House in the woodsDirector: Maxwell Munden
Screenplay: Maxwell Munden
Starring: Patricia Roe, Ronald Howard, Michael Gough
Year: 1957
Country: UK
Running Time: 59 mins
BBFC Classification: PG

Mr and Mrs Geoffrey Carter are a young-ish couple (30, going on 50!) who live in a fashionable apartment block in London, where they have to put up with their noisy neighbours who are forever putting on parties for lots of other socialites like themselves. Geoffrey (played by Michael Gough) is a highly strung writer, suffering from writer’s block, who decides enough is enough and insists to his wife that they move somewhere else, at least temporarily, where it’s quiet so he can get on and write his next novel.

Responding to an ad in the paper they head off to the countryside to check out a delightfully remote woodland cottage, which the owner, Spencer, is happy to rent to them at a pittance while he’s away on his travels. They initially hit it off with Spencer (Howard) and he encourages them to stay with him immediately. An agreement is reached and he accompanies them back to London the same day for their stuff. Somewhat weirdly he almost kills them when he forces them off the road ‘accidentally’ during an exuberant bit of speeding round a bend. You would have thought that this incident might have given them pause for thought, but no, Geoff just says: ‘Steady!’ and they continue on their way!

Unsurprisingly, it isn’t too long before Geoff starts to have serious doubts about their host who he catches out lying to them about his deceased wife and about his woodland walking habits – a serious offense that, lying about where and when you go walking! Geoff’s wife, Carol, seems to feel sorry for Spencer, rather than being disturbed by him, and allows herself to be painted by him; he claims to be a professional artist.

Without wanting to give too much away, Geoff starts to suspect that their host has killed his wife and is finding it hard to leave the property for reasons unknown – well, until near the end. It takes longer for Carol to be convinced that there’s anything remotely dodgy about their cat-stroking, pipe-smoking, music-loving host, but eventually she starts to have suspicions of her own and things finally come to a head.

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The House in the Woods is based on the short story ‘Prelude to Murder’, by Walter C. Brown, and is a fairly stagey affair; in fact it would probably work better as a stage play rather than as a feature film, with it’s small cast, minimal locations and rather out-dated story structure. That’s not to say the story is poor – it’s still fun to watch and it’s great to see the late, great Michael Gough in one of his early roles. Here he plays a fairly waspish and intolerant ex-journalist who might have later aged into Victor Meldrew. He even says: ‘I don’t believe it!’ at one point!

The film’s quite interesting to watch as a snapshot of the UK in the fifties, with the various characters driving cars from that time, wearing the fashions of the day, listening to a gramophone, ‘airing’ their beds, smoking pipes and generally speaking rather posh with little or no slang to speak of.

Munden’s direction is uninspired, but okay, with him favouring static, more medium-range shots than close-ups or pans. As the pace picks up later Munden’s choice of shots increases, but it is still all very ‘stagey’.

Network Distributing has done a reasonable job of cleaning up the various film elements and picture quality is pretty good, although it’s a shame that the soundtrack has a number of issues, especially during the middle section of the film. There are intermittent audio hisses, but the main problem is the sound level – it seems pretty low at times and it’s therefore hard to hear some of the softer dialogue during a few scenes.

I’m not sure the film, in its current state, should be released on its own, particularly if they’re not going to boost the sound levels, as I think it is a bit much to expect punters to pay ‘full whack’ for a rather short and damaged feature, especially since it doesn’t have any extras on the disc. It might be better to double it up with another similarly themed feature from that period to give people more value for money, as it were.

Overall, this is an enjoyable murder mystery, where the enjoyment is more frequently associated with watching Michael Gough’s irritable performance rather than waiting for the mildly interesting denouement.

Reviewer: Justin Richards

The House in the Woods has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles.

If you’re listening Network, other films you might want to track down are Peter Maxwell’s Dilemma (1962); Offbeat (1961) – directed by Cliff Owen; The Singer not the Song (1960) – with Dirk Bogarde; Harley Cokeliss’s The Glitterball (1977); and Hennessy (1975), directed by Don Sharp.

There were no extras on the review disc, unfortunately.

About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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