Mill Creek Musings: Guest in the House (1944)

Welcome to Mill Creek Musings, a segment in which I work my way through the three low-price Mill Creek film sets that I own, reviewing each film for content and quality along the way. Guest in the House marks my third viewing from the 50 Dark Crimes set. (I haven’t posted these in order, so you’ve already seen my thoughts on the first, second, fourth and fifth viewings.)

It’s a beautiful summer day, and the Proctor family is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Dr. Dan Proctor (Scott McKay) and his fiance Evelyn (Anne Baxter), who they will be meeting for the first time.

This should be a happy occasion, but what they don’t know is that Evelyn – who met the good doctor while being treated by him – will soon attempt to carry out a host of delusional plans to destruct the family.

Soon after her arrival at the home, Evelyn falls for Douglas Proctor (Ralph Bellamy), the brother of her fiance. Douglas – an artist – lives in the home with his wife, Ann (Ruth Warrick), his daughter (Connie Laird), his aunt Martha (Aline MacMahon), a maid named Hilda (Margaret Hamilton, who is neither wicked nor witchy here), a butler named John (Percy Kilbride) and his live-in model, Miriam (Marie McDonald).

Evelyn soon sends her own fiance away and does everything she can to sabotage both Douglas’ marriage and his work, targeting one resident of the home at a time, with the goal of eventually luring him into her trap and taking him for a husband.

John Brahm directs the sinister Hunt Stromberg Productions melodrama Guest in the House along with some uncredited assistance by Andre De Toth and Lewis Milestone. It is based on the play of the same title by Hagar Wilde and Dale Eunson. The film was later reissued under the title of Satan in Skirts.

Both the premise of this film and the cast hold great promise. Anne Baxter would later find fame as none other than the title character in 1950′s melodramatic Joseph L. Mankiewicz masterpiece All About Eve.

This film almost seems like preparation for her role as Eve Harrington. As Evelyn in this film, Baxter is maneuvering her way into the lives of others once again, but this time with the purpose of getting the man rather than getting the lead role. She gives a pretty great performance, allowing the viewer to feel both sympathy for and suspicion of her in the beginning, before her true personality and intentions become clear.

The performances aside from Baxter are a bit understated, which works because it gives the film an edge of realism. None of the characters are suspicious of Evelyn’s intentions throughout the majority of the film, and the fact that the actors portray the characters in such a level way makes this aspect of the film more believable than it would have been otherwise.

The mood of the film is also successfully built. It starts out calm and builds slowly as Evelyn’s manipulation becomes more and more apparent. A few unexpected twists throughout and a fantastic ending pick up the pace.

(Image credit: Film Reference)

The slow build keeps the level of tension high without going over the top, and doesn’t move so slowly that it ever becomes dull either. It’s certainly more of a melodrama than a film noir or crime thriller, but it’s a solid melodrama and doesn’t fall too far short of the premise’s potential.

In terms of DVD quality, this is one of the better prints I’ve seen in a Mill Creek set. The sound is quite clear, and black and white print still has beautiful contrast despite its age and lack of preservation. There is a bit of grain/choppiness, but not enough to distract the viewer, and the film is quite beautifully shot. (Major props to director of photography Lee Garmes on making this melodrama look so nice.)

Guest in the House is a pretty good forgotten melodrama that is well worth a watch, especially for a look at Anne Baxter in a very calculating pre-Eve role. The film also solves one of Hollywood’s greatest mysteries: why doesn’t Bellamy ever get the girl? Because when he gets one, he gets them all – including the obsessive mental patients. The score: 4/5

(Guest in the House is in the public domain. Watch it for free at the Internet Archive!)

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3 thoughts on “Mill Creek Musings: Guest in the House (1944)

  1. Thanks for writing about this one; it seems like it’s definitely worth a look. Plus, Anne Baxter, Ralph Bellamy, Aline MacMahon, and Margaret Hamilton? Movies like this are why I love the Internet Archive.

    • It’s a really great cast! I also love the Internet Archive for this reason (and the Mill Creek sets, since my laptop is slightly dysfunctional and not always suited for online viewing haha) – so many forgotten gems.

  2. Pingback: What to Watch #8: March 27 – April 2 | the motion pictures

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