House by the River (1950)

House by the River (1950) is a lousy husband historical 'accidental' murder body in the river sex pest film noir, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman and Jane Wyatt.

The lead character is a manipulative and power-crazed failing writer, who finds that the murder of his maid, and the publicity it gives him, has a huge effect on his writing career.

He of course next makes the mistake of writing out his murderous tale of inappropriate groping lust into a novel, but this is not his undoing.

His undoing is his guilt and his ineptitude at manipulating those around him, which he achieves through a mixture of anger, belligerence and snobbish posturing as he bullies his rather weak brother into greater complicity in the crime.

A plain story, House by the River (1950) is not a multi-dimensional film noir, but a standard and well worked tale of a trajectory towards a gothic and bizarre doom.

House by the River (1950)

Such a character as villainously vain and lousy writer Stephen Byrne does deserve a ghostly and gothic death, which occurs in a rather strange manner but at least wraps up the terror without the police or any other individual — with the possible exception of his lovely, long-suffering and innocent wife, played by Jane Wyatt — having to solve the case.

Star of the film is the old dark house in which most of it is set, which has an ominous aspect which matches the grotesque overtones which hit the viewer from the off  when author Stephen and his next-door neighbour, Mrs. Ambrose (played by Ann Shoemaker), see the carcass of a dead cow float past their lovely waterfront homes. 

Of course this is a sign that the body that lousy murderer Stephen is going to dump in the same river is going to return as well, which of course it does, tied up in a large bag which later becomes a key piece of evidence, musty discussed in the pedestrian court proceedings of the later movie. 

Just after the floating carcass, a large black beetle lands on Stephen's writing paper, and it's curious to see that he takes more care to preserve it and care for it, than he does with the life of the maid who later  rejects his drunken gropes and forced snoggings.

Louis Hayward as sex-pest with Dorothy Patrick in House by the River (1950)

The tense moody and slightly deranged atmosphere are of course all managed well by Fritz Lang, who does very well with the low budget that was usually a part of the Republic Pictures package.  

It seems like Fritz Lang had a lifelong interest in mass media, and this is even evident in House by the River (1950). In terms of book publishing we see the creation of book manuscripts, in the style presumably of the era in which the story was set — as the book from which the movie was adapted was published in 1921, we can maybe assume this story is situated around 1920, thirty years previous to the film.  

#metoo moment in Fritz Lang's House by the River (1950)

We see the life of this rather unsuccessful author as his manuscript is created, sent to publishers, and returned. We also see newspapers used to promote book sales, as well as books promoted by a shop window display — shop window displays seem to feature in many Lang films.

The focus on the book business in House by the River (1950) seems to have a comic tone. We see the author with his admirers and it seems a stuffy, unpleasant and utterly false and grotesquely bourgeois setting.

There are also early telephones and a phonograph features at one point — complete with a cat on a fat cushion next to it. 

Lee Bowman in House by the River (1950)

House by the River is in a fine and vibrant tradition of film noir in which a person innocently involved in a killing hides the evidence only to find themselves the focus of a close investigation, with evidence mounting as their guilt seems to be about to be revealed.

There is a difference insofar as the killer novelist in this movie is far from innocent. It is true that he maybe did not intend to kill, but this is not certain. What is for sure is that he is thoroughly bad to the bone, and was committing violent and sexually abusive acts as he committed this murder.

What is an enjoyable noirish surprise in House by the River is that the killer seems to thrive as a newly christened murderer. Most noir protagonists cave in or react in terror as the police close in, but the killer here is unique in actually benefiting from and enjoying the aftermath of the killing. 

House by the River (1950)

One of the more seductive aspects about the film noir canon is that noir is the home of all the greatest villains of the 1940s, and 1950s. Louis Hayward's failed novelist character is despicable to the depths and lies and defames, and keeps hi blood cold right until his own vicious end. He falsely accuses his brother and is happy to see him suffer for a crime he didn't commit. 

Lee Bowman in House by the River (1950)

And it gets worse. As bad boys of noir go, Louis Hayward in House by the River (1950) is not often given a place of shame in the hall of fame, or walls of infamy — whatever passes for the roster of evil in the ultimate noir reckoning.

He's a deranged writer, and he assaults is maid in a desperate grab for sex, and she is of course terrified and having none of it. So he murders her and enlists his brother to conceal the crime, and when his brother becomes the chief suspect in the murder, he steps back and lets that happen.

Lee Bowman and Louis Hayward in House by the River (1950)

The ending is fairly conventional despite this wickedness and is over far too quickly. It's a gothic and unusual ending it has to be said, and of course it ties up things in a moralistic manner — even nodding into commerciality. For such a dark story this is a shame, for such a tale of moral degeneracy to wind up so quickly — it winds up in a mysterious curtain — a curtain which is seen flapping suggestively throughout the picture.

Louis Hayward in House by the River (1950)

The gothic and eerie house in which House by the River is set is something of a star in this picture — with the star of the house being the stairs. The stairs dominate the movie, and are in fact where many of the important scenes — including two deaths — take place. The stairs, the uncertain transitional area between the upstairs complex and the rest of the house — are where the characters transition between life and death.

The staircase as film noir setting in House by the River (1950)

It's impossible to count how many great scenes take place on stairs in so many great movies — although Psycho (1960), Kiss of Death (1947), Vertigo (1958) and The Spiral Staircase (1946) spring to mind for fans of noir. 

House by the River begins with the imagery of some oncoming waves on a river, very like the rippling waves that open the dream in Lang's previous work, Secret Beyond the Door. There is plenty river imagery throughout, perhaps in line with the shots of the sea in Clash by Night (1952). A couple of scenes in the film show the desperate failed novelist anti-hero searching the reeds for the body of his victim. 

Louis Hayward in House by the River (1950)

Echoing this, the water from the bathroom is heard flowing down pipes outside the house at the start, a remarkable and unusual idea. 

Throughout House by the River, the camera often shows one room from another, or a character at the end of a corridor, or connecting space. The sets are constructed in an particularly creative manner, so much so that so that viewers are able to see from the garden into the inside the house, as one example.

Disposing of the body Lee Bowan and Louis Hayward in House by the River (1950)

This view also often contains the staircase where the murder took place, and as in the best creepy murder movies, this is a visual reminder of guilt and justice. The huge empty wall space above the staircase looks ominous and imposing too, but it is going to be the scene of something far more dramatic by the conclusion.

Jane Wyatt in House by the River (1950)

The writer's upstairs study is also seen at the end of an interior corridor leading from his wife's bedroom and there are several tunnel-like effects, with a door nested within another door, in House by the River.

Corridor of supernatural power? House by the River (1950) by Fritz Lang

It's a reminder of the slightly strange title of the fil, a reminder that the house is very much the subject of the drama, more so perhaps than the characters who find themselves within and without it.

But all the creepiness of both the house and the river come into play, and so while the title is not suggestive of the debased nature of the crimes being committed, the two main players in providing all the atmosphere — the house and the river — are both namechecked in the title.

At the end of the courtroom scene, there is a similar shot in which we see the courtroom from the corridor outside, with the courtroom being staged so that it is a symmetric vision with twin doors opening on to a central aisle of the courtroom — a panorama which is certainly suggestive of social power in the hands of the law.

Louis Hayward in House by the River (1950)

There are courtroom scenes also, but these are much less intimidating than in later Lang films, and than film noir courtroom scenes in general —  compare it to the courtroom drama in Fritz Lang's later such as Human Desire (1953). The police are also more clueless, than in other Lang works. Lang keeps showing the jurors' seats in the courtroom, but they are empty for this inquest.

Louis Hayward in House by the River (1950)

House By The River (1950) on Wikipedia

Lee Bowman — vengeance from the waters in House by the River (1950)

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