In Poland, during World War II, Victoria Kowalska (Valentina Cortese) has lost her family and home. She is sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Her friend Karin Dernakova (Natasha Lytess) is there with her. Karin’s infant son Christopher (Gordon Gebert) was sent to San Francisco to live with her rich aunt Sophia before Poland fell. In the camp Victoria takes care of her friend. Just prior to the camp being liberated Karin dies. With no options available to her, Victoria decides to take her dead friend’s identity. Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan) interviews her and gets her assigned to a displaced persons camp. Now living as Karin, she writes to her aunt in San Francisco. She receives correspondence telling her that her aunt has died.
Eventually Karin immigrates to America. She goes to the attorney that sent her the communication concerning her aunt. At the attorney’s office she meets Alan Spender (Richard Basehart). Alan is Christopher’s guardian and manager of the child’s fortune until he comes of age. Alan wines and dines Karin. They get married and Alan brings her back to the estate in San Francisco on Telegraph Hill. Karin meets her supposed son and the woman who had been raising him, Margaret (Fay Baker). Immediately there is a clash between Karin and Margaret.
Marc appears at a party Alan is giving at the house. It appears that he was an old school friend of Alan’s, and his company manages the estate of the deceased Sophia. Marc appears to be both suspect of Karin’s true identity and romantically interested in her at the same time.
Soon after the tension between Margaret and Karin begins to boil. Karin is also suddenly the victim of accidents and near misses. Karin also begins to suspect that all is not right with her marriage. With a fortune up for grabs Karin is starting to suspect that not only is her life in jeopardy but her new son Christopher as well. In addition, the circumstances around Sophia’s demise are also questionable.
“The House of Telegraph Hill” was released in 1951 and was directed by Robert Wise. It is a suspense thriller and a film noir. It is based on the book “The Frightened Child” by Dana Lyon. Wise does an excellent job of maintaining suspense throughout the film. The movie itself is quite good. There is lots of tension and suspense not to mention a few twists and turns all the way to the end. A regular nail biter.
If you are only familiar with Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson on TV’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” then you are in for a treat. I’ve seen him in a couple dramatic roles and there is a quiet and sinister aura about him that is both compelling and frightening.
There are quite a few locations in the film of actual New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco sites, including a nice panorama view of San Francisco itself from Telegraph Hill. The house itself is actually the Julius Castle Restaurant. A façade was built around it to make it appear to be a stately mansion. Other sites in San Francisco are Speedy’s New Union Grocery on Union and Montgomery Streets, Larry’s Garage which was on Verdi Place off Montgomery between Broadway and Pacific, the Yacht Harbor and Harbor Master’s office in the West Harbor off Marina Blvd. and Marc’s office in the Crocker Flatiron Building on Post Street. Many other locations can be seen in various scenes throughout the movie. There’s nothing quite as scenic as San Francisco.
Richard Basehart and Valentina Cortese were married in real life from 1951 to 1960. They had one child.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Art Direction for a black and white film.