Noir Nook: Five Things You Need to Know About Guest in the House (1944)
Guest in the House (1944) is a little-known noir starring Anne Baxter as Evelyn Heath, who has been in the hospital due to a heart ailment and, upon her release, goes to stay with the family of her doctor-fiancé, Dan. Although she appears, upon first glance, to be a sweet, guileless sort, she’s actually a she-wolf in sheep’s clothing and, once she’s settled into her fiancé’s home, proceeds to use her sociopathic wiles to wreak havoc throughout the household. In addition to Baxter, the film’s cast includes Ralph Bellamy, Ruth Warrick, Aline MacMahon, and Margaret Hamilton.
In celebration of the upcoming Halloween holiday season, this month’s Noir Nook serves up five things you need to know about this creepy, atmospheric, and slightly off-the-rails noir. (Full disclosure: Guest in the House is one of my “guilty pleasures” – I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as a classic, but I get a kick out of it all the same.)
ONE: The film’s original director was Lewis Milestone, who had previously helmed such well-received features as All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Front Page (1931), and Of Mice and Men (1939). Just a month into shooting, Milestone suffered an attack of appendicitis and collapsed on the set. He was replaced by John Brahm, who reshot some of the early scenes.
TWO: Evelyn’s fiancé in the film was played by Scott McKay, in his second big-screen performance. McKay, who also played roles in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and Duel in the Sun (1946), spent most of his career on the small screen. He was the widower of actress Ann Sheridan – the couple married in June 1966; Sheridan died of esophageal cancer less than a year later, in January 1967, at the age of 51.
THREE: Guest in the House was re-released in theaters as Satan in Skirts.
FOUR: Guest in the House and Satan in Skirts had several – shall we say – tantalizing taglines to attract moviegoers. Here’s my favorite: “No girl has ever been called more names! That’s Evelyn . . . the guest . . . who manages to throw her pretty shadow around where any man near must see it — and when it comes to a man she grants no rights to anyone but herself!”
FIVE: I don’t often agree with Bosley Crowther, the famously acerbic critic for the New York Times, but his take on this film was pure gold: “A more cracked and incredible tale than this quaint one of a mischief-making female has not lately disturbed the screen. As a play by Hagar Wilde and Dale Eunson, it had a moderate run, we understand, but as a film, it is openly in peril of being laughed into a quick decline. The fault is as much in the story as it is in the handling by all concerned, for the story is cheaply synthetic and about as logical as a crooner’s song . . . Nor is any help rendered by Anne Baxter, who plays the wrecker with so much coyness that anyone, shy of a blind man, could see that she was up to tricks. And Ralph Bellamy is equally ridiculous as a middle-aged Byronic beau who tries to be boyish and amorous and also solemn and wise. Miss MacMahon remains in the background, which is a happy place for one in this film, while Ruth Warwick, Scott McKay, and Jerome Cowan get entwined with the torturings upfront. Mr. Stromberg is an eminent producer, but his grip certainly slipped on this job.”
If you’ve never seen this gem, it’s available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube. Check it out, some snowy night by the fire. But check your expectations at the door and get ready for a wild ride!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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