Let’s be honest: The Man Who Never Was let me down in terms of noir-y elements. This edition of Blog Free or Die Hard is an attempt to find a better film noir as Christa and I agree the genre is pretty fab when done well. Melodrama, flawed/awful human beings, and old time-y swearing are crucial elements of a film noir. Did my pick deliver this time? Read my review or, better yet, Christa’s.
The House on Telegraph Hill
Where to Watch:
A Polish survivor of the Holocaust steals another woman’s identity in order to immigrate to the US. Complications arise in the form of the woman’s family members, the fate of a rather large inheritance, and serious bitch face.
The Uncondensed Version:
I was trying to figure out what nationality the lead actress was, and I finally just Googled it. Italian. She looks and sounds a bit like an Ingrid Bergman knock-off, honestly.
However, for the purposes of our film, our protagonist, Victoria, is a Polish Holocaust survivor. This film is approximately 800x darker than I expected it to be, even for a film noir.
After losing her home and husband in the war, Victoria is a refugee. The Americans want to help her return to Poland, but Victoria is quite resourceful. She has stolen the identity of Karin, a friend who died in the camps, and who happens to have wealthy family in San Francisco. Family = son who was sent away before the war for his safety + Aunt Sophie, matriarch of the family.
However, Aunt Sophie dies, leaving everything to Karin’s son. Victoria is quick to realize she stands to gain safety, an opulent lifestyle, and a damn nice house, if only she can put up with raising this admittedly quite irksome child as her own.
The pieces fall into place quite nicely when Chris’s guardian, Alan takes an interest in her. He is rather shadily only related to her through marriage, which makes it okay. From a legal standpoint, anyway.
After like 3 days, BOOM, Karin/Victoria and Alan are married. Karen finally gets to meet her son, Chris, for whom she demonstrates a healthy level of disdain. She obviously hates playing catch with Chris and looks so incredibly uncomfortable when he calls her mom.
I think this is actually a remarkably well thought-out plan, but remember how this is film noir? Shit’s about to go horribly, horribly wrong.
Karin, who is haunted by guilt, wakes up one night to find Alan having a heated argument with Margaret, the governess. Alan, obv, makes up some really unconvincing lie, so you know there’s way more to that story than you really want to know.
Karin and Alan have a party one evening, and who should arrive but Mark, an American major who helped Karin get to the US. Mark and Alan are the original frenemies and do this annoying territorial douchebag thing with Karin.
In an effort to bond with Chris, Karin brings him ice cream from the party even though he isn’t supposed to eat after 8:00. As soon as he utters these words, it’s like Margaret is magically summoned, and the two ladies have a fucking face-off over this ice cream. Ultimately, Margaret is the master of mind games and plays the trump card by allowing Chris to make his own decision.
Karin makes one last attempt to outmaneuver Margaret when she discovers there was an explosion in the playhouse years ago that could’ve killed Chris. Margaret apparently knew about this but kept the details to herself. Proving herself the queen of the disdainful Bette Davis bitch face, Margaret gives zero fucks when Karin fires her. The following day, Alan reinstates Margaret as governess.
After a confrontation with Alan about the explosion, Karin’s has a brush with death when someone cuts her brakes. She realizes Alan is trying to kill her and confides this in Mark. He actually sort of believes her, which leads to several tension-filled outings all 3 attend. Plus they start having an affair.
The rest of the film is ridiculously full of tension as certain facts come to light about the attempted murder of Karin as well as the death of Aunt Sophie.
I don’t want to completely ruin the ending because it’s so suspenseful and got really annoyed when I realized it was time for lunch and had to pause the film for approximately 3 minutes while I reheated a burrito. The end is quite like fucking Notorious but without the terrifying German mother-in-law: full of suspense and nasty things in drinks.
Suffice it to say everything comes to a rather dramatic conclusion and there’s a refreshing moment of female solidarity at the end.
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
I loved this one. It’s not necessarily a new favorite, but I’m so glad Christa and I experienced this one together. Margaret’s bitch face is something I will probably never master, but I will try damn hard to do so.
I wish there were way more film noir options on Netflix b/c this would be noir blog all day, every day.
Does Christa agree or will we have to wax our brows, apply some bright red lipstick, and stare each other down? Read her review here to find out!