The House Across the Lake (1954) – Film Review

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Director: Ken Hughes
Cast: Alex Nicol, Hillary Brooke, Sid James
Certificate: PG

By Sarah Morgan

Isn’t it wonderful when you stumble upon a movie you’ve never seen or heard of before and it turns out to be a little gem?

house across the lake film review coverThat’s what happened when I sat down to watch The House Across the Lake, a largely forgotten B-picture made by Hammer Films back in the days when crime dramas were their forte before discovering how lucrative the horror genre could be.

“Sordid world”

It’s actually a taut film noir running only a smidge over an hour, but it really packs in the action – no second is wasted by director Ken Hughes, who also adapted the screenplay from his own novel High Wray.

The story takes place in the Lake District, although I suspect that apart from a handful of establishing shots, filming didn’t stray too far from Hammer’s then home at Bray Studios on the banks of the Thames near Windsor; I suspect some of the exteriors incorporate Down Place, the large house within the complex.

As was customary for many British films at the time, the cast is led by an American actor, Alex Nicol, who plays struggling novelist Mark Kendrick. He’s rented a remote cottage so that he won’t be distracted from his latest project, but is soon drawn into the sordid world of his nearest neighbours, the Forrests, who live in the titular abode.

Bev Forrest is a wealthy but sick man whose wife Carol flaunts her affairs in front of him. She decides to make Mark her latest conquest while also planning to rid herself of her husband.

If that all sounds quite familiar, chances are you’ve seen Double Indemnity and The Postman Rings Twice; The House Across the Lake is certainly along similar lines – all three feature a weak man taken in by a femme fatale who wants her other half out of the way.

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“Understated”

Although Hammer’s take on the theme is far more lowkey, it works perfectly well, thanks in no small part to two key performances. While Nicol is fine, his fellow American Hillary Brooke is ice cool as temptress Carol – and her English accent is so flawless, many will believe she’s from the Home Counties rather than New York.

However, it’s Sid James who really catches the eye as the unfortunate Bev, a character a world away from his later Carry On roles. James delivers a touching, understated performance that makes viewers aware of what a talented actor he really was, and how his career could have gone in a very different direction had he made different choices.

This top-notch thriller is also accompanied by some great special features, including an interview with continuity girl Renee Glynne who, sadly, passed away in April at the age of 95, and a look back at British film noir with genre expert Barry Forshaw.

Performances7
Direction8
Screenplay8
Cinematography8
Originality6
Extras8
SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Theatrical trailer
• Alternate Titles
• The House Across the Thames: interview with Continuity Supervisor Renee Glynne
• The Dame Wore Tweed: Barry Forshaw examines Brit Noir
• Scotland Yard: The Drayton Case
• Image gallery
• Limited edition booklet written by Neil Sinyard
The House Across the Lake is released on Blu-ray by Network, £17.99
7.5
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