The Dark Secret of The House on Telegraph Hill

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Have you ever planned to murder your husband or your wife? Me neither. I’m not married anyway. But that’s the type of conspiracy we saw more than once in the “wonderful world of cinema” and it’s not about to stop. However, as creepy as it may sound, this is the type of ambitions that can make a film strangely entertaining. Alfred Hitchcock, of course, was a master at that type of films with movies like Notorious or Dial M for Murder, but he was not the only one to excel at delivering us those thrilling husband vs. wife misadventures. Theresa Brown from CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch is hosting the ‘Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon which explores this type of movies. I’m glad to take part of it with my own review of The House on Telegraph Hill, a 1951 movie directed by Mr. Versatile Director: Robert Wise, and starring Valentina Cortese, Richard Basehart, William Ludingan and Fay Baker.

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By the way, I didn’t remember how great this film was before re-watching it for the blogathon. So, if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so.

Also, before going further, it’s my duty to tell you that this article will include major spoilers since I’ll be talking about it from A to Z.

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Where is Telegraph Hill? And where is this house at the heart of the story? In San Francisco, but everything starts in Poland during the Second World War. A woman’s voice-over introduces her own story to us from the first minutes of the film. She is Victoria Kowelska (Valentia Cortese). She has lost her husband during the war and her house has been destroyed by the Germans. She was deported to a concentration camp in Belsen. There, she met Karin Dernakova (Natasha Lytess) with whom she became great friends. Unfortunately, due to her poor health, Karin eventually died in the camp. To her great sorrow, Victoria has lost a good friend, but this situation was a way for her to have a better life. She knew that Karin has a son who lives with her rich aunt Sophia in San Francisco. So, she decided to take Karin’s papers and renounced her own identity.

When the camp is finally liberated, Victoria (now Karin) is questioned by Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan), an American. The poor woman bursts into tears during the interview. Is it because she is presenting herself under a false identity? Is it because she is thinking of the horrors of the camp and the loss of her friend Karin? Probably both. Fortunately, Major Bennett is a kind man and tempts to reassure her. When Victoria leaves his office, he makes her notice that she has forgotten something. It’s her own passport. She tells the major that this passport belonged to her friend Victoria (who is, in fact, herself), but now that she is dead, she doesn’t need it anymore. So, Victoria tears it in two and definitely loses her real identity.

Victoria is then deported to a camp for persons displaced by the war where she communicates with Aunt Sophia. A cold answer comes a few days after: aunt Sophia is dead. The poor Victoria sees her dreams of going to America fading away, but her ambition is still there. Four years after she received the letter, Victoria manages to travel to New-York, where she makes the acquaintance of Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), Christopher’s guardian and a distant relative of aunt Sophia. It doesn’t take long for both of them to be charmed by each other and eventually get married. They moved to San Francisco to the house on Telegraph Hill, where Victoria finally makes the acquaintance of Karin’s son, Christopher (Gordon Gebert). But, now, she is the one who has to play the role of his mother. The moment where they first see each other is at first a bit awkward for both of them because, 1- Christopher hasn’t seen his mom in 9 years (when she send him to the US, he was just a baby) and 2- Victoria knows she is not Christopher’s real mom. Fortunately, our protagonist has a maternal instinct and they won’t take long before getting to know each other better and truly appreciate each other.

Karin now lives in a beautiful mansion and wears gowns to make every woman with good tastes jealous. Those were designed by Renié, and are the pure definition of elegance. She has a new husband whom she loves very much and lives a wealthy life.

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However, Victoria’s new happiness is only a brief illusion. Even since the first night in her new home, we can feel a certain discomfort. Like many people in a new and unknown place, she has difficulty sleeping, despite being in a much more comfortable place than a concentration camp.

But this is normal no? I mean, who wouldn’t have trouble sleeping in such a situation? After having lived such events?

The real obstacle that is placed in Victoria’s way is Margaret (Fay Baker), Christopher’s governess. There’s something about this film that can make us think a bit of Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940): Victoria marries a man she barely knows, they move to a beautiful mansion and she has to face a jealous domestic, Margaret that is. From her first on-screen minutes, we feel the cold tone of her voice and guess she isn’t particularly happy having Karin (Victoria) intruding her life. As she was the one who took care of Christopher during 9 years and not Karin, it is obvious that she feels like a mother to him. Tired of Margaret’s opposition to her, Victoria fires her, but Alan reasons her explaining that she can’t fire someone who worked for them for 9 years just like that. Victoria realizes her mistake and Margaret remains part of the house. After offering her apologies to Victoria, she somehow becomes a  more agreeable person (but she doesn’t smile very much so she keeps that ounce of creepiness).

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One afternoon, Victoria discovers something rather odd. While she is playing baseball with Chris (who now treats her like a real mother) the ball gets lost in the grass and Victoria goes after it. She arrives next to a little playhouse with broken windows. Victoria is intrigued, but Chris begs her not to go inside as it is a dangerous place. Victoria, too curious, doesn’t listen to him and enters. The chaos that she finds there has nothing very attractive and the place is, indeed, a dangerous one. There is a big hole in a part of the floor and a part of the wall and whoever might step into it would fall in the streets of San Francisco from a great height. Chris explains to her “mother” that this hole was caused by an explosion from his chemistry set. Victoria to talk about it with Alan,  but Chris begs her not to tell him as he apparently doesn’t know. Later, she talks about it with Margaret, who doesn’t see either the purpose of talking about it with Alan since the boy was not hurt during the explosion.

During the evening, the Spender receive guesses at their house, one of them being Major Mark Bennett. Recognizing him, Victoria first tries to hide in order to avoid an awkward situation. When she doesn’t have the choice to face him, Mark recognizes her but is not 100% sure who she is. She refreshes his memory and finally realises that she has nothing to be afraid of and can enjoy an evening in his company.

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Later, Victoria returns to the playhouse and it’s there that everything changes for good. She investigates the place when she is surprised by Alan. He wonders what she is doing here with a smile on his face, but this is exactly a pleasant smile. He makes a step toward her, she steps back, with fear in her eyes, and fall in the hole. Luckily, Alan catches her in time. From this moment, Victoria’s attitude toward Alan changes: she is afraid of him and always seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

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Not long after, Victoria is supposed to go to town with Chris. This one finally can go as he has to finish cleaning his room. So, Victoria goes alone. While she is going down a street, she wants to brake, but realises that the brakes aren’t working. Then starts a furious stroll in the streets of San Francisco similar to the one in Hitchcock’s Family Plot. Victoria manages to stop the car by bumping in a pile of sand. She is physically not hurt, but mentally it is different. When she realises that Chris was supposed to be in the car with her, a reasoning is quickly made in her head: Alan wants her and Chris to be dead. Why? Because he’ll be the one inheriting aunt Sophia’s money.

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She talks about it with Mark, but this one doesn’t think Alan is a murdered, despite not liking him very much. They, however, start their investigation, but, each time Victoria tries to reach Mark (to whom she has finally revealed her own identity), it seems that Alan is in her way. Without revealing it out loud, we know that he knows that she knows. However, he still continues to play the game of the worried husband.

A log is added to the fire of suspicion when Victoria discovers an article about aunt Sophie’s death in Margaret’s scrapbook. She realizes that she received that telegram announcing her death actually three days BEFORE the real date of her death. It is obvious to her that Alan got rid of aunt Sophia with his own head, in order to access fastly to the fortune.

But is Victoria right? Could sweet face Alan Spender really be a murderer? Is she only imagining things like Lina (Joan Fontaine) in Suspicion?  Well, unfortunately, she has it right from A to Z. And this slowly leads us to the thrilling ending of this film.

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During the “last supper” Victoria is tense since she hasn’t managed to reach Mark all day (she was always surprised by Alan). She can’t eat a thing so she decides to go to the office to read. She is soon followed by Alan, who seems decided to watch her. When they go to bed, Alan prepares their usual before-bedtime glass of orange juice. However, Victoria hears him putting something in her glass. Is it poison? She asks Alan to go take her book in the library which he does, and she takes the occasion to call the police. Unfortunately, as the phone in the library is off the hook, she is unable to make a call. From the library, Alan listens to her “help!” with an evil smile on his face.

When Alan comes back to the bedroom and realizes Victoria hasn’t drunk her orange juice, he convinces her to do so. They finally drink their respective glass of juice by looking at each other in the eyes. That is a very tense moment in the film. Knowing that his wife is now about to die (because yes, he DID put something in the juice), he confesses the murders and the reason, which was, indeed, money. He tells her that he has put a whole box of sedatives in her orange juice in order to kill her. Panicked, Victoria begs him to call a doctor, but not for her: for him! While he was in the library, she put her orange juice in the pitcher and put in her glass what was initially the pitcher. So, Alan is the one who drank the juice full of sedatives. Alan is not feeling well and goes to Margaret. Victoria is looking for Chris (whom she thinks has been “kidnapped” by Margaret, who has always menaced to take him with her). She finds him yes, with Margaret, but they still are in the house. He is sleeping in Margaret’s bedroom and she is taking care of him. Alan claims that Victoria tried to kill him, but with a ton a panic, she has to convince Margaret that he wanted to kill her. Alan begs the governess to call a doctor, but, when she realises that he tried to kill Christopher too, she doesn’t call him. Margaret and Alan, who were lovers, were supposed to get rid of the family to live a rich life together, but let him kill Chris? That is something Margaret would never have allowed.

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Without a doctor, Alan can’t do much for his life so he dies. When the police investigate, it is discovered that Margaret never called a doctor so she is arrested for murder. Poor Margaret! Victoria and Mark, who know that she has somehow nothing to do with Alan’s death offers all the help they can to get her out of this mess.

Victoria now has nothing to do anymore in the house on Telegraph Hill. So, with her only suitcase in hand, she leaves the house with Chris and Mark in order to finally begin, we hope, a somehow normal life.

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It is not really surprising that Alan should be the victim of his own crimes. In the Production Code Era, a murderer had to be punished. However, the real surprise eventually resides in the way he becomes the victim. Clever little Victoria!

From 1951 to 1960, Italian actress Valentina Cortese and Richard Basehart were married. They fell in love while filming this film. Despite playing opponents, we seize their beautiful chemistry in the film. It is really because of Richard Basehart that I first decided to watch The House on Telegraph Hill since he was an actor that has always intrigued me. No regrets.  As the villain with a calm temperament, he is quite different from the nervous and suicidal Robert Cosick from 14 Hours! Valentina Cortese is an actress all in elegance who delivers a convincing performance. Her chemistry with William Lundigan is the definition of friendship and make their moments together highly appreciated.

The House on Telegraph Hill is not a so well-known film, but it deserves more recognition. It has a dose of suspense that many will appreciate.

A big thanks to Theresa for hosting this blogathon! I invite you to check the other entries. The link will be live on July 24th!

‘Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon

See you!

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10 Things I Love and Hate About Movie Blogging

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I had the idea of doing this yesterday. Because I feel like complaining, I guess, here are five things I hate about movie blogging (or blogging in general), but because I’m also addicted to blogging, here are also five things I love about it. There isn’t any real purpose to that, but I’m sure some of you can relate to some of these things, and it’s been a long time since I haven’t written something that wasn’t for a blogathon (aside from my numerous top lists).

Ok, here we go!

First, let’s get rid of the complaints…

FIVE THINGS I HATE

1- Summarize a film:

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Honestly, I never really liked that. While some bloggers describe the movie from A to Z in order to give and in-depth analysis of it (and that is perfectly fine),  the objective of my blog mostly is to explain why I love a movie and convince people to see it. So, obviously, I would not tell the whole story (but a few exceptions, if you look at my analysis of Marlon Brando’s character in The Men).  So, a small synopsis is in order. The problem comes when the movie is kind of complicated and I feel like I have to tell a lot, so people will understand what it is about, but, in a way, I don’t want to tell too much either. A real dilemma, but there are things worse than that in life!

2- When you work hard on an article, but nobody reads it

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I know, it’s impossible to read every blog article ever written, even I don’t do so! But I know we all feel a bit disappointed when, after working hours on an article and thinking it’s pretty good, we receive barely any comment or no like (because, yeah, I guess there are people who read the articles without commenting or liking them, but, at this point, they are a bit like ghosts). If you feel like there’s one of your articles that deserves more recognition, please share it in the comment section and it will be my pleasure to read it! Here is one of mine: A Patch of Blue: When One Sees With the Heart

3- Having a writer’s block

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This doesn’t often happen to me, but it sometimes does, most likely on blogathon seasons. I sometimes subscribe to a blogathon with some movie as a subject, but when the time comes to write about that film, well, I realise that, despite liking the movie, I haven’t much to write about it or I’m not motivated enough. This doesn’t happen often, but here is an example: When Cary Grant Became Invisible… Topper (1937). Luckily, we have the Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Lea from Silent-Ology: I always have a ton of things to say about Buster Keaton’s films!

4- Correcting

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While writing the article and choosing pictures for it is a real entertainment (otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging…), the correction always is the boring part. The main reason is the fact that English is my second language. Well, I’m going to an English university, so I’m obviously writing much more often in English than French now, but it still remains my second language and my French writing is still better than my English one. So, the job is obviously harder, especially with long texts. I try as much as possible to write articles without mistakes by using correcting tools and all this, but I know I’m missing a lot of them and it will probably be the case for this article too… And believe me, I do spend considerable time correcting.  I, by the way, want to thank most of my faithful readers for always having been indulgent on that level.

5- When Blogathons hosts don’t read your article

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Ok, it doesn’t make me as angry as Jack (!), but I guess it had to come out. If you host a blogathon, I think it’s your duty to read all the entries. It’s just common sense. Luckily, I rarely encountered such cases. By the way, if I have ever forgotten (because believe me, it would have been purely unintentional) to read one of the articles you submitted for one of my blogathons, please consider that I feel really bad about it, that I offer you my sincere apologies, that I’ll go hide myself with shame, and that I invite you to share the article in the comment section. 😉

FIVE THINGS I LOVE

1- “Meeting” people with whom I share common interests

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And that is movies. I put “meeting” in inverted commas because I mostly meet them through the internet and not really in real life. Well, I know some of you meet each other at the TCM Film Festival but, unfortunately, I never had the chance to attend it. However, I did meet Lara from Backlots when I was in San Francisco and Michaela from Love Letters To Old Hollywood when I was in Prague. It was pretty cool. Wouldn’t it be nice to do a big get-together one of these days? 😀

2- Finally write about what you like the way you want to

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Because Facebook is limited, there isn’t anything better than blogging to share your love of films. While I am studying films and have to write about them at school, there’s always a ton of restrictions that make the process never completely amusing. But, on the blogging platform, you are free! Free to write what you want, the way you want to. The worst you can get from it is a nasty comment or a spam, but you are freeee to delete them too! 🙂 Blogging is all about fun.

3- You discover movies and make people discover some too

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Well, I guess at one point discovering a new movie can be like “discovering” a new colour haha!

That’s what I really like about writing and reading: it’s an occasion for you to finally spread the word about a not too well-known film but that you think people should discover. As an example, I have this review of Give Us the Moon. I’m kind of a missionary for that film!

4- Blogathons

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And don’t forget to subscribe to my Ingrid Bergman Blogathon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love them because they are the perfect way to discover blogs and increase the popularity of your own. I think, without them, I would probably still just have 20 followers and I’m sure I’m not the only one! 😉 Blogathons are also a way to have ideas on what to write about. It creates material on your blog, which is always a good thing.

5- Good surprises:

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This is in relation to point #2 of the five things I hate. While it is always disappointing when nobody reads a text that you work hard on, I always find it amusing and touching when many appreciate an article that I thought wasn’t that extraordinary. Well, it is, of course, my pleasure if you liked it! As an example, I share this review of My Man Godfrey. I really don’t think it was that good, but I guess many disagreed. 🙂

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I’ll be curious to know your opinion about that and what are the things YOU love and hate about movie blogging! You can share them in the comments section or simply create a new post like I did. Of course, if you do so, please share the link with me in the comments section of this post!

See you! 🙂

Top of the World: Olivia de Havilland Turns 101!

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Today, the strong, lovely, talented, legendary Olivia de Havilland is turning 101 years old and we are very lucky to still have her with us! Aging gracefully, she certainly is one of the most beautiful women of that age! For the occasion, Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Laura from Phyllis Loves Classic Movies are hosting The Second Olivia de Havilland Blogathon + Eroll Flynn!

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For the occasion, I’ve decided to present you a top 10 of my most favourite Olivia de Havilland’s films! Remember, these are my personal favourites, so it’s purely subjective. I ask you to respect my choices.

Just to give you an idea, I’ve seen a total of 12 of her films so far.

Here we go!

10. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle, 1935)

I’m not THAT much a fan of this film, but I’ve decided to put it at #10 as 1- It has to be praised for the excellent performances (including Olivia’s one), 2- A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains, after all, my favourite Shakespeare play, 3- I love the magic and poetry embodied by the dreaming cinematography and 4- the two other ones I saw, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Santa Fe Trail left me a bit indifferent.

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9. Hush… Hush… Sweet Charlotte (Robert Aldrich, 1964)

Quite a creepy film, but I’ve always found Olivia de Havilland’s performance quite interesting as it is very different from the innocent Melanie Hamilton for example! And who would say no to a film reuniting her, Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead?

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8. The Proud Rebel (Michael Curtiz, 1958)

This western was the last collaboration between Curtiz and De Havilland. Somehow it’s not too well-known, but I think it deserves more recognition. It’s a beautiful film and our Livie is absolutely touching in it.

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7. My Cousin Rachel (Henry Koster, 1952)

One thing: I STILL have to read the book by Daphné du Maurier. Ok, this film contains his flaws, but it remains an appreciable one to see. Olivia is quite fascinating playing this ambiguous Rachel! Who is she really?! This film is a good way to size her versatility as an actress.

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6. The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh, 1941)

I actually just watched this movie today in honour of the celebrated one! I quite enjoyed it! It was a lot of fun. Olivia and James Cagney (such a great actor!) looked just adorable together. The presence of Rita Hayworth and Jack Carson was, of course, highly appreciated as well. A good comedy movie to watch when you feel like not concentrating too much!

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5. The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946)

I’ve always loved psychological movies and this one makes no exception to the rule. Playing two roles in one film never looks like an easy task, but, here, Olivia did it wonderfully. A fascinating film.

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4. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, 1938)

Of course, we all like the collaborations between Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. This one has to be my favourite one without hesitation. Olivia is so lovely as Lady Marian and the film itself is a wonderful entertainment!

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3. The Snake Pit (Anatole Litvak, 1948)

I’ve said that I’ve always loved psychological movies. Well, this one is another great example. I love to see the evolution of the characters in these. Here, Olivia de Havilland certainly gives one of her best and more challenging performances. She received an Oscar nomination for her performance.

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2. The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)

And happy birthday to William Wyler, who was born on July 1st too! Well, if Olivia won her second Oscar with this film, it’s not without reasons. An extraordinary performance, full of subtleties and perfectly calculated. She gives an extraordinary essence to her character and it’s hard to surpass her. I’ve loved this film since the first time I saw it. Of course, I don’t think William Wyler ever made a bad film…

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  1. Gone With the Wind (Victor Flemming, 1939)

Ok, I know, this is not a very creative #1, but what can I say? I love the film ok! There would be so much to say about it, but for what concerns Olivia, she illuminates the screen and is in perfect harmony with the rest of the cast. I couldn’t think of anyone better to portray Melanie Hamilton. This is the first film of hers I saw. What a great introduction to her filmography! 🙂

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Well, that’s it! Of course, don’t hesitate to share your choices with me!

I want to thank Crystal and Laura for hosting this amazing blogathon. Please take a look at the other entries here:

The Second Olivia de Havilland Blogathon + Errol Flynn Day 1

Happy 101 birthday dear Olivia!

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