Essential Reading: Fritz Lang’s HOUSE BY THE RIVER

1) Film Noir of the Week profiles House By the River, “a pitch black gothic noir that though modestly budgeted and featuring low-wattage star-power, succeeds on nearly all levels:”

Lang distracts the viewer away from his film’s shortcomings and toward the engrossing dramatic elements of the plot, and the ever-shifting dynamics between the leads. ‘House’s homme fatale is, in this fan’s estimation, one of the sub-genre’s most chilling characters. An urbane and fairly well-to-do writer whose career has cooled-off, Stephen is the sort who will casually shatter his marriage vows on a whim if the opportunity presents itself.

2) Annotations by David Cairns for Senses of Cinema:

Here, under the eye of another master of the macabre, a wayward Hayward twitches and overplays like Vincent Price on speed, but the terror you see in his face is real: he was petrified of Lang, who persecuted his entire cast without compunction, creating a poisonous atmosphere on set which seems to seep into the celluloid of the film itself…Despite the low budget and quickie schedule, House by the River is often visually arresting, displaying Lang’s genius for composition and cutting. As his biographer Patrick McGilligan writes:

“Light splashes off surfaces, moonlight spills through frosted windows, the wind riffles the trees and curtains. Everything in the film is dark and shiny and foreboding. Scene after scene shows the director at the height of his ingenuity – working out of the depths of his own despair. Lang’s direction was never so lush or smothering.”

For some historical perspective, it’s worth noting this original release pan by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times:

Full of Victorian adornments, shadowy lighting and morbid moods, it is a desperate attempt to raise goose-flesh with a standard horror-psychological plot… But we fear that neither the enlightenment nor the excitement that a customer might expect in such a flickering melodrama is provided by this film.

Thanks be to hindsight and the auteur theory to eventually give this film its due. But this review makes you wonder what seemingly disposable genre films (horror, melodrama, etc.) is being unduly dismissed these days?

On YouTube, onceuponatimein2001 has a video trailer of his Top 5 Fritz Lang movies. with House By the River making the cut. What are yours?

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