The House of the Seven Gables is Universal’s stab at adapting Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name. Joe May(The Invisible Man Returns) directs this classic tale of a cursed family, and although some of the relationships
are changed, it does still capture the spirit of its literary roots.
The film is set in the 1828, in New England. Back in the 17th century, an evil member of the Pyncheon family stole the home(The Seven Gables) from carpenter Matthew Maule, after he accuses him of practicing black magic. However, before Maule was executed, he put a curse on the property.
Fast forward to 1828 in Salem MA, and young lawyer Jaffray Pynchon(George Sanders) is upset that his financially strapped father, Gerald (Gilbert Emery) is planning to sell the house. When Gerald dies suddenly, Jaffray is angered when he finds out his brother(Clifford, played by the great Vincent Price) agreed with his father and also wants the house sold. With this anger weighing heavy on him, Jaffray has his brother wrongly imprisoned for patricide.
Thinking he has the house all to himself, Jaffray has another shock, when it turns out his father secretly changed his will to leave the house to Hepzibah(the finance of his imprisoned brother). Once Jaffray is out of the way, she pays off all the family debts and lives miserably alone in the House.
From here, the film is filled with twists and turns, family arguments and plenty of family feuds, but i don't want to spoil it so ill leave it there!
The House of the Seven Gables is a solid, Universal film. Its not quite a “B-movie”, but at best its a low level feature. The cast is a good one, and every member of it impressed me. Vincent Price is obviously the most famous to the casual horror fan, however Price would not be typecast as a horror actor until the mid 50’s, a long time after his role here. George Sanders and Margaret Lindsay both ooze class and are very believable
German refugee Joe May’s direction is excellent in this film, and does a fantastic job of capturing the melodrama and backstabbing between the cursed family. He cant hide the films low budget though, and could have used some of the tricks his contemporaries perfected to make the film appear better funded than it actually was.
All in all, this film is a very good example of Universal’s horror of this time period. It should be shown to film makers of today as an example of how to build up tension without the use of bad special effects and cheap jump scenes. The classy acting and stylish cinematography(Milton Krasner gives some of the quieter scenes a visually elegant look), coupled with solid direction from May and you have a little gem in this movie!