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With: George Sanders, Margaret Lindsay, Vincent Price, Dick Foran, Nan Grey, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier, Gilbert Emery, Miles Mander, Charles Trowbridge
Written by: Lester Cole, Harold Greene, based on a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Directed by: Joe May
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 89
Date: 04/12/1940

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Gable Guy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The former German Expressionist filmmaker Joe May made this film in Hollywood the same year as his monster movie The Invisible Man Returns (1940) at the same studio. Based very loosely on Nathaniel Hawthorne's 19th century novel, The House of the Seven Gables manages to be a high-class movie, yet unafraid to wallow in the lower depths of human foibles.

Vincent Price plays Clifford Pyncheon, who lives in the title house — thought to be cursed — and practices for his budding career as a musician and hopes to marry his cousin, Hepzibah (Margaret Lindsay). His snaky younger brother, Jaffrey (George Sanders), a lawyer, returns home and is shocked to learn from their father, Gerald Pyncheon (Gilbert Emery), that the house must be sold due to crippling debts. But Jaffrey believes the old legend that there is a fortune hidden somewhere in the house, and balks at the idea. Later, during an argument, Gerald dies and Jaffrey blames Clifford for the death. Clifford goes to prison, and Jaffrey is mortified to learn that his father has willed the house to Hepzibah. Eenraged at Jaffrey, Hepzibah kicks him out and shuts the house up tight.

Twenty years later, a border called Matthew Holgrave (Dick Foran) comes to stay, as does a beautiful, young relative, Phoebe (Nan Grey), not long before Clifford is finally released from prison. Jaffrey plots once again to get the hidden treasure in the house, but Clifford has launched a plan of his own. Amongst all this scheming, there's even a subplot about an abolitionist group that ties directly into Jaffrey's treachery and villainy.

May's morbidly rich, black-and-white cinematography beautifully captures the dark, grim interiors of the house, but also knows when to open up into bright, exterior gardens when things are looking up again. Though ghosts are at the edges of the story, and though Price has one of the darkest and most commanding roles of his early years (he was usually a milquetoast), it's not exactly a horror movie. But it is about greed and evil, though, and the way that greedy and horrible men inevitably ascend to power, and it's about delicious revenge.

Kino Lorber's 2019 Blu-ray edition looks crisp and sharp, with Frank Skinner's Oscar-nominated score sounding fantastic. It comes with a commentary track by Troy Howarth and a batch of trailers. Weirdly, Price later appeared in another version of the story, a very different one, in one of the segments of the anthology horror movie Twice-Told Tales (1963).

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