Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A cautionary tale about inviting strangers to stay over

Guest in the House (aka "Satan in Skirts") (1944)
Starring: Anne Baxter and Ralph Bellamy
Director: John Brahm
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Douglas (Bellamy) invites the ill fiance (Baxter) of his brother to spend the summer with him and his family at their house on the New England coast, so the fresh air and relaxation can speed her recovery. The twisted, mentally unstable woman is soon secretly manipulating everyone in the household, turning them against one another, all so she may possess the house and Douglas for herself.

"Guest in the House" is a slow-burn melodrama where the viewers watch one evil, mentally deranged woman gradually destroy the love between members of a happy home (where even the servants and employees are treated as though they are part of the family). Although some of her manipulations are so clumsy and should have been easy for the other characters to see through (and thus the believability of the story is strained a bit), it is engrossing to watch Baxter's character gradually poison the mood in the house and increasingly isolate Douglas from everyone else by sowing doubts and suspicion.

I did find myself wondering, however, if Anne Baxter had more than one facial expression and vocal intonation in her bag of acting tools. It seemed like she wore same expression for most of the film (except for the occasional smile) and it wasn't until the final scenes that she seemed to be doing anything but running lines.

Anne Baxter aside (and it's a big thing to set aside, as she's the film's co-star), the rest of the cast performed nicely. Bellamy seemed slightly miscast, but he played the part as the kindhearted, somewhat oblivious artist, husband, and father. The staging and lighting of the scenes was also nicely done. In fact, it's only the entirely too slow of the movie's first hour that lands the film at the low end of average as far as my rating goes.