House by the River
|House by the River|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Fritz Lang|
|Produced by||Howard Welsch|
|Screenplay by||Mel Dinelli|
|Based on||the novel The House by the River|
by A. P. Herbert
|Music by||George Antheil|
|Cinematography||Edward J. Cronjager|
|Color process||Black and white|
Fidelity Pictures Corporation
|Distributed by||Republic Pictures|
A rich novelist, Stephen Byrne, who lives and works by a river, accidentally kills his attractive maid after she begins screaming when he makes a drunken pass. The writer manipulates his brother, John, who is physically impaired with a limp, to help him dispose of the body. Making use of a sack, which is shared between the two men's households for loading and transporting firewood, they stuff the maid inside and dump her into the river. Days later, the sack and body float up and past Stephen's house. He goes onto the water and desperately tries to retrieve it, but fails. The police recover the bundle and, because John's initials have been stenciled on the sack, it is all traceable to him.
An inquest is held and, to Stephen's great pleasure, a cloud of suspicion hangs over John, who is tortured by his role in the situation and contemplates suicide. He and Stephen's wife, Marjorie, harbor feelings for each other. Stephen, meanwhile, has used the maid's disappearance and death as publicity for his books. Looking to reap great financial gain, he begins writing a novel specifically about the crime; in it he implicates himself.
The circumstances are resolved after Stephen resorts to deliberate attempts at murder.
- Louis Hayward as Stephen Byrne
- Jane Wyatt as Marjorie Byrne
- Lee Bowman as John Byrne
- Dorothy Patrick as Emily Gaunt
- Ann Shoemaker as Mrs. Ambrose
- Jody Gilbert as Flora Bantam
- Peter Brocco as Harry – Coroner
- Howland Chamberlain as District Attorney
- Margaret Seddon as Mrs. Whittaker – Party Guest
- Sarah Padden as Mrs. Beach
- Kathleen Freeman as Effie Ferguson – Party Guest
- Will Wright as Inspector Sarten
- Leslie Kimmell as Mr. Gaunt
- Effie Laird as Mrs. Gaunt
Director Fritz Lang wanted to make the character of the murdered maid an African American woman, but the Hays Office was against it as sexual desire between Blacks and Whites was seen as problematic.
When the film was first released, film critic for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther, panned the film, writing, "... we fear that neither the enlightenment nor the excitement that a customer might expect in such a flickering melodrama is provided by this film ... the script by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by A. P. Herbert, is shy on genuine melodrama, it provides little in the way of suspense (since you know that the killer is bound to get his) and it comes to a weak and cheerless end. It seems that the killer is a novelist and unconsciously writes an exposure in his new book. This is about as measly a way to catch a man as we know."
More recently, film critic Tom Vick praised the film, writing, "Lang beautifully evokes the Victorian era with his customary attention to detail. Cinematographer Edward J. Cronjager's low-key lighting fills the Byrnes mansion with appropriately gloomy shadows, and the moonlit river scenes make it seem as if nature itself is offended by the crime. Avant-garde composer George Antheil's haunting score is the perfect accompaniment to this chilling and unconventional exercise in suspense."