In 17th century Salem, Massachusetts the diabolical Colonel Jaffrey Pyncheon devised a plan to take over the lands of Matthew Maule. He accuses the man of witchcraft. Maule is put to death as a witch; however, before he is hung he issues a curse on the Pyncheon family. Pyncheon builds a lavish home on the former Maule property. The house is referred to as the Seven Gables. Generations of Pyncheons live in the house for the next 160 years.
In the 19th century the current owner of the house is Gerald Pyncheon (Gilbert Emery) his two sons Jaffrey (George Sanders) and Clifford (Vincent Price) and a distant cousin Hepzibah (Margaret Lindsay). Clifford and Hepzibah are in love and plan to be married.
The family fortune has been squandered by Gerald and Jaffrey. Clifford, being the eldest son, decides that they must sell the house. Jaffrey believes that there is gold and a deed hidden somewhere in the house that will prove that the Pyncheon family owns a large portion of Maine from a land grant from King Charles II and doesn’t want to sell, neither does Gerald . Clifford and Gerald have a heated argument about selling the house. Gerald has an attack and falls hitting his head before he lands on the floor dead. Jaffrey accuses him of murder. Clifford is convicted and sent to prison for life. Before he is taken away he curses his brother reviving the Maule’s curse. In a bizarre twist the Pyncheon attorney, Philip Barton (Cecil Kellaway), informs Jaffrey and Hepzibah that to save the house from being taken by creditors Gerald transferred ownership of the house to Hepzibah before he died. Hepzibah tosses Jaffrey out on his ass.
Twenty years later Hepzibah is still living closed off in the house. With her is Phoebe Pyncheon (Nan Grey), a relative who, after her father passed away, has nowhere else to live. Also in the house is a boarder, Matthew Maule (Dick Foran). Matthew is an abolitionist who spent some time in prison with Clifford. He is using the name of Holgrave. When Clifford is released from prison he and Matthew work up a plan to prove Clifford is innocent of murder but for the time being they need to keep it from Hepzibah and Phoebe.
“The House of the Seven Gables” was released in 1940 and was directed by Joe May. It is basically a romantic thriller loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel. The Edison Studios 1910 version of the story is now considered a lost film.
The film is a sweeping gothic drama. It briefly starts out similarly to the book but the book has a multifaceted plot that the film doesn’t delve into as much. Hawthorne focuses on the decay of the family and its legacy whereas the movie on just the relationship between Jaffrey, Clifford and Hepzibah. In the book Hepzibah is Jaffrey and Clifford’s sister and not Clifford’s love interest. In the movie the relationship between Clifford and Hepzibah is the heart of the film.
Although Price and Sanders are great in their roles, the jewel of the movie is Margaret Lindsay as Hepzibah. Through the course of the film she goes from bright and vivacious young woman to somber and spiritless spinster. Not until naïve and bubbly Phoebe shows up does Hepzibah realize what she actually lost over the last 20 years. Lindsay is awesome in the role.
In 1668 in Salem, Massachusetts John Turner built a small house for him and his family. Known as the Turner house it was added on to over the generations until it became a mansion. During the Salem witch trials in 1692 a Turner ancestor built a hidden staircase along the fireplace in case the mania was directed to his sisters. Eventually the home was purchased by the Ingersoll family. Nathaniel Hawthorne use to visit the house to see Susannah Ingersoll. It is from his story, and rumors of paranormal activity in the home, where the house eventually became the House of the Seven Gables.