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The House on Telegraph Hill

The House on Telegraph Hill(1951)


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Remind Me

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The imposing Victorian house on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, where Victoria Kowelska once thought she would find peace, is now up for sale. Victoria remembers how her story began, eleven years earlier in 1939, when the German army left her home near Warsaw, Poland in ruins: Her husband died in the siege, and Vicky became one of thousands herded into concentration camps. At the camp at Belsen, Germany, Vicky becomes friends with another Pole, Karin Dernakova, a sickly, frail woman, who shares her life story with Vicky. Karin doubts that she will ever again see her son Christopher, whom she smuggled out of Poland to the United States just before the war began. After Vicky protects Karin from another prisoner's attempted theft, Karin invites her to San Francisco to live with her and Chris in the big house belonging to her aunt Sophie, a Polish noble who emigrated to the United States in 1904. Karin dies three days before the camp is liberated, however, and because Karin had not seen her aunt since she was a little girl, Vicky decides to impersonate her. At a displaced persons camp, Vicky sends a cable to Sophie, but receives a reply from Joseph C. Callahan, an attorney in New York, informing her that Sophie is dead. Although her hopes are diminished, Vicky perseveres, and in 1950 reaches New York on a United Nations refugee ship. At Callahan's office, she meets Alan Spender, a relative of Aunt Sophie by marriage, who adopted Chris after her death, believing that Chris's parents also had died. Callahan reveals that Sophie left her valuable estate to Chris, with Alan as guardian, and says he has doubts concerning Vicky's claim to be Karin. When Vicky vows to fight, Alan, admiring her resolve, invites her to dinner and during the next two weeks, woos her. Feeling that her best chance for safety is to be married to an American, Vicky accepts Alan's proposal and goes to San Francisco as his wife. Vicky soon suspects that something is wrong in the house, although she is comforted by the friendship of estate lawyer Marc Bennett, who recognizes Vicky as a refugee he questioned years earlier when he was in the army. While playing catch with Chris one day, Vicky discovers an abandoned, damaged playhouse. Vicky then searches for Margaret, Chris's governess, to ask about the playhouse and, not finding her in her room, is examining a locked album when Margaret enters. Margaret states that Aunt Sophie gave her the album and calls Vicky an intruder. Vicky gives Margaret notice to leave, but when Alan returns home, he refuses to fire her. At the playhouse, Vicky discovers an extremely dangerous hole in the floor leading to a steep drop to a street below. When Alan enters and chillingly questions her, she backs up in fear and falls through the hole, but he rescues her. Although he tries to comfort her, her suspicions about him increase. One day, as Vicky prepares to go out with Chris, Margaret stops them, saying that Chris has not cleaned his room. Vicky drives off by herself, and when she steps on the brake while on a steep hill, she discovers she cannot stop her car. Vicky barely manages to save herself, then calls Marc and tells him that Alan tried to kill her and Chris in order to get control of the estate. Marc doubts her, but promises to investigate, and after he confesses his love for her, she reveals her real identity. Having seen Belsen himself, Marc understands her attempt to seek a better life, but feels that her guilty conscience has led her to distort events into unwarranted suspicions about Alan. Later, while home alone, Vicky pries open the album in Margaret's room and finds Aunt Sophie's obituary, stating that her death occurred a few days after the date of the cable sent to her in 1945. Alan surprises her, and later that night, takes the phone off the hook in the library, then fixes a glass of orange juice for Vicky in the bedroom. When she starts to go to the library for a book, he goes instead, and upon returning, encourages her to drink the juice. When she says that earlier it tasted bitter, he pours himself a glass from the pitcher and drinks it, then says it tastes fine and she drinks hers. After Vicky accuses him of killing Aunt Sophie, in addition to trying to kill her and Chris, Alan reveals he has put a large dose of a sedative into her glass of juice. Aghast, Vicky informs Alan that he has drunk the contaminated juice himself, for when he left to get her book, she poured herself a different glass and poured the juice from the first glass back into the pitcher. Now sweating profusely, Alan tells Margaret that Vicky has poisoned him and asks her to call a doctor, explaining that the receiver in the library is off the hook. When Alan confesses to trying to kill Chris, but says he did it so they could be together again, Margaret, who loves the boy, informs him the line is dead. The police arrive and find Alan dead, and although Vicky tries to defend Margaret for not calling a doctor, the police take her away for questioning. Marc takes Vicky and Chris from the house to his mother's home, but before leaving, Vicky stands in front of Aunt Sophie's portrait. Marc asserts that Aunt Sophie would approve of her, and Vicky replies that all she can do is thank her for everything.