Friday, April 25, 2008

San Francisco

I was all ready to write a review of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy in San Francisco today, or else write about the cinematic beauty of the city (one of the few things I like about Vertigo) today. However, it turns out that the movie that would have brought about such a post today is available on DVD: The House on Telegraph Hill.

Valentina Cortese stars in The House on Telegraph Hill, billed as a noir by Fox, as Viktoria Kowełska, a Polish woman who gets caught up in World War II when the Nazis kill her husband, destroy her house, and imprison her in a concentration camp. There, conditions are lousy (although in this movie, the depiction doesn't feel as bad as what Fox gave us in Three Came Home), but Kowełska makes a friend: Karin Demakova. Demakova has a son who made it to America, where he's living with his aunt in San Francisco. However, Demakova dies before the camp is liberated by the Allies, and Kowełska decides to assume Domakova's identity, seeing as it's the only way she can get to America.

Once in America, Kowełska meets Alan Spender (played by Fox contract player Richard Basehart, who is the guardian of the little boy. He marries her, although Kowełska comes to believe he's got bad intentions. Sadly, though, it's here that the movie begins to fall a bit flat. The idea is fine, but I couldn't help but find myself not caring all that much for any of the characters. The movie is told in the noir style of having a flashback, so we can presume that Kowełska ends up safe and sound at the end (true, she could have been killed like Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd., but we see his lifeless body floating at the beginning of the movie). And none of the characters seems to be very original. Worse, the plot struck me as being derivative. Spender tries to murder his wife by giving her a glass of drugged orange juice, and the minute I saw the glass, I yelled out, "There oughta be a light bulb in that glass!" (For those who don't know, that's a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion, in which the light bulb in a glass was used to imply a glass of milk was poisoned.) The whole thing also reminded me of an earlier MGM movie, Shadow of a Woman, which has a similar plot of a man trying to kill his son for the trust fund money. (Shadow of a Woman, however, is not listed as being available on DVD.) The interesting thing is that I watched both of these movies on the basis of reading their plot descriptions, thinking that the plots sounded interesting; but ending up being disappointed by both.

As for the rest of the cast, another Fox stalwart, William Lundigan, plays Marc Bennett, who was a major who just happened to meet Kowełska when she was trying to gain refugee status, and in civilian life lives in San Francisco, conveniently able to play a crucial plot role as a connection between Spender and Kowełska. The rest of the names are B-players; people I've barely heard of.

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