Jillian’s pick this week and it’s Film Noir, one I hadn’t seen before nor, if I’m honest, even heard of. But I love love love this genre and studied it closely during my Film A-Level (100 years ago), so it’s close to my heart.
We’re still on Blog Free & Die Hard time, and I like it. So here’s to a couple more random titles before we move in a different direction. Maybe Christmas movies?
Well, read on, my friends.
As usual *Beware Spoilers*!
The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
IMDB Synopsis: Concentration camp survivor Victoria Kowelska finds herself involved in mystery, greed, and murder when she assumes the identity of a dead friend in order to gain passage to America.
Viktoria Kowalska’s husband and home have been annihilated by the Germans and she finds herself in a Polish POW camp, just trying to survive each day.
She’s befriended a woman named Karin Dernakova (Natasha Lytess), who has sent her baby Christopher to America to live with her rich aunt. She’s distraught, not eating or sleeping, despite Viktoria’s best efforts to care for her.
The camp Mean Girls accuse Vik of buttering up Karin just because she has rich relatives. The two do have a plan to find their way to ‘merica to be with Chris but Vik loves Karin and is devvo’d when she finds her dead one night.
Devastation quickly gives way to something else though, and Viktoria dries her eyes and grabs Karin’s identification papers. The voice over, Viktoria herself, asks why not claim Karin’s identity, right? Still go to America and get the kid, live with the rich aunt (who’s unlikely to realise given the years gone by)?
You’re inclined to agree after everything she’s been through.
Shortly afterwards, the new Karin is interviewed by the Liberation Department about where she’ll head next and she’s very upset (guilt has already set in). A nice Major is kind and patiently explains a few things to her. She’s adamant there’s nothing left for her in Warsaw and refuses to go back.
Viktoria/Karin sends a telegram to Aunt Sophia but a few days later receives a response saying she’s passed away (but to pop into the lawyer’s office in NY if she’s ever about).
Things look shit for New Karin™ but she’s a Noir girl and Noir girls got gumption, so she sucks it up and jumps on a boat that eventually gets her to New York City. In the office the lawyer is a bit snotty, suspicious of her not being who she says she is. Also present is Alan Spender, the kid’s official guardian and also a relative of Aunt Sophia.
Basically, all Sophia’s money is due to go to Christopher (the kid) when he comes of age but until then, her big house and all her cash is Alan’s. Karin manages to convince Alan that she’s legit and he takes her to lunch.
NB: I have to say here that nothing good can possibly come of getting involved with someone called Alan. Sorry, it’s true. Run, Karin, Run!
Karin suspects Alan has the hots for her and decides to milk it for all it’s worth. They have a brief courtship and then get married. A few days later Alan takes Karin to San Francisco, where Christopher lives in the house on Telegraph Hill.
Karin meets her ‘son’ who is being taken care of by a moody governess, Margaret (Fay Baker). Margaret clearly hates Karin at first sight but loves the boy so it’s sort of alright.
(Margaret is amazing with one of the best resting bitch faces even captured on celluloid.)
On their first night in the new house, Alan puts his lovely wife to bed and retires to the guest bedroom, claiming that he wants them to redecorate their bedroom before they share it or some bullshit.
Later, Karin goes for a wander and catches Margaret coming out of the parlour where Alan is kicking back. Looks like they’re up to no good. Or, do governesses always waft about on landings in sheer black negligees?
I’ll try to keep the rest of this brief because a lot goes down but let’s just say that odd things start to happen and Karin wonders if she’s being punished by Aunt Sophia, who gazes down poe-faced from a mahoosive portrait above the mantel.
Oh yes and one day a hot man called Mark rocks up (think 1950’s Greg Kinnear) – and surprise! – he’s the kind Major from Belsen (Karin’s form concentration camp home). Of all the cocktail parties in all the world…
Mark doesn’t think much of Alan and quickly makes himself available to Karin, lightly trying to get in her pants but also trying to be her friend. She soon needs one when her brakes are cut and she’s almost killed.
Lucky for her a pile of sand is strategically placed where she lands so she gets away unscathed. This prompts Karin to start doing some digging into Alan as she’s determined to prove he wants to bump her off. Mark is sympathetic but urges her not to jump to any conclusions (because women, as we all know, are prone to bouts of hysteria).
Also, Karin is completely blanked by the mechanic who fixes her car, even though it is HER CAR. This is a fifties film obviously so I shouldn’t be surprised and Karin should be confined to the kitchen, but still – some men still talk directly to other men rather than dare talk to a lowly woman and it’s seventy fucking years later! RAGE!
Anyway, Karin finds out that Chris was almost harmed too in an explosion and Margaret is cagey when questioned about it. The two women have a massive barney and Karin sacks Margaret, but Alan comes back and patronises Karin until she agrees to take her back.
Karin uncovers more shit, Alan tries to trick her into thinking it’s all in her head (been there) and there’s a dramatic show down between husband and wife. Who will be triumphant?
Will Karin’s dirty secret be uncovered? Will New Karin™’s love for the Real Karen® mean she saves Christopher from potential danger?
Will Alan the Fuckingfuckface get what’s coming? What’s Margaret’s beef?
Who does the ladies’ eyebrows?
What will become of the beautiful old house on Telegraph Hill and… Will I ever boast a wardrobe as sumptuous as Karin’s?
All these questions and more will be tackled in this tense thriller.
This was dead good. Sometimes I feel a little dubious about older films, not the tried and tested ones obviously but ones I haven’t seen. Will they be dull and dry, full of wooden acting and crap scenarios or…?
Not this one. It’s actually quite tense and had me gripped from the opening credits.
Valentina Cortese (like she was going to be anything other than an actress?) keeps you interested in New Karin™ all the way and never made me doubt she was a good woman at heart, despite the shady start to her new life.
I’d still have rooted for her if she was bad, in fact my only criticism is that I would have liked to have seen her being more of a Bad Bitch. Would one cat fight with the nanny and more red lipstick/smoking have killed you, New Karin™?
I’d also have been done with more Margaret, more female solidarity at the end (they’re allowed to despise each other initially, have a little tussle, realise all they’re fighting for is definitely not worth it and then team up) and all men being done away wit, including the kid.
I mean, Mark is nice and all but he’s a bit handsy and Chris is pretty much just that kid from Mad magazine, very 2D.
Otherwise, it had a good plot, made me shout at the screen a couple of times (sorry, I just hate condescending men called Alan) and entertained me for the reasonable run time of 1 hour and 33 minutes.
My Rating: 4/5