Make no mistake, The House of the Seven Gables — for all its literary roots — is a fairly standard Universal affair. It’s solid, but far from lavish — not a B picture (especially by Universal standards), but it’s at best a minor A picture. This is one of those movies where I look at the opening credits and realize I can identify every billed actor on sight (and a couple more unbilled ones, come to that). That’s both a comfortable plus and a slight negative, since it results in a movie almost entirely devoid of surprises. The only surprise is seeing how good the always pleasant, but rarely impressive Dick Foran can be when he isn’t fighting mummies or riding a horse.
Apart from the cast, probably the best thing about this melodramatic concoction about family curses and wrong-doings old and new lies in Joe May’s direction. It’s easy to forget that May was a major filmmaker in Germany — connected with and sometimes collaborating with Fritz Lang, with whom he shared an obvious penchant for melodrama. While he can’t hide the production’s economical basis, he approaches the film with a keen sense of style. His handling of a segment of gossip — joining the vignettes with swish-pans — is a delight. At the same time, he and cinematographer Milton Krasner make the quiter scenes visually elegant. The little scene where Nan Grey reads her diary — an entry where she tries to make sense of her feelings for Dick Foran — is beautifully and delicate. As examples of a filmmaker getting the most out of a fairly thin budget, it’s hard to find better. That he can’t keep the film’s climax from feeling a little rushed seems more a problem with the material than anything else.