House By The River (1950)

28 07 2009

Well, let’s just say Lang has done a hell of a lot better. There isn’t anything about this film that doesn’t fit into Lang’s universe of shadowy cinematography occupied by equally shadowy character. The problem, instead, is that things feel a bit too Lang-ian, almost to the point that this feels like something of a parody, or at least the imitation of a less confident and less competent director. On the other hand, the simplicity of the characters and the melodrama of their interactions does lend the film something of a “campy” charm.

I would never argue in favor of Lang being a humanist, but I do find that, in his very best films, he does have something resembling sympathy for his characters. This is not the case here, though. Pretty much every person that shows up is a pawn for manipulating and advancing the already shrill and over-the-top narrative. It only takes a few minutes of the film to realize that very little character development or even character depiction will be going on. To call these people thinly characterized implies a oblique tone, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The drama here comes almost entirely from the advancement of the narrative.

As he often does with B-level material, Lang lifts the film from the depths of MST3K fodder to a genuine art film. The cinematography, courtesy of Edward Cronjager – who also shot Lubitsch’s colorful Heaven Can Wait, is as excellent as I anticipated. The opening “pillow shots” are actually quite brilliant, but fortunately bring the film down by building up the tension for something more complicated, and/or not so silly. Overall, this is probably a bit more entertaining than The Woman in the Window but I think that’s a result of the previously mentioned “camp” appeal. It might be a bit better visually as well, but overall, not nearly as rewarding as a whole.

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