House by the River (1950): Fritz Lang’s Crime Noir

Fritz Lang directed House by the Riverand, a crime noir starring Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman and Jane Wyatt.

Stephen Byrne (Louis Hayward), a rich novelist living by a river, accidentally kills his maid, while making a drunken pass at her.  He then manipulates brother John, who is physically impaired with a limp, to help him dispose of the body.

Days later, the sack and body float up and past Stephen’s house. He goes onto the water and tries to retrieve it, but fails. The police recover the bundle, and John’s initials are stenciled on the sack.

During the inquest, John, a suspect, is tortured and contemplates suicide. He and Stephen’s wife, Marjorie, harbor feelings for each other.

Stephen is using the maid’s death as publicity for his books. Motivated by greed, he begins writing a novel about the crime, implicating himself in the process

Lang wanted to make the murdered maid an African American woman, but the Hays Office was against it as sexual desire between Blacks and Whites was forbidden.

Lang evokes the Victorian era attention to detail. Cinematographer Edward J. Cronjager’s low-key lighting fills the Byrnes mansion with gloomy shadows.

Composer George Antheil’s haunting score is one of the film’s best elements.

But the script by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by A. P. Herbert, lacks genuine melodrama or suspense, since everything is disclosed in the first reel.

Louis Hayward as Stephen Byrne
Jane Wyatt as Marjorie Byrne
Lee Bowman as John Byrne
Dorothy Patrick as Emily Gaunt
Ann Shoemaker as Mrs. Ambrose
Jody Gilbert as Flora Bantam
Peter Brocco as Harry, the Coroner
Howland Chamberlain as District Attorney

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Howard Welsch
Screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on the novel The House by the River by A. P. Herbert
Music by George Antheil
CinematographyL Edward J. Cronjager
Edited by Arthur D. Hilton. Arthur Roberts
Production: Fidelity Pictures Corporation
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Release date: March 25, 1950
Running time: 88 minutes