Hangman’s House (1928)

Director: John Ford

Ford clearly hadn’t shaken off that Murnau influence—even contemporary reviews picked up on the Sunrise similarities—which still infuses itself through this film albeit in slightly different fashion… Hangman’s House is a tale with a slight sort of 19th century gothic edge to it; hence it’s really kind of shocking when a motor vehicle makes an appearance just before the mid-film horse race. It doesn’t seem right somehow. Anyway, despite initial appearances, it actually is 1920s Ireland; the story revolves around the daughter of the titular hanging judge, married by the old bastard to a thorough cad she doesn’t like, let alone love. This puts her kind of out of reach of the man she does love, but it also brings someone else out of hiding, a man who’s willing to return to Ireland where there’s a price on his head (presumably from the 1916 uprising? I don’t think the film states outright) just for a chance to kill the new husband. Melodrama, basically, but elevated by the quite remarkable visuals; Hangman’s House has some of the finest black and white photography of any film I’ve seen from this period, it is genuinely amazing to look at. Watching the film is literally what makes the film watchable, if that makes sense. God knows Earle Foxe doesn’t quite do it; he’s not as cartoonish as the husband here as he is in Four Sons, his performance here is a bit more in keeping with the general tenor of the film, but it’s still not really a brilliant one or anything… But it is watchable on the whole, and the comparative brevity of the thing (just over 70 minutes) definitely works in its favour as much as the look of it. Alas for Ford that it was apparently nowhere near as big a hit as Four Sons was owing to Fox not really promoting it; I have to admit to finding Hangman’s House rather more enjoyable than the earlier film…

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