GUEST IN THE HOUSE ( 1944 )

ANNE BAXTER ( SUMMER UNDER THE STARS )

For some reason Anne Baxter stays under my radar. Oh I know, the fault lies within me. I like my stars sparkly and bedazzled and volcanic most times. Well hopefully with TCM featuring Miss Baxter’s films for their Summer Under the Stars series, I can broaden my horizons with her work. My write-up today is part of a blogathon being hosted by Kristen Lopez of Journeys Into Classic Film. Here is where you’ll find other great entries for stars featured this August on TCM. Let me tell you about “GUEST IN THE HOUSE.” No, it’s not one of her films featured today, but perhaps I can pique your interest to seek it out.

You already know Anne Baxter’s Eve Harrington in “All About Eve.” Thank heavens I saw “All About Eve” before this film. If I hadn’t, I might never watch an Anne Baxter movie again. In “Guest In the House” she plays one of the most unsettling, infuriatingly galling characters I have EVER seen in a movie. She’s creepy and insidious and deadly. I despise her.

GUEST IN THE HOUSE ( V )

Evelyn checks out Douglas’ work, while he checks HER out

Anne Baxter plays Evelyn Heath, a recently discharged patient from a mental hospital.
( Pay no attention to the
Red Flag here. ) She is the fiancee to young Dan Proctor ( actor Scott McKay ) the doctor at the institution Evelyn was in. This type of “meet-cute” no one needs. He introduces her to his family; the way she greets them is oddly unsettling. Her affect is kind of off; she’s dramatically breathless. Yo Evelyn! Relax. Sheesh! Evelyn is aware of what she is doing. She keeps a diary, which serves as a great device for letting us know what’s going on in that twisted little head of hers ( via a 1940’s voice-over, of course ). She willfully destroys the peace, tranquility and equilibrium in the household she’s been introduced to.

The Proctor family is a happy bunch, laughing, playful, kibbitzing with each other until this beautiful, wounded, damaged cancer infects them. The family consists of Ralph Bellamy as Douglas Proctor ~ the artist-husband, Ruth Warrick ( playing Ann Proctor ) his wife, and their two kids. Also part of the family is Aunt Martha, played by the indomitable Aline MacMahon. She’s the Matriarch of this whole brood. Mother Courage.

One by one, Evelyn picks off family members. Getting her fiancee out of the way first is a piece of cake. Its wonderfully infuriating to watch her play him like a violin as you do with a man in love. She makes him jealous…gets mad at him becuz he’s jealous…then forgives his jealousy because its so cute how he loves her. ( ??!! ) She convinces him to go away so he can come back to her later. He buys the ruse and leaves her with his family. In fact, she sticks psychological pins in the entire family and revels in watching them twist. She always says something a little left/right of center, or drops an “unintended” innuendo here and there, and then retreats behind a wall to watch, or behind her illness. She makes my skin crawl.

GUEST IN THE HOUSE ( IIII )

For Evelyn’s next victim, we must look to Douglas’ model Miriam. She’s played by the statuesque Marie (“The Body”) McDonald. Evelyn visits his art studio and makes a couple of wisecracks to McDonald. “I would die before I’d pose like that.” The model is free and breezy because she has nothing to hide. Then this little snip of a mental patient comes in, tosses some veiled apsersions and makes McDonald annoyed and upset. It sort of pushes Douglas & her together. He takes Miriam down to the beach to calm her nerves and they go into town to relax and shake off the funk she’s now in, thanks to Evelyn.

But coming home late together and being slightly tipsy heightens all sorts of suspicions of impropriety. McDonald has to quit this gig and leave the house.

For me, Evelyn’s most insidious turn is with the young daughter. When the two meet for the first time on the staircase, the child is taken with Evelyn’s beauty, wants to touch her. But as the child reaches for her, Evelyn recoils as though she were faced with a hot poker. ( What the… ). Its not fair, and downright hateful for Evelyn to twist a young mind like she does. She put thoughts into the child’s head that she hadn’t the maturity to process. Yeah, a perfect victim perhaps, but difficult to watch. Evelyn makes an ally of the child, wooing the little girl into her web. Its discomfitting to watch her ‘groom’ this child. Later when the child adopts some of Evelyns neuroses, Im in utter shock and it’s one of the last straws for Ann.

GUEST IN THE HOUSE ( III )Evelyn’s last point of attack is wife Ann ( Ruth Warrick ). Warrick does not play her usual imperious self in this movie the way she was in “Daisy Kenyon” or “Citizen Kane.” She’s playful and easy-going at the beginning of the movie before Evelyn’s poison courses through her shoulder pads. As the plot progresses, Ann goes from her happy self to doubting suspicions she’ll harbor after little Miss Iago gets through with her. The playful-ness dries up and alcohol starts to flow. Evelyn plays them all so well she’s even driven Douglas into her arms as a Muse to replace Miriam. Ann seeing how chummy these two now are, leaves her home. Douglas new assignment is to paint a mural for the chapel, but the painting is causing him frustration. He can’t get a handle on it. He doesn’t realize it’s difficult to paint evil.

GUEST IN THE HOUSE ( VI )

Evil. Too overblown a word? Naaaaah. She IS evil, and does a wonderful job at turns being coquettish, playing the victim, seductive, sadistic, frightened, manic…straight~up living in a fantasy crazy. I’m just thinking by 1944 have I seen a female be this psychologically destructive in a film? I can’t say as I have. Ill say Anne Baxter does it first…and does it well. Im checking out her filmography and noting the varied roles she played throughout her career. I think she was among the finer, younger leading lady / character actresses from the classic era. Today will be a great day for me to visit her work ~ and put her on my radar.

Click here for TCM’s complete listing of films this month. And now…have a very unsettling experience with “Guest in the House” but, don’t overstay your welcome:

 

 

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9 thoughts on “GUEST IN THE HOUSE ( 1944 )

  1. Fabulous review. Anne Baxter really nails it. She’s a fine actress. Interesting too to see Ralph Bellamy out of his usual comedy zone. A shame he was so typecast – that happens when you do it so well!
    This film deserves more attention so thanks for highlighting it. I only saw it for the first time last year.
    Kudos again for your excellent writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Vienna. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I have to say this is a movie I may be almost NOT able to watch this movie again it’s so unsettling. I really wanted to climb through the screen and strangle Anne Baxter. But hey…just let Karma…and Aline MacMahon do the job. I’m going to watch Anne Baxter’s movies today. She may not have touched my heart…but I can sure learn to respect her work. Thank you Vienna. I always appreciate someone’s time to make comments.

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  3. She is a silky hellcat in Guest in the House. Mankiewicz must have seen this to consider her for Eve, even if some part of her casting was due to a similarity to original choice Claudette Colbert he was too fine a director for that to be his only decision maker or God forbid he would have cast Zanuck’s choice for Eve…Jeanne Crain! Ack!!

    I love her but she was frequently a very theatrical actress. Sometimes that helped as when she slipped into her MISS Anne Baxter act to put over the purple prose as Nefretiri in The Ten Commandments since there was no other possible way to play that overcooked mantrap. But sometimes that archness became a distraction, she’s a disaster in The Walls of Jericho playing to the audience in the balcony of the theatre next door while Linda Darnell, playing the awesomely named Algeria Wedge, and Ann Dvorak steal the film from her.

    She would also take risks at times not always successfully, for instance Walk on the Wild Side wherein Baxter, the mistress of the pregnant pause and someone who should have been teaching elocution classes, was ludicrously cast as Mexican senorita Teresina trying with all of her might to convince in a part that would have fit Katy Jurado like a glove.

    Aside from this and Eve I don’t know what you’ve seen of her work but I’ve seen all but five of her films and can offer some suggestions of what to seek out and some misses that you needn’t go out of your way to find.

    Very Good to Great:
    One Desire-you get Rock Hudson & Natalie Wood too plus Julie Adams playing the stone cold bitch instead of poor persecuted Anne.
    Three Violent People
    The Blue Gardenia
    Chase a Crooked Shadow
    The Razor’s Edge
    O’Henry’s Full House-She’s in the best segment “The Last Leaf” though her part isn’t the main one.
    Five Graves to Cairo
    **The Pied Piper-This is one I haven’t seen but it’s reputation is tremendous and Monty Woolley was nominated for Best Actor but it is incredibly difficult to find.

    Decent:
    A Ticket to Tomahawk
    Follow the Sun
    Carnival Story
    Season of Passion
    Sunday Dinner for a Soldier
    The Fighting Sullivans-This movie is very moving but sad, sad, sad!
    Yellow Sky
    I Confess-Some people love this but I think it’s one of Hitchcock’s lesser films.

    Most of the rest of her filmography is variable (I would recommend the aforementioned Walls of Jericho-even though both she and Cornel Wilde come across poorly the rest of the cast is good and the film as a whole has entertainment value) but like all great stars with long careers she did appear in some real duds. Bedevilled and Jane Austen in Manhattan are pretty bad but Lapin 360 and The Busy Body are unmitigated disasters.

    Also I’d strongly recommend her autobiography “Intermission” a great deal of which is devoted to her time spent married to a rancher and living in the Australian Outback.

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    • Hi Joel…thank you so much for the full-throated response to Anne Baxter. I love it!

      I know what you mean about the MISS Anne Baxter persona. She was perfect in “All About Eve” and in “The Razor’s Edge.” She hasn’t won my heart like others have ( Jeanne Crain, for one. ) But I do respect her talent. There are so many films I haven’t seen that’ve been recommended to me: “Yellow Sky” for one. I laughed out loud when you went from “pretty bad” to “unmitigated disasters.” Ha! And OUCH! Mistress of the Pregnant Pause…L0L!! And again, you hit the mark when you say Katy Jurado should have been in “Walk on the Wild Side.” Wasn’t Baxter in a “Columbo” episode? It took me a coupla tries with “I Confess” ( please read my review here ) but I have to say it’s a Hitchcock film I like and Anne though not my favorite Hitchcock blonde by a longshot, she lent gravitas to that character. Thank you again for your comprehensive response. I enjoyed the read.

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