There should be a category for movies people think are noir, but aren’t. Noir blanc, perhaps. This would be one:
We must repeat: black and white doesn’t make noir. Hats and smoking don’t make noir, but they help. Venetian blinds up the noir-quotient, but what you really need is a doomed hero, a moll or a hussy or a fatal-dame of some sort,and Fate Closing In. “The House on Telegraph Hill” is more of a women’s film, as they called them, and it’s a variety that irritates me to no end. As you’ll see. It begins in a concentration camp:
Guess which one dies? Right. The pretty one lives, takes her identity, and goes to America, where relatives of the dead woman await. She's a good-hearted soul, the doomed woman's best friend, and the fact that the American family is loaded with money isn't really a factor. Really, it's not. She just isn't heading back to Poland, that's all. Period. Forget it.
Off to America, which we first see in this startling shot. Well, startling for me. That's the Singer Building, covered with soot. It was once much lovelier.
From there she makes her way to San Francisco, where she falls in love with the guardian of the boy who was the son of the woman whose identity she stole and whoserich aunt just died. Got it? All you need to know is that she's happy, terribly happy, even though her husband is an obvious control-freak. Richard Basehart, who acts and speaks like William Shatner underwater.
It takes her about 25 minutes to realize he's trying to kill her - or is he? Also, she loves another man - but does she? Well, hon, they probably wouldn't be making this movie if he wasn't trying to kill you. Pay special attention when the director does a close-up on things he's given you to drink. DUM DUM DUMMMMMM:
The film has some wonderful shots of San Francisco in its somewhat grittier and more interesting period. For example:
Where might this be? Well, let's check the next scene:
Computer: enhance, flip:
The Crocker Building. Gone now, replaced by something unspeakable. You say that about many of the street scenes, perhaps.
But we were talking about a movie. A movie full of FATAL SANDWICHES.
Here's what drives me nuts about these movies: The heroine has it all figured out, more or less, but for some reason can't move out of the frickin' house. She's got gazillions of dollars, but no: she sticks around. Of course, she behaves like she's terrified out of her gourd, and everything she does it frantic, nervous and furtive - but in marriages in those days, people acted like this, I guess. People would have to come up with excuses to leave the room. I left a book burning! I mean I forgot to get the cigarette I was reading. I must go.
I'll get it for you, dear. Just stay here while I lock the door,.
Here's a highlight reel of the movie's best excuses. (Flash vid; mouse over for controls.)