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  House Across the Lake, The His Big Mistake
Year: 1954
Director: Ken Hughes
Stars: Alex Nicol, Hillary Brooke, Sid James, Susan Stephen, Paul Carpenter, Alan Wheatley, Peter Illing, Gordon McLeod, Joan Hickson, John Sharp, Hugh Dempster, Monti DeLyle
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) welcomes his guest into the bar where he has been steadily getting plastered. He says he has a story to tell him, and that he could have got away scot free had he wanted, but as events played out he had a spot of revenge to take care of. He is a writer of pulp fiction, and had rented a house in the Lake District, by the shore of one of the bodies of water, where he hoped to enjoy some quiet time with his typewriter, but his neighbours across the way had an unfortunate habit of staging loud parties to all hours, which scuppered his plans somewhat. And then one night the wife, Carol Forrest (Hillary Brooke), had the cheek of phoning him up for a favour...

Anything the Americans could do, the British could do, well, if not better, then with a Brit twist and frequently with an American star to boot. So when film noir became the big thing in B-movies, the British film industry followed suit and churned out a fair number of the things, often from low budget studios and Hammer was nothing if not low budget at the time, hence director Ken Hughes' adaptation of his own book with The House Across the Lake, renamed as Heat Wave for American audiences hoping for steamier fare. It was true we were in no doubt what the central couple were getting up to - committing adultery - and perhaps this went a little further than the average Hollywood product.

But it's not as if it was explicit, and the character business was more interesting as it transpired. Especially in the early stages when Hughes was setting up his pieces as if on a chessboard, all ready to be knocked down variously over the course of the relatively brief running time. Once Kendrick has escorted some guests to the party in his boat, he is invited in and feels an immediate attraction to Carol which he is obviously not very happy about judging by the amount of hostility in Nicol's performance. He finds more amenable company with the husband, Beverly, played by Sid James as a more upper crust character than you may be used to, complete with smoothed out accent to reflect his newfound station in life; the two men spend the night drinking imported bourbon and playing billiards.

Oh, and smoking - as with the traditions of the times, there was plenty of that to be seen, so much so that it's a plot point that Beverly has to give up the booze and coffin nails or he will be soon pushing up the daisies. Which begs the question, if he's that ill, why doesn't Carol merely wait him out and get his fortune that way? Indeed, the whole murder plot did not quite stand up to scrutiny, notably because Kendrick genuinely likes Beverly and they get along really well: would he even be that keen to get into an affair with his wife in the first place when it would jeopardise their friendship? It's only the fact his latest book contract falls through that Kendrick is desperate for cash, and fast, that makes the plot anyway convincing, it’s nicely played but the contrivances do show, and the shadow of Double Indemnity looms large. It's possible to take it too seriously, of course, and if you're feeling indulgent, this is a very decent B-movie with typical and not-so-typical performances. Hammer would soon hit upon fresh inspiration. Music by Ivor Slaney.

[Network's Blu-ray is fully restored and has interviews with Renee Glynne and Barry Forshaw, the trailer, alternate titles, an image gallery, and an episode of Scotland Yard as special features. There's also a booklet.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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