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Kino on Video presents
House by the River (1949)

"When you're worried, darkness does something to you."
- Marjorie (Jane Wyatt)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: November 20, 2005

Stars: Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman, Jane Wyatt, Dorothy Patrick
Director: Fritz Lang

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:24m:42s
Release Date: November 22, 2005
UPC: 738329041922
Genre: mystery

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I don't really think you can make a persuasive case that Fritz Lang's work in America rivals the films he made before he fled Germany—it may be apples and oranges, but this movie cannot rival M, for instance—but still, House By The River is stylishly made and full of juice, and was for too long a forgotten film, known if at all only by reputation. It's a pretty trashy soap opera of a movie, overheated and crammed with melodrama, the sort of picture that will have you cheering the hero and hissing the villain, and the absence of a handlebar mustache for the bad guy to twirl won't interfere with determining which way the moral compass points on this one.

The man of the eponymous house by the river is Stephen Byrne, a self-satisfied country squire whose financial independence allows him to do little more than write bad manuscripts (which are summarily rejected by publishers) and leer after the help. Stephen cannot keep his paws off of Emily, the Byrnes' new maid—she may be something of a tart, it's suggested, but she certainly doesn't deserve to suffer her unfortunate fate, for she is strangled to death by the master of the house when she rejects his advances. Having committed a murder seems to be a modest inconvenience for Stephen, who bullies his brother, John, into keeping his mouth shut and helping him get rid of the body—they dump poor Emily's remains in the river, and when, weeks later, the dastardly deed is discovered, Stephen is more than happy to fan the flames of suspicion that his brother, and not he, is the killer.

Those closest to Stephen know that he's a scoundrel—but other than his wife, Marjorie, and his brother, everyone in their small town are content to believe that it's John, with his brusque manner and disfiguring limp, who is the bad apple in the Byrne family. Stephen uses the publicity around the discovery of the dead body as a career move—he's finally stumbled into some decent material for his failed novels, and intends to make the most of it.

It's an entirely predictable though sturdily constructed movie; there's no moral complexity here, but it is rather a rip-snorting affair, even if it's got more than its share of absurd though necessary story elements. (There's much ado, for instance, about the circumstances around the theft of a canvas sack.) Louis Hayward is a perfect scoundrel as Stephenówere this a vaudeville, no doubt he'd be pelted with rotten fruit. Jane Wyatt puts in a nice turn as Marjorie, who seems to have married the wrong Byrne; Lee Bowman makes for a sturdy and unconventional hero. Particularly amusing is the deep codependency between John and his housekeeper, Miss Bantam, played by Jody Gilbert, who tries her best to exact her revenge for what she sees as her employer's many sins, ranging from not returning her affections to letting the roast dry out.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The movie looks pretty awful, unfortunately. The print is full of scratches, evidence of bacterial decay, and discolorations, and it appears as if nothing was done to make it look any better for this transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Things sound bad, too, with an abundance of hiss, crackle, and the persistent buzz of room tone. Technically, this is really rather an unpleasant DVD.

Audio Transfer Grade: D


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery
Extras Review: In a recent interview (07m:39s), Lang buff Pierre Rissient discusses digging up a print of this nearly forgotten film in a London warehouse—he's clearly got a passion for the chase, but is candid about Lang thinking that this project, made for cut-rate Republic Pictures, was a step down in class. Also on the disc is a photo gallery, with six publicity images from the film's original theatrical release.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A feisty, frequently overwrought but spirited melodrama from Fritz Lang. The technical values on the DVD are weak, but the brio of the filmmaking is consistent.


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