Dragonwyck (1946)

Dragonwyck (1946), written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

With a title like Dragonwyck we are expecting a gothic thriller, perhaps something from Poe. It has that look and some of those elements -- family insanity, ghostly music only they can hear -- but is more of a "new governess struggles with a difficult family" genre piece, as with Jane Eyre (1944).

Vincent Price is third billed but steals the show. His haughty aristocratic patroon -- atheist, drug addict, murderer -- is vastly more interesting than the bland good doctor, his rival. Price would do horror/thriller roles from time to time -- as with The Mad Magician (1954) -- but did not become a horror specialist until after The Fly (1958). His Byronic villain here is a remarkable preview of his Poe roles for Roger Corman in the 1960s: House of Usher (1960), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), etc.

Gene Tierney and Walter Huston are daughter and father, and young Jessica Tandy has an early role as an Irish maid.

The stars and the images are more interesting than the story itself. It does give a history lesson of the Anti-Rent War of the 1840s, when the vast Dutch land-grant feudal holdings of upstate New York were finally broken up. I knew nothing about it and I don't think any other film has treated it.

According to the wikipedia: "Gregory Peck was the first choice for Nicholas Van Ryn. Ernst Lubitsch was to direct, but became ill, pre-production was delayed, and Peck dropped out".

Music by Alfred Newman and striking photography by Arthur C. Miller.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with an informative commentary track by two film scholars.