The House Across the Lake is a 1954 British/American film noir. It’s a Hammer Film Production, immediately prior to their change of focus to the gothic horror stories that became their staple.
Hack writer Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) finds himself living across the lake from beautiful socialite and temptress Carol Forrest (Hillary Brooke) and her sick and ailing husband Beverly (Sid James). Having struck up a friendship with Beverly, Mark is appalled to see that Carol flagrantly cheats on her husband with a string of men, and even more appalled to realise that he too is falling for her. But will she persuade him to commit murder?
Ken Hughes’ moody piece, filmed in black and white and set in the Lake District, is a largely successful stab at the film noir genre; although many plot strands are fairly predictable and have been used many times before and since. Yet a double twist at the climax gives the viewer a treat.
Hughes was the Liverpool-born writer/director who went on to be behind the camera for great movies including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Less successfully, he was also responsible for the humourless James Bond spoof Casino Royale (no, not that one) and Mae West’s final screen outing, the execrable Sextette. The House on the Lake is adapted from his own novel, and Hughes has a very competent handle on the story.
The House Across the Lake boasts cracking performances, and offers reminders of forgotten or overlooked stars. Thanks to his collaboration with Tony Hancock and his association with the Carry On franchise, Sid James remains a household name, but The House Across the Lake proves that he was a notable straight actor too. As the sick cuckolded husband, Sid James’ character is easily the most sympathetic, and he is instantly recognisable from the same weathered, leathery face that became synonymous with lowbrow bawdy comedy decades later.
As the femme fatale, Hillary Brooke is outstandingly good. The House Across the Lake came relatively late in her career, but Brooke uses her maturity to her advantage, and is all-too-credible as an ensnarer of rich men. Fellow American Alex Nicol, as the central character Mark Kendrick, does everything you need a leading man to do, and judging on his performance here, it’s a shame his star didn’t burn brighter.
Notable supporting actors include Joan Hickson, who went on to great fame as a television Miss Marple; and Susan Stephen, whom we recently reviewed in For Better, For Worse alongside Dirk Bogarde. Here, she takes on a small and fairly pointless part as the Forrests’ daughter, who establishes her opprobrium to her mother’s loose morals, and then promptly disappears from the picture.
Running to little over an hour, The House Across the Lake wastes no time, and pleasingly rattles along at a fair old pace. The dialogue is snappy, and enjoyably self-referential, since it’s narrated by a self-confessed hack writer. It’s not quite Raymond Chandler, but it’s an entertaining, well-played yarn with enough twists and turns to satisfy. An ideal Friday night chill out movie.
Extras are comprised of an image gallery and trailer.
The House Across the Lake is released as part of Network’s The British Film collection.
Cast: Alex Nicol, Hillary Brooke, Sidney James, Susan Stephen, Alan Wheatley Director: Ken Hughes Writer: Ken Hughes Released By: Network Certificate: PG Duration: 66 mins Release Date: 18th August 2014