Guest in the House (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 4, Number 1, February 1974
- pp. 11-12
- View Citation
- Additional Information
possibility ofmaking such film programs available for members in other carts of the country as well. FILM REVIEWS The editors welcome all contributions to thefilm review section. Reviews ofall kinds of films (newsreel & documentaryfilms, educationalfilms, "experimental"films, Theatricalfeaturefilms, etc.) are invited From time to time reviewers may be assigned to newfilms releasedfor commercial distribution according to theirparticular area Oh interest, but all readers shouldfeelfree to contribute reviews ofanyfilms theyfeel to be important. In recognition ofthe trend toward the use offeature lengthfilms in history classrooms, we will be including reviews offeaturefilms that are available on the school rental along with other "Films ofthe Classroom " We lookforward to sharingyour reviews with 0 our other readers. Eds. Films for the classroom Guest in the House (1944) 121 minutes. Like many Hollywood films (including overtly "Historical" ones), Guest in the House seems to go its way unmindful ofany historical reality whatsoever. One notices first and foremost, the chilling sensuality ofAnne Baxter; next, perhaps, cinematographer Lee Garmes' prodigiously inventive lighting. The film's main aesthetic distinction resides in Garnies transformation of a shlocky middle-class neo-realist play into an eye-popping tour de force of light and shadow. But underneath the surface technical finish and affective immediacy of such films, one can often find bristling ant-nests of social and historical implications. All films are ultimately about something that interests and/or bothers the culture they grow out of. Issues and problems are often buried beneath the whims, conventions, and fantasies ofan industry more in touch with its own insular, neurotic psychology than with any palpable facts ofcontemporary life. Students of history, however, have an obligation to undertake an archeology ofthe "entertainment" cinema. Whole areas ofAmerican film too heedlessly dismissed as trivial need to be mined for meaning. It is obvious, for example, that no Western is really about the West (only superficially so); it always refers to the present, its preoccupations being disguised reflections ofits creators' and audiences' conscious or subconscious attitudes and feelings about living during a particular time in history. Guest in the House is a Gothic-inflected example ofa common theme: the invasion ofa smoothly functioning American family by a dangerous outsider, in this case a mentally unstable, beautiful temptress who creates chaos by her hungry, calculating schemes to gain the husband's love (and property). It was made in 1 944, and its emphasis on female erotic evil and consequent male "distractedness" is probably a sign ofthe society's concern about the many women left unattended by their men during war. But attention to the family per se provides the most pro ductive line of inquiry. The evil is finally driven out, but the test and the near-catastrophe the family endures is significant. Typical in such films, the pressure ofthe situation locates problems and releases emotions the family has been hiding from itself, and it is by facing these disturbances that a less precarious happiness is at last secured. In retrospect, the family seems (prior to the 11 invasion), to have been complacent, guilt-ridden, and unnaturally isolated from the instabilities that plague the world outside it. It deserves to be visited by disaster; the experience jars the family from a spurious and mechanical contentment The House of Proctor (replete with craggy shoreline, pounding surf, and the eternally circling vigilance ofa lighthouse beam—land's end! has two able bodied men (a doctor and an artist) who betray no awareness, of a war going on at all. Both are self-deluding and basically unhappy. The wife's relationship with her husband rapidly deteriorates as he moves from a drunken binge with his model to a crazy absorption in Anne Baxter is (the intruder) as a living embodiment of Saint Cecilia, inspiration for his long-overdue masterpiece — all the while completely oblivious to his wife's reluctance to relish his male prerogative. When he, acting "injured", accuses her ofmisplaced suspicions, it shows us how tenuous any prior understanding between them must have been. The ease and laughter, the big warm bustling house, the pair ofloyal servants, the economic security (where do they get their money?), the proper degree of solicitousness born ofunquestioned love, is the American dream/myth ofwhat...