The House of the Seven Gables (film)

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The House of the Seven Gables
The House of the Seven Gables FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Joe May
Produced by Burt Kelly (assoc. producer)
Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne (novel)
Lester Cole
Harold Greene (adaptation)
Starring George Sanders
Margaret Lindsay
Vincent Price
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • February 29, 1940 (1940-02-29) (United States)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $178,000[1]

The House of the Seven Gables is a 1940 drama film based on the novel of the same name by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It stars George Sanders, Margaret Lindsay, and Vincent Price.

Plot synopsis[edit]

The plot of the film differs dramatically from the plot of the novel on which it is based.

The film opens with the camera focused on a book. As the pages of the book are turned, the audience learns the story of the Pyncheon family. Colonel Jaffrey Pyncheon, a family ancestor, accused a poor carpenter, Matthew Maule, of witchcraft. Maule was hanged. Pycnheon took his land and built the luxurious Pyncheon home on it. But Maule cursed the Pyncheons, and the colonel soon died. The family has lived during the next 160 years desperately afraid of the "Maule curse".

Jaffrey Pyncheon (George Sanders) is a judge just embarking on his career. His elder brother, Clifford (Vincent Price), lives at home with their father, Gerald Pyncheon (Gilbert Emery). Jaffrey is obsessed with legends that say a vast sum of money is hidden in the Pyncheon house. Jaffrey is summoned to his father's home when Clifford informs him that the house is to be sold to pay his father's debts. Jaffrey, terrified at losing the lost treasure, pries up floorboards and searches in the walls at night for the lost gold. Clifford, however, doesn't believe the family stories. He wants to marry his cousin, Hepzibah Pyncheon (Margaret Lindsay), sell the house, and move to New York City.

When Gerald decides not to sell the house after all, Clifford and his father argue violently. Gerald dies of a heart attack, and strikes his head as he falls. Jaffrey, knowing Clifford is innocent, nonetheless accuses him of murder. Clifford is convicted and imprisoned. Gerald's will gives all three children sizeable yearly incomes, but leaves the house to Hepzibah. Hepzibah throws Jaffrey out of the house and seals all the doors and windows so that no light can be admitted. Over the next two decades, she rarely leaves her home.

In 1841, Clifford is given a new cellmate, who identifies himself as Matthew Maule (Dick Foran). He and Clifford becomes close friends. Maule is shortly released, and takes the name "Holgrave." An abolitionist, he rents a room from Hepzibah Pyncheon. Shortly thereafter, a distant cousin dies and Hepzibah takes in the cousin's daughter, Phoebe Pyncheon (Nan Grey). Desperate for money, Hepzibah opens a small shop in a room of her home. With the beautiful, vivacious Phoebe running the shop, it is a success and earns her much money.

The governor releases Clifford from prison, who returns to the Pyncheon house. "Holgrave" spreads rumors about town that Clifford has been poring over old documents, has found a secret stairway in the house, and is tearing up the Pyncheon home in search of the long-lost treasure. Jaffrey has invested money from wealthy abolitionists in risky investments involving the slave trade. Realizing he might be able to seize control of the house, Jaffrey uses these rumors to accuse Clifford of insanity. Jaffrey visits the house, and hears banging — which he assumes is Clifford searching for the gold. Jaffrey leaves, triumphant. Hepzibah discovers that Holgrave is making these noises, and evicts him from the house despite the protests of Phoebe (who is in love with him). A worried Hepzibah then searches Holgrave's room and discovers he is really Matthew Maule. She warns Clifford, who admits that he has known all along who Holgrave is and that Holgrave is part of his plan to clear his name.

Jaffrey visits the house and tells Clifford that he intends to have him committed. Clifford responds by asking Jaffrey to sign a document that clears Clifford's name. Jaffrey refuses. Deacon Arnold Foster (Miles Mander), who loaned Jaffrey the investment funds, arrives and demands the money back. Jaffrey refuses. The deacon goes into the hallway and commits suicide. Hepzibah accuses Jaffrey of murder. Panicking, Jaffrey signs the document and tells Clifford that he can have the lost treasure so long as Clifford does not accuse him of murder. Clifford admits that there is no hidden staircase and no gold. It's all been a trick on Jaffrey, played by Clifford and Matthew Maule.

Hearing the name of Maule, Jaffrey collapses dead. With Clifford's name cleared, he marries Hepzibah and Maule marries Phoebe. They restore the house, and put it up for sale.



  1. ^ Michael Brunas, John Brunas & Tom Weaver, Universal Horrors: The Studios Classic Films, 1931-46, McFarland, 1990 p220

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