco nurse played by Fay Baker who resents the real "mothers' return); guilt (Basehart's character of the nephew laments that he never measured up to the dead Aunt's expectations and was thus left out of the old woman's will); more guilt (Cortese's character of the impersonating camp survivor not only left a dead husband and child in Europe but now has to carry on an endless falsification of her own identity).

William Lundigan plays a returned American soldier who adds to this pile of dread as a useless member of a local law firm that was given his old job back after exiting the army, but the rest of his firm would just as soon he stayed out of everyone's way. He, incidentally, briefly knew Victoria (Valentina Cortese) in Europe, and he is the one she turns to when she is becoming nervous about the behaviour of the Aunt's nephew - - Basehart plays the man as cheerfully and politely going insane.

Director Robert Wise tightens the tension as the tale increasingly concentrates on the guilt, the greed, and the double-identities pervading the tale.

There is also the threatening presence of a huge hole in the back of a shed on the mansion property. The gaping opening (put there supposedly by the explosion from a toy chemical set belonging to the young boy the nurse and the 'mother' are now dueling over) looks down the slope of Telegraph Hill like a straight drop into an abyss, a view Wise returns to several times, and it hypnotically draws several of the other characters to stand and stare, too.

AMAZON STREAMING: The House On Telegraph Hill

DVD - House on Telegraph Hill - Amazon

Original Page August 28, 2016

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