VOD film review: House by the River
Ivan Radford | On 29, Nov 2020
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman, Jane Wyatt
Watch House by the River online in the UK: Amazon Prime
If you’re looking for a film to demonstrate the influence German expressionist cinema had upon film noir, look no further than House by the River, which sees Fritz Lang bring all his cinematic style to bear upon a deliciously dark film noir. Following in the footsteps of his proto-noir thriller M and FW Murnau’s Sunrise, House by the River follows a married novelist, Stephen, who is drawn to his household maid, Emily.
But where you might expect a femme fatale scenario to unfold, Mel Dinelli’s script – based on the novel by AP Herbert – pulls a twist and sees Emily reject his advances. In the ensuing struggle, Stephen tries to keep Emily quiet so the neighbour doesn’t hear, but he unwittingly kills her – just as his brother, John, walks in.
John, we swiftly discover, is the cooler of the two siblings, stable, sensible and often bailing his younger, immature and irresponsible brother out of trouble – despite the fact that he has a thing for Stephen’s wife, Marjorie. Helping Stephen to hide the body in the river, we’re left with a set-up to die for; Louis Hayward brings an almost sympathetic edge to Stephen, despite the fact that his self-preservation instincts make him a cruel, callous and selfish figure. Lee Bowman’s John is a more likeable but tragic presence, as he learns that he’s also a pawn in Stephen’s manipulative plotting.
Lang emphasises Stephen’s inner torment and guilt through some wonderfully evocative optical effects, while never letting the moral ambiguities of this intriguing characters save them from the looming sense of fate. But this is no straight-forward tale: the result is a brilliantly simple but twisting crime drama, which gives us an homme fatale rather than a femme fatale, hiding in gloomy shadows and framed by unblinking moonlight. A chilling tale dripping with atmosphere.
House by the River is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.