HOUSE BY THE RIVER. Republic Pictures, 1950. Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman, Jane Wyatt, Dorothy Patrick, Ann Shoemaker, Jody Gilbert. Based on the book by A. P. Herbert (Methuen, UK, 1920; Knopf, US, 1921). Director: Fritz Lang.

   House by the River is a prime example of a Victorian melodrama and/or Gothic noir. It has its flaws, but with an outstanding cast and Fritz Lang at the helm, it overcomes its lack of a substantial budget to become a movie that more than holds its own today. (Maybe even more so. Bosley Crowther of the The New York Times panned it, quite oblivious to what most moviegoers see in it today.)

   I do not know much about Fritz Lang’s career, and why he was working for the less than stellar Republic Pictures at the time (1950), but the moody atmosphere of death by misfortune (“accidental” strangulation) of a young housemaid by her employer (Louis Hayward) when she refuses his advances — and the aftermath — is remarkably well done, especially the scenes in which Hayward is frantically looking up and down the river in a small rowboat for the wood kindling bag in which he and his partially lame brother (Lee Bowman) disposed of her body makes this, in my opinion, a must-see for any devoted fan of film noir.

   Whew. Let me take a breath. I didn’t realize that that came out as one long sentence until just now. Louis Hayward at first plays his character, a mostly failed writer, as an urbane cad, and gradually works his way up (or down) to showing his true colors as an unmitigated cad. Lee Bowman had been forced into aiding and abetting him for the sake of Hayward’s wife (Jane Wyatt), only to find most of the suspicion of the crime falling on him.

   That’s the story. You can imagine what happens from this point on, or if not, the movie itself is easily available. Do watch it. I couldn’t give it an “A,” I don’t think, but it’s far better than average.