The House on Telegraph Hill

September 7, 2015 at 10:18 pm (8 Heads, House on Telegraph Hill) (, , , )

The House on Telegraph Hill – 1951 – United States

While in a German concentration camp during World War 2, a Polish woman named Viktoria befriends a woman named Karin. Karin dies just before the camp is liberated. Viktoria assumes the dead woman’s identity and moves to San Francisco to live with Karin’s wealthy extended family. Since Karin’s family had not seen her in 10 years and barely knew her, Viktoria easily impersonates her. She acts as a mother to Karin’s young son and marries the child’s legal guardian. In a fabulous San Francisco mansion, Viktoria lives an idyllic upper class lifestyle until her paranoid guilt, and a conspiracy of greed and murder by Karin’s relatives, begins to unravel it.

Shared secrets are the focus of The House on Telegraph Hill’s winding melodramatic plot. Even the most sympathetic characters are not exactly what they seem, and everyone’s motivations are morally gray. Viktoria’s husband resents her for claiming the inheritance that he was expecting. The governess of Viktoria’s son is jealous of Viktoria’s role as the boy’s “true” mother. And Viktoria herself is living a lie and manipulating people to maintain it. Worse still, someone is trying to kill her.

The House on Telegraph Hill is a great example of film noir’s paranoia and cynicism, and it is also finely made. The antiquated manor is beautiful and oppressive, and there are some attractive images of vintage San Francisco. In one memorably harrowing scene, a car’s brakes are sabotaged and the car careens down San Francisco’s hilly streets. The film was directed by the acclaimed Robert Wise, who also directed The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), and The Andromeda Strain (1971).

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. Apparently, the contemporary Telegraph Hill in San Francisco is home to a flock of feral parrots descended from escaped pets.

 

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