House by the River (Fritz Lang / U.S., 1950):

The final image may scatter across the floor the pages of a manuscript titled The River, but nobody will mistake it for the Rumer Godden novel Renoir would adapt the following year -- to Renoir the tide gives the forward-push of life, to Fritz Lang it circles the characters' subconscious until the insidious desires belly up. The setting is shoestring Victoriana, with the sojourn at paltry Republic Pictures both heightening the director's frustrations (a theme of miscegenation was summarily vetoed) and freeing his obsessions: the budget is thrifty, but all Lang needs is a light being turned on, bathtub water draining through a pipe, and Louis Hayward's leer for an analysis of chaos waiting to erupt. Hayward, a frustrated novelist, sits in a gazebo and gazes at a bovine carcass floating in the river, then at the young maid (Dorothy Patrick) ambling down the staircase in a bathrobe; she refuses his advances, he grabs her throat to stifle her screams, her body drops lifelessly moments before Hayward's brother (Lee Bowman) pops up unannounced. Bowman turns reluctant accomplice, the body's bagged up and deposited in the waters; the woman's disappearance worries his wife (Jane Wyatt) and incriminates his brother, yet Hayward, energized by the killing, becomes delighted by the ghoulish resuscitation of his writing and sense of self. Bu˝uel's admiration for Lang is well-known, so Lang returns the favor at the beginning with an insectoid close-up crawling over a rejected novel, and throughout with offhand surrealism -- a fish leaps out of the water as the full moon is reflected on the murky river, a sight later on superimposed over the hand mirror resting on Wyatt's table. Tree trunks seem ghastly when you're looking for a corpse in the swamp, Patrick's blond tresses sway to the waves (cf. The Night of the Hunter) as the sack carrying her resumes its tell-tale cycle -- details from major work in a minor studio, severe visions of an universe where the justice denied in the courtroom of the one-eyed judge can be delivered in three minutes which contain virtually all of H. G. Clouzot. With Ann Shoemaker, Jody Gilbert, Howland Chamberlain, and Will Wright. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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