Entertainment » Movies

House By The River

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jan 14, 2020
House By The River

When Fritz Lang set out to make his 1950 gothic drama "House by the River," he was coming off a flop and turned to a story that wasn't exactly suited for him. With a shoestring budget and creative freedom with Republic Pictures, he crafted a worthwhile (and weirdly horny) look at the decay and corruption within one man's dogged journey to become a famous writer. The new 2K master on this new Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label brings one of the famous director's lesser-known projects up for reappraisal. And while it doesn't quite rise to the level of his more famous works, it's certainly not without merit.

Failed writer Stephen Byrne (Louis Hayward) is thrust into concealing a homicide after his sexual advances on his virginal housekeeper, Emily Gaunt (Dorothy Patrick), are rebuffed and he accidentally murders her. Stephen and his brother, the erstwhile John (Lee Bowman), dump the body in the river outside their decrepit southern mansion, which sets in motion many more bad decisions. As Stephen has to keep explaining away that he is not involved in Emily's disappearance, he takes the opportunity to rework his predicament into a spicy novel. Soon, he's the talk of the town and John becomes fed up with the man his brother has grown to be. Stephen's underappreciated wife, Marjorie Byrne (Jane Wyatt), is then lusted after by John.

"House by the River" had a barebones budget, but that's the kind of obstacle Lang thrived at overcoming. The film is filled with an ornate design, properly showcasing the moral and physical decay of the town even before Stephen killed Emily. This sets the stage for a world in which a man like Stephen can get away with a crime like this. But, it also sets the mood for further terrible things to occur. The film revels in watching Stephen let his worst instincts take over. And funny enough, the cast all are terrified of something, which can somewhat draw back to Lang's lack of composure on set.

This is a sensual film filled with plenty of expressionistic touches, like moonlight seeping through windows and light splashing off of other things. The wind howls not because it's proper for the scene in mind, but because a foreboding mood helps the histrionics go down much easier. It's all lush in ways that Lang won't really return to for the rest of his career.

While the special features are few, this new Blu-ray of "House by the River" does come with a cool interview with producer and historian Pierre Rissient as he recalls the struggle of bringing the film to France during a retrospective of Lang's work in Paris. I recommend the release for those that are fans of Lang or gothic dramas but know that this isn't nearly the best work of the director or of the genre. Other special features include:

• Audio commentary by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

"House by the River"
Kino Lorber Blu-ray

Comments on Facebook