DVD Review: Thunder on the Hill

Thunder on the Hill is a 1951 Douglas Sirk film starring Claudette Colbert and Ann Blyth.

Torrential rains hit Norfolk, England, leading to a convergence of local residents taking refuge in a convent where Sister Mary (Colbert) is in charge of the hospital ward. It also leads to a condemned woman, Valerie Carns (Blyth) being brought to the convent. Carns had been convicted of murdering her invalid brother, and due to the storm, all the witnesses are there also. Sister Mary becomes convinced that the young woman is innocent and sets out to prove it.

The film’s center is Colbert’s performance and her character of Sister Mary, who becomes an amateur sleuth. Like many other sleuths, she barrels ahead with her investigation despite no official authority and in contravention of the police who have custody of Valerie. She gets Valerie’s hopes up and gets Valerie’s boyfriend into the convent to see her with the aid of a boat. Yet is what she’s doing good? Is her own instinctive sense that she’s right going to make things better or lead to a tragedy? Sister Mary goes on a character journey in this story that’s informed by her faith. Many films, even during Hollywood’s Golden Age, had only a superficial grasp of religion, and therefore their use of religion in the story is superficial at best. Here though, it works well, and informs her character’s journey.

The film is based on the play Bonaventure and has some very broad melodramatic performances that work within the confines of the story and are well-performed by the supporting cast. The climatic scene also deserves special praise. It’s easily the best-directed scene in the film.

The DVD itself is as bare-bones as you can get. It’s play-only with no trailers, and not even any scene selection. What you get is the chance to view a rarely-replayed film from one of the most iconic actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

If you enjoy a character-driven noir film with a unique setting, this is definitely worth watching.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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  2 comments for “DVD Review: Thunder on the Hill”

  1. May 27, 2024 at 12:51 pm

    My husband and I are fans of classic movies and enjoyed the DVD of “Thunder on the Hill” very much. I loved the opening scene of all the local villagers, and their animals, taking refuge in the church–on the highest ground in flat, water-logged Norfolk–because it was so reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite mysteries Dorothy L. Sayers “The Nine Tailors.” The dramatized radio show did a great job creating the same atmosphere.
    Those who want more stories of monasteries in Norfolk (complete with heavy rainstorm) might enjoy taking a look at my A Darkly Hidden Truth

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