When Poland is liberated, Karin (the former Victoria) writes a letter to “her” Aunt Sophie in the States. A few weeks later, she receives a telegram from a lawyer informing her that Aunt Sophie is dead. Five years pass before Karin can travel on her own to America. When she arrives in New York City, she demands custody of “her” nine-year-old son Christopher. She anticipates a legal battle, so she is surprised when the boy’s guardian, Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), decides to be reasonable.
A whirlwind courtship ensues, with Karin and Alan getting married within two weeks of their first meeting. All seems to be going well until the newlyweds arrive in San Francisco to live with Christopher in the family mansion on Telegraph Hill. Karin and young Christopher hit it off immediately, but Karin quickly senses that she is not welcomed by Margaret, the boy’s attractive governess. Furthermore, Alan has begun to act strangely towards her…and then there’s the old playhouse in the backyard where that explosion took place.
Daryl F. Zanuck “discovered” Valentina Cortese in Italy in the early 1950s (she was already appearing in films) and brought her to America in hopes of making her a star. She never connected with American audiences, though, and returned to Europe in 1955. She enjoyed a long acting career there, working with acclaimed directors such as Fellini, Antonioni, and Truffaut. Cortese earned an Oscar nomination in 1973 for Best Supporting Actress for Truffaut’s Day for Night; she lost in that category to Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express.
The ever-versatile Robert Wise directed The House on Telegraph Hill the same year he did The Day the Earth Stood Still. The former film isn’t a beloved classic like the latter one, but The House on Telegraph Hill hold ups nicely today and remains engrossing from start to finish. The title house, by the way, doesn’t really exist—but you can visit the top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.