AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The House on Telegraph Hill
Alternate Title: The Frightened Child
Director: Robert Wise (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1951
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 12 May 1951
Production Date:   6 Sep--13 Oct 1950; addl seq began 24 Oct 1950
Duration (in mins):   92-93
Duration (in feet):   8,357
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Richard Basehart (Alan Spender)  
    Valentina Cortesa (Victoria Kowelska)  
    William Lundigan (Major Marc Bennett)  
    Fay Baker (Margaret)  
    Gordon Gebert (Christopher)  
    Kei Thing Chung (Kei, houseboy)  
    Steve Geray (Dr. Burkhardt)  
    Herbert Butterfield (Joseph C. Callahan)  
    John Burton (Mr. Whitmore)  
    Katherine Meskill (Mrs. Whitmore)  
    Mario Siletti (Tony)  
    Charles Wagenheim (Man at accident)  
    David Clarke (Mechanic)  
    Tamara Schee (Maria)  
    Natasha Lytess (Karin Dernakova)  
    Ashmead Scott (Inspector Hardy)  
    Tom McDonough (Farrell)  
    Henry Rowland (Sergeant, interpreter)  
    Les O'Pace (UNRA sergeant)  
    Don Kohler (Chemist)  
    Harry Carter (Detective Ellis)  
    Spencer Chan (Chinese cook)  
    Mari Young (Chinese singer)  
    Jeffrey Sayre (Police stenographer)  
    Roger McGee (G.I.)  
    Eugene Porcheur (Polish man)  
    Florence Buzby    
    Glen Walters    
    Margaret Masters    
    Sonia Charsky    
    Eleanor Moore    
    Jeraldine Jordan    

Summary: The imposing Victorian house on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, where Victoria Kowelska once thought she would find peace, is now up for sale. Victoria remembers how her story began, eleven years earlier in 1939, when the German army left her home near Warsaw, Poland in ruins: Her husband died in the siege, and Vicky became one of thousands herded into concentration camps. At the camp at Belsen, Germany, Vicky becomes friends with another Pole, Karin Dernakova, a sickly, frail woman, who shares her life story with Vicky. Karin doubts that she will ever again see her son Christopher, whom she smuggled out of Poland to the United States just before the war began. After Vicky protects Karin from another prisoner's attempted theft, Karin invites her to San Francisco to live with her and Chris in the big house belonging to her aunt Sophie, a Polish noble who emigrated to the United States in 1904. Karin dies three days before the camp is liberated, however, and because Karin had not seen her aunt since she was a little girl, Vicky decides to impersonate her. At a displaced persons camp, Vicky sends a cable to Sophie, but receives a reply from Joseph C. Callahan, an attorney in New York, informing her that Sophie is dead. Although her hopes are diminished, Vicky perseveres, and in 1950 reaches New York on a United Nations refugee ship. At Callahan's office, she meets Alan Spender, a relative of Aunt Sophie by marriage, who adopted Chris after her death, believing that Chris's parents also had died. Callahan reveals that Sophie left her valuable estate to Chris, with Alan as guardian, and says he has doubts concerning Vicky's claim to be Karin. When Vicky vows to fight, Alan, admiring her resolve, invites her to dinner and during the next two weeks, woos her. Feeling that her best chance for safety is to be married to an American, Vicky accepts Alan's proposal and goes to San Francisco as his wife. Vicky soon suspects that something is wrong in the house, although she is comforted by the friendship of estate lawyer Marc Bennett, who recognizes Vicky as a refugee he questioned years earlier when he was in the army. While playing catch with Chris one day, Vicky discovers an abandoned, damaged playhouse. Vicky then searches for Margaret, Chris's governess, to ask about the playhouse and, not finding her in her room, is examining a locked album when Margaret enters. Margaret states that Aunt Sophie gave her the album and calls Vicky an intruder. Vicky gives Margaret notice to leave, but when Alan returns home, he refuses to fire her. At the playhouse, Vicky discovers an extremely dangerous hole in the floor leading to a steep drop to a street below. When Alan enters and chillingly questions her, she backs up in fear and falls through the hole, but he rescues her. Although he tries to comfort her, her suspicions about him increase. One day, as Vicky prepares to go out with Chris, Margaret stops them, saying that Chris has not cleaned his room. Vicky drives off by herself, and when she steps on the brake while on a steep hill, she discovers she cannot stop her car. Vicky barely manages to save herself, then calls Marc and tells him that Alan tried to kill her and Chris in order to get control of the estate. Marc doubts her, but promises to investigate, and after he confesses his love for her, she reveals her real identity. Having seen Belsen himself, Marc understands her attempt to seek a better life, but feels that her guilty conscience has led her to distort events into unwarranted suspicions about Alan. Later, while home alone, Vicky pries open the album in Margaret's room and finds Aunt Sophie's obituary, stating that her death occurred a few days after the date of the cable sent to her in 1945. Alan surprises her, and later that night, takes the phone off the hook in the library, then fixes a glass of orange juice for Vicky in the bedroom. When she starts to go to the library for a book, he goes instead, and upon returning, encourages her to drink the juice. When she says that earlier it tasted bitter, he pours himself a glass from the pitcher and drinks it, then says it tastes fine and she drinks hers. After Vicky accuses him of killing Aunt Sophie, in addition to trying to kill her and Chris, Alan reveals he has put a large dose of a sedative into her glass of juice. Aghast, Vicky informs Alan that he has drunk the contaminated juice himself, for when he left to get her book, she poured herself a different glass and poured the juice from the first glass back into the pitcher. Now sweating profusely, Alan tells Margaret that Vicky has poisoned him and asks her to call a doctor, explaining that the receiver in the library is off the hook. When Alan confesses to trying to kill Chris, but says he did it so they could be together again, Margaret, who loves the boy, informs him the line is dead. The police arrive and find Alan dead, and although Vicky tries to defend Margaret for not calling a doctor, the police take her away for questioning. Marc takes Vicky and Chris from the house to his mother's home, but before leaving, Vicky stands in front of Aunt Sophie's portrait. Marc asserts that Aunt Sophie would approve of her, and Vicky replies that all she can do is thank her for everything. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Robert Wise (Dir)
  Horace Hough (Asst dir)
  Anthony Jowitt (Dial dir)
Producer: Robert Bassler (Prod)
Writer: Elick Moll (Scr)
  Frank Partos (Scr)
  Robert Bassler (Contr wrt)
  Robert Wise (Contr wrt)
  Richard Murphy (Contr wrt)
Photography: Lucien Ballard (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler (Art dir)
  John De Cuir (Art dir)
Film Editor: Nick De Maggio (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
  Paul S. Fox (Set dec)
Costumes: Charles LeMaire (Ward dir)
  Renie (Cost des)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus dir)
  Sol Kaplan (Mus)
  Edward Powell (Orch)
  Maurice de Packh (Orch)
Sound: George Leverett (Sd)
  Harry M. Leonard (Sd)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Spec photog eff)
Make Up: Ben Nye (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Allan A. Buchkantz (Tech adv)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel The Frightened Child by Dana Lyon (New York, 1948).
Authors: Dana Lyon

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 12/5/1951 dd/mm/yyyy LP1101

PCA NO: 14810
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Melodrama
Sub-Genre: Suspense
Subjects (Major): Attempted murder
  Impersonation and imposture
  Marriage of convenience
  Polish Americans
  War refugees
Subjects (Minor): Aunts
  Automobile accidents
  Bergen-Belsen (Germany: Concentration camps)
  Chinese Americans
  Class distinction
  Dismissal (Employment)
  Falls from heights
  Officers (Military)
  Police inspectors
  Portraits (Paintings)
  Wards and guardians
  World War II

Note: The working title of this film was The Frightened Child . Dana Lyon's novel was purchased in Mar 1948 by Twentieth Century-Fox, prior to its serialization in Harper's Magazine in Apr 1948, and, according to a Mar 1948 LAT news item, was assigned to producer Walter Morosco. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, writers David Hertz, Irmgard Von Cube, Allen Vincent, Robert Hill and Karl Kamb worked on the screenplay before Elick Moll and Frank Partos, who receive onscreen credit. It does not appear, however, that these writers contributed to the final film. According to contemporary sources, some filming was done at various locations in San Francisco, and the studio's art department converted the Julius' Castle Restaurant, a well-known San Francisco landmark, and its adjoining property into the exterior of the house used in the film.
       Footage of displaced persons boarding an International Refugee Organization ship was included in the film at the request of the United Nations as a public service for "making the world conscious of the United Nations and its activities," according to a letter in the studio files. The film received an Academy Award nomination in the Art Direction (Black-and-White) category. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   1 Jul 51   pp. 260-61, 274-75.
Box Office   17 Mar 1951.   
Cue   19 May 1951.   
Daily Variety   6 Mar 51   p. 3.
The Exhibitor   14 Mar 51   p. 308.
Film Daily   7 Mar 51   p. 4.
Harrison's Reports   10 Mar 51   p. 40.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Mar 48   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Aug 50   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Sep 50   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Oct 50   p. 11, 13
Hollywood Reporter   24 Oct 50   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Mar 51   p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner   9 Jun 1951.   
Los Angeles Times   26 Mar 1948.   
Los Angeles Times   9 Jun 1951.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   10 Mar 51   pp. 749-50.
Newsweek   28 May 1951.   
New York Times   14 May 51   p. 29.
Time   18 Jun 1951.   
Variety   7 Mar 51   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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