Movie Review: House on Telegraph Hill (1951)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the 1951 film noir movie starring Richard Basehart and Valentina Cortese.

Synopsis: A widowed Nazi concentration camp survivor assumes a friend's identity and moves to the United States to live with the friend's well-to-do family. When she arrives, she learns her friend's son, Christopher, has inherited the family fortune and is under the guardianship of a distant relative, Alan Spendor. Seeking to secure her place, she marries Alan and moves to San Francisco with him and Christopher. However, shortly after arriving, she begins to suspect her life is in danger.


I've been trying to get back in the habit of watching movies when I'm home for lunch during the week and, mostly because it sounded a bit interesting, decided to start out with this classic film. Since I didn't know a whole lot about it, I wasn't really sure what to expect. But, as it turns out, it was actually a pretty decent movie.

I think the thing I really liked about this movie was the mystery. From the second the woman (Cortese) met her new husband, Alan (Basehart) and the rest of his friends/relatives, I was somewhat suspicious things weren't what they seemed. And, when her life was put in danger on more than one occasion, it only made me even more suspicious.

However, at the same time, who, if anyone, was behind the attempts was still unclear. Her first near death experience was as much her fault as anyone's and the fact her car brakes stopped working (with no evidence they had been purposely cut) could also have been a coincidence. Since she was already feeling quite a bit of guilt/stress from her deception, it was very possible she was just imagining the whole thing.

Plus, even if the attempts on her life were legitimate, it was still a bit unclear who was behind them. I, personally, suspected Alan. But, the governess, Margaret (Baker) also had plenty of motive considering she was the one who had raised Christopher (Gebert) and was also in love with Alan. Motive was also a bit fuzzy since the attempts could have been to keep her from claiming her share of the money or were the direct result of someone finding out her secret.

As a result of this, the movie managed to be much more entertaining than expected, simply because it was difficult to figure out what was going to happen next.

Another thing I liked about this film was the way it didn't get bogged down like I was expecting it to. The movie manages to fill us in on the woman's back story and give us pertinent details about her friend's family early on but doesn't focus on giving the viewer too much information. This allows the film to keep a relatively quick pace that definitely improves the experience.

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Final Opinion

When I first started watching this movie, I wasn't sure if it would be a film I would enjoy or one I would end up turning off after a few minutes. It turned out to be the former and is definitely a movie I would recommend as a result of that.

My Grade: A

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Updated: 11/06/2015, StevenHelmer
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DerdriuMarriner on 01/29/2022

StevenHelmer, Thank you for product lines, pretty pictures and practical information.
Me too, I agree with what you say about the film. It's from Richard Basehart's Italian period, in which he made films in Italy and spoke nice Italian.

How would this film fare as a remake in color?

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