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The House on Carroll Street Movie Review

mccarthy mcgillis bernstein film

The House on Carroll Street is an old-fashioned political thriller directed by Peter Yates, who began his career directing television episodes of Danger Man and The Saint. There is very little gore in the film and much more emphasis on the tension created by soft sounds, shadows, and atmosphere. Yates’ approach actually suits the material quite well, giving the film the look and feel of the 1951 era in which it was set. Viewers who did not live through the McCarthy era might not understand the terror faced by ordinary people with decent political convictions who were absolutely dominated and, sometimes, driven out of their professions, by the hysteria ignited by Senator Joseph McCarthy. His fictional equivalent here, played to the hilt by Mandy Patinkin, may seem the most unsubtle of villains to those who never knew McCarthy, but at the height of his powers, between 1950 and 1954, even those who saw through him couldn't stop him. Screenwriter Walter Bernstein was blacklisted in 1948 after working on one Burt Lancaster film noir, and he didn't work in Hollywood for another 11 years. His script captures the fear of that illogical time, and he has written nicely shaded roles for the principals. Kelly McGillis is an interesting heroine, capturing the gutsiness shared by many who lost their jobs through blacklisting. Remember Kent Smith in the ‘40s Cat People movies on the late show? Jeff Daniels may be his closest cinematic equivalent today, slightly stupid, sorta sweet, and the perfect leading man for a stunning female star. Jessica Tandy has a good bit as McGillis’ new employer after she is fired from her magazine job. The whole thing is well edited and photographed, with a romantic score by Georges Delerue. The plot, for all its realistic background details, is pure fiction. In real-life, McGillis would have cooled her heels for a decade working at poverty-level jobs, but Bernstein gives her an exciting mystery to solve and a government agent as an ally. For those who want more low-down on the Communist witch hunt years, watch The Front. The House on Carroll Street makes fine use of its 111-minute running time in an intriguing blend of politics and suspense.

1988 (PG) 111m/C Kelly McGillis, Jeff Daniels, Mandy Patinkin, Jessica Tandy; D: Peter Yates; W: Walter Bernstein; C: Michael Ballhaus; M: Georges Delerue. VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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