- The House of the Seven Gables review by Count Otto Black
Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel from which this film was adapted was once hugely popular (it was a major influence on the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft), but like this movie, it belongs to a more innocent age. If you're told that a movie involves a family cursed to die spitting blood because their ancestors caused the death of an innocent man by framing him for witchcraft, rivalry to the death between two estranged brothers over long-lost treasure connected with the curse, and Vincent Price is in it, you'll know what to expect. Except that in this case, you'd be dead wrong. Price was only 29 when he made this film, and not yet typecast as a horror actor, so he plays the kind of fellow who used to be described as "gay" before it came to mean something altogether different. And if you've seen a lot of Roger Corman movies, the sight of a carefree young Vincent playing the piano while singing a merry love-song is downright Surreal!
The rôle of his wicked brother who becomes insanely obsessed with the legendary treasure goes to George Sanders, an actor who in 1940 was much more familiar to the public as a suavely sinister villain than Price would be until over a decade later. Which is a pity, because Sanders is oddly subdued, as if he was only doing the movie because he was contractually obliged to and hated it, and he doesn't provide any truly memorable villainy. Price, on the other hand, gives a bravura performance, and is totally convincing, both as a happily extraverted young songwriter in love with the world in general and his fiancée in particular, and the sadder, wiser man events turn him into. Playing somebody who ages two decades over the course of the story is a real challenge, especially for an actor still in his twenties, but Price impersonates the middle-aged man he would later become for real to a degree that's downright uncanny.
Unfortunately, for unavoidable plot-related reasons, he's absent from a very large part of the film, meaning that Sanders doesn't really have anyone to exercise his villainy on properly, so he becomes largely superfluous and fades into the background until Price eventually reappears. The story mainly revolves around Margaret Lindsay's character, who is apparently doomed to a lonely life as an embittered old maid because of the evil brother's greed and treachery, so basically it's a tragedy about interrupted love in which Lindsay and Price tug on our heartstrings very effectively, but there's not much in the way of mystery or suspense, let alone horror, since the gothic elements of the source novel have been greatly watered down or omitted altogether, to the point where the elaborately cunning plan which eventually resolves everything happens almost entirely offscreen because the camera is far more interested in a couple of largely irrelevant young lovers. What we're left with is an old-fashioned and extremely melodramatic romance featuring a couple of excellent performances, but as gothic romances go, it's tame even compared with the novel it's based on, which was published in 1851.
The story was filmed again in 1963 as part of the anthology film "Twice-Told Tales", this time omitting everything in the book that isn't horrific and adding a great deal of extra nastiness, resulting in a tacky romp involving madness, murder, and homicidal skeletons, and making Vincent Price one of the few actors to have been in two completely different versions of the same movie.
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