The House on Telegraph Hill


1h 33m 1951

Brief Synopsis

A concentration camp survivor assumes a dead woman's identity but gets caught in a wealthy family's intrigues.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Frightened Child
Genre
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
Jun 1951
Premiere Information
New York opening: 12 May 1951
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
San Francisco, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Frightened Child by Dana Lyon (New York, 1948).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,357ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

The imposing Victorian house on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, where Victoria Kowelska once thought she would find peace, is now up for sale. Victoria remembers how her story began, eleven years earlier in 1939, when the German army left her home near Warsaw, Poland in ruins: Her husband died in the siege, and Vicky became one of thousands herded into concentration camps. At the camp at Belsen, Germany, Vicky becomes friends with another Pole, Karin Dernakova, a sickly, frail woman, who shares her life story with Vicky. Karin doubts that she will ever again see her son Christopher, whom she smuggled out of Poland to the United States just before the war began. After Vicky protects Karin from another prisoner's attempted theft, Karin invites her to San Francisco to live with her and Chris in the big house belonging to her aunt Sophie, a Polish noble who emigrated to the United States in 1904. Karin dies three days before the camp is liberated, however, and because Karin had not seen her aunt since she was a little girl, Vicky decides to impersonate her. At a displaced persons camp, Vicky sends a cable to Sophie, but receives a reply from Joseph C. Callahan, an attorney in New York, informing her that Sophie is dead. Although her hopes are diminished, Vicky perseveres, and in 1950 reaches New York on a United Nations refugee ship. At Callahan's office, she meets Alan Spender, a relative of Aunt Sophie by marriage, who adopted Chris after her death, believing that Chris's parents also had died. Callahan reveals that Sophie left her valuable estate to Chris, with Alan as guardian, and says he has doubts concerning Vicky's claim to be Karin. When Vicky vows to fight, Alan, admiring her resolve, invites her to dinner and during the next two weeks, woos her. Feeling that her best chance for safety is to be married to an American, Vicky accepts Alan's proposal and goes to San Francisco as his wife. Vicky soon suspects that something is wrong in the house, although she is comforted by the friendship of estate lawyer Marc Bennett, who recognizes Vicky as a refugee he questioned years earlier when he was in the army. While playing catch with Chris one day, Vicky discovers an abandoned, damaged playhouse. Vicky then searches for Margaret, Chris's governess, to ask about the playhouse and, not finding her in her room, is examining a locked album when Margaret enters. Margaret states that Aunt Sophie gave her the album and calls Vicky an intruder. Vicky gives Margaret notice to leave, but when Alan returns home, he refuses to fire her. At the playhouse, Vicky discovers an extremely dangerous hole in the floor leading to a steep drop to a street below. When Alan enters and chillingly questions her, she backs up in fear and falls through the hole, but he rescues her. Although he tries to comfort her, her suspicions about him increase. One day, as Vicky prepares to go out with Chris, Margaret stops them, saying that Chris has not cleaned his room. Vicky drives off by herself, and when she steps on the brake while on a steep hill, she discovers she cannot stop her car. Vicky barely manages to save herself, then calls Marc and tells him that Alan tried to kill her and Chris in order to get control of the estate. Marc doubts her, but promises to investigate, and after he confesses his love for her, she reveals her real identity. Having seen Belsen himself, Marc understands her attempt to seek a better life, but feels that her guilty conscience has led her to distort events into unwarranted suspicions about Alan. Later, while home alone, Vicky pries open the album in Margaret's room and finds Aunt Sophie's obituary, stating that her death occurred a few days after the date of the cable sent to her in 1945. Alan surprises her, and later that night, takes the phone off the hook in the library, then fixes a glass of orange juice for Vicky in the bedroom. When she starts to go to the library for a book, he goes instead, and upon returning, encourages her to drink the juice. When she says that earlier it tasted bitter, he pours himself a glass from the pitcher and drinks it, then says it tastes fine and she drinks hers. After Vicky accuses him of killing Aunt Sophie, in addition to trying to kill her and Chris, Alan reveals he has put a large dose of a sedative into her glass of juice. Aghast, Vicky informs Alan that he has drunk the contaminated juice himself, for when he left to get her book, she poured herself a different glass and poured the juice from the first glass back into the pitcher. Now sweating profusely, Alan tells Margaret that Vicky has poisoned him and asks her to call a doctor, explaining that the receiver in the library is off the hook. When Alan confesses to trying to kill Chris, but says he did it so they could be together again, Margaret, who loves the boy, informs him the line is dead. The police arrive and find Alan dead, and although Vicky tries to defend Margaret for not calling a doctor, the police take her away for questioning. Marc takes Vicky and Chris from the house to his mother's home, but before leaving, Vicky stands in front of Aunt Sophie's portrait. Marc asserts that Aunt Sophie would approve of her, and Vicky replies that all she can do is thank her for everything.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Frightened Child
Genre
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
Jun 1951
Premiere Information
New York opening: 12 May 1951
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
San Francisco, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Frightened Child by Dana Lyon (New York, 1948).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,357ft (10 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1951

Articles

The House on Telegraph Hill


Victoria has survived Nazi concentration by assuming the identity of one who died there. She arrives in San Francisco to see her "son" just as the boy's great-aunt dies leaving a lot of money to be inherited.

Producer: Robert Bassler
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Elick Moll, Frank Partos (screenplay); Dana Lyon (novel)
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Art Direction: John De Cuir, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Sol Kaplan
Film Editing: Nick De Maggio
Cast: Richard Basehart (Alan Spender), Valentina Cortesa (Victoria Kowelska), William Lundigan (Major Marc Bennett), Fay Baker (Margaret), Gordon Gebert (Christopher), Steven Geray (Dr. Burkhardt), Herbert Butterfield (Joseph C. Callahan), Kei Thin Chung (Kei - Houseboy), John Burton (Mr. Whitmore), Katherine Meskill (Mrs. Whitmore).
BW-93m.
The House On Telegraph Hill

The House on Telegraph Hill

Victoria has survived Nazi concentration by assuming the identity of one who died there. She arrives in San Francisco to see her "son" just as the boy's great-aunt dies leaving a lot of money to be inherited. Producer: Robert Bassler Director: Robert Wise Screenplay: Elick Moll, Frank Partos (screenplay); Dana Lyon (novel) Cinematography: Lucien Ballard Art Direction: John De Cuir, Lyle Wheeler Music: Sol Kaplan Film Editing: Nick De Maggio Cast: Richard Basehart (Alan Spender), Valentina Cortesa (Victoria Kowelska), William Lundigan (Major Marc Bennett), Fay Baker (Margaret), Gordon Gebert (Christopher), Steven Geray (Dr. Burkhardt), Herbert Butterfield (Joseph C. Callahan), Kei Thin Chung (Kei - Houseboy), John Burton (Mr. Whitmore), Katherine Meskill (Mrs. Whitmore). BW-93m.

House on Telegraph Hill, The - Fox Film Noir - The House on Telegraph Hill on DVD


In the plot of The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) one can find elements of many other movies, most of all Rebecca (1940). Both center around a big house presented as a menacing character and both feature in their scenarios an abandoned shack or playhouse, a sinister housekeeper or governess, a scared new bride, and family secrets. Ultimately, however, The House on Telegraph Hill is a gothic mystery-drama with a strong film noir atmosphere and is more in the tradition of Val Lewton than Alfred Hitchcock.

Valentina Cortesa stars as a Pole suffering in a concentration camp during WWII. When the camp is liberated, she assumes the identity of a dead woman who had previously sent her son to San Francisco to stay with a rich aunt. Arriving in America after years of effort, Cortesa finds that the aunt has died and the boy is being cared for by a trustee (Richard Basehart) of the estate and a governess (Fay Baker). Cortesa marries Basehart but soon realizes there is more to the set-up than meets the eye, and starts to worry for her life and the boy's.

The sense of film noir comes from the increasing paranoia we are made to share with Cortesa (who's in almost every scene) and from the movie's striking visual style. Director Robert Wise and director of photography Lucien Ballard create some exquisite lighting effects with strong contrasts and layers of shadows. Clearly Wise brought his training under Val Lewton to bear here. Wise had cut his directing teeth on the Lewton-produced Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945), low-budget films in which black-and-white lighting was a primary instrument of audience participation and dread. Several scenes here could be right out of a Lewton picture. Further, the house is made to feel like a gothic prison through lighting, camera angles and art direction. (In fact, the film received a sole Oscar nomination for Art Direction.) Wise's editing background also creates some gripping scenes, especially a beautifully cut runaway car sequence. These touches make up for a story which peters out somewhat at the end.

Also helping matters is a great cast, starting with Valentina Cortesa. A lovely and exotic-looking Italian with an intriguing face, Cortesa was one of Darryl Zanuck's little experiments. He had imported her for his earlier Fox noir, Thieves' Highway (1949), a very good film in which Cortesa had made a genuine impression. (He altered the spelling of her last name from "Cortese" to "Cortesa," presumably so that Americans would know how to pronounce it.) Zanuck was trying to build a Hollywood career for her, but she only lasted in Hollywood for five pictures, this being the last.

Co-star Richard Basehart was already a film noir fixture, having given outstanding performances in He Walked By Night (1948), Reign of Terror (1949) and Fourteen Hours (1951). (He also starred in Sam Fuller's first-rate Korean War combat film Fixed Bayonets!, 1951). Recently-widowed Basehart and Cortesa fell in love while making The House on Telegraph Hill and were married within a year. He moved to Italy to live with her, pretty much giving up his Hollywood career in the process. While he did make a few American movies in the 1950s, he made more European films including Fellini's La Strada (1954). When he and Cortesa divorced in 1960, he returned to the States, remarried, and resumed acting in American movies and televison. Cortesa pursued her career in Italy very successfully on stage and screen, and as of 2006 is 81 years old.

Fox Home Entertainment's DVD of The House on Telegraph Hill features a fine transfer. Extras include a superb set of photo galleries, particularly the behind-the-scenes shots, trailers for this and other Fox noirs, and Eddie Muller's commentary track, which contains some worthwhile facts but ultimately isn't terribly engaging. Muller spends too much time, for example, explaining in a travelogue style exactly where in San Francisco certain shots were made, and how they relate to his own life as a native San Franciscan. When he does discuss moviemaking techniques, he doesn't go into enough detail for this viewer's taste. Still, overall this is a satisfying movie presented by Fox with style, and it's well worth a look.

For more information about House on Telegraph Hill, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order House on Telegraph Hill, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold

House on Telegraph Hill, The - Fox Film Noir - The House on Telegraph Hill on DVD

In the plot of The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) one can find elements of many other movies, most of all Rebecca (1940). Both center around a big house presented as a menacing character and both feature in their scenarios an abandoned shack or playhouse, a sinister housekeeper or governess, a scared new bride, and family secrets. Ultimately, however, The House on Telegraph Hill is a gothic mystery-drama with a strong film noir atmosphere and is more in the tradition of Val Lewton than Alfred Hitchcock. Valentina Cortesa stars as a Pole suffering in a concentration camp during WWII. When the camp is liberated, she assumes the identity of a dead woman who had previously sent her son to San Francisco to stay with a rich aunt. Arriving in America after years of effort, Cortesa finds that the aunt has died and the boy is being cared for by a trustee (Richard Basehart) of the estate and a governess (Fay Baker). Cortesa marries Basehart but soon realizes there is more to the set-up than meets the eye, and starts to worry for her life and the boy's. The sense of film noir comes from the increasing paranoia we are made to share with Cortesa (who's in almost every scene) and from the movie's striking visual style. Director Robert Wise and director of photography Lucien Ballard create some exquisite lighting effects with strong contrasts and layers of shadows. Clearly Wise brought his training under Val Lewton to bear here. Wise had cut his directing teeth on the Lewton-produced Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945), low-budget films in which black-and-white lighting was a primary instrument of audience participation and dread. Several scenes here could be right out of a Lewton picture. Further, the house is made to feel like a gothic prison through lighting, camera angles and art direction. (In fact, the film received a sole Oscar nomination for Art Direction.) Wise's editing background also creates some gripping scenes, especially a beautifully cut runaway car sequence. These touches make up for a story which peters out somewhat at the end. Also helping matters is a great cast, starting with Valentina Cortesa. A lovely and exotic-looking Italian with an intriguing face, Cortesa was one of Darryl Zanuck's little experiments. He had imported her for his earlier Fox noir, Thieves' Highway (1949), a very good film in which Cortesa had made a genuine impression. (He altered the spelling of her last name from "Cortese" to "Cortesa," presumably so that Americans would know how to pronounce it.) Zanuck was trying to build a Hollywood career for her, but she only lasted in Hollywood for five pictures, this being the last. Co-star Richard Basehart was already a film noir fixture, having given outstanding performances in He Walked By Night (1948), Reign of Terror (1949) and Fourteen Hours (1951). (He also starred in Sam Fuller's first-rate Korean War combat film Fixed Bayonets!, 1951). Recently-widowed Basehart and Cortesa fell in love while making The House on Telegraph Hill and were married within a year. He moved to Italy to live with her, pretty much giving up his Hollywood career in the process. While he did make a few American movies in the 1950s, he made more European films including Fellini's La Strada (1954). When he and Cortesa divorced in 1960, he returned to the States, remarried, and resumed acting in American movies and televison. Cortesa pursued her career in Italy very successfully on stage and screen, and as of 2006 is 81 years old. Fox Home Entertainment's DVD of The House on Telegraph Hill features a fine transfer. Extras include a superb set of photo galleries, particularly the behind-the-scenes shots, trailers for this and other Fox noirs, and Eddie Muller's commentary track, which contains some worthwhile facts but ultimately isn't terribly engaging. Muller spends too much time, for example, explaining in a travelogue style exactly where in San Francisco certain shots were made, and how they relate to his own life as a native San Franciscan. When he does discuss moviemaking techniques, he doesn't go into enough detail for this viewer's taste. Still, overall this is a satisfying movie presented by Fox with style, and it's well worth a look. For more information about House on Telegraph Hill, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order House on Telegraph Hill, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeremy Arnold

Robert Wise (1914-2005)


Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.)

Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.

Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).

Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.

At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.

The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).

by Roger Fristoe

Robert Wise (1914-2005)

Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.) Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films. Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945). Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox. At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story. The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963). by Roger Fristoe

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was The Frightened Child. Dana Lyon's novel was purchased in March 1948 by Twentieth Century-Fox, prior to its serialization in Harper's Magazine in April 1948, and, according to a March 1948 Los Angeles Times news item, was assigned to producer Walter Morosco. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, writers David Hertz, Irmgard Von Cube, Allen Vincent, Robert Hill and Karl Kamb worked on the screenplay before Elick Moll and Frank Partos, who receive onscreen credit. It does not appear, however, that these writers contributed to the final film. According to contemporary sources, some filming was done at various locations in San Francisco, and the studio's art department converted the Julius' Castle Restaurant, a well-known San Francisco landmark, and its adjoining property into the exterior of the house used in the film.
       Footage of displaced persons boarding an International Refugee Organization ship was included in the film at the request of the United Nations as a public service for "making the world conscious of the United Nations and its activities," according to a letter in the studio files. The film received an Academy Award nomination in the Art Direction (Black-and-White) category.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1951

Released in United States Summer June 1951