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With: Edward G. Robinson, Lon McCallister, Judith Anderson, Rory Calhoun, Allene Roberts, Julie London, Ona Munson, Harry Shannon, Arthur Space
Written by: Delmer Daves, based on a novel by George Agnew Chamberlain
Directed by: Delmer Daves
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/16/1947

The Red House (1947)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Black and White and Red All Over

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In France, Delmer Daves is considered one of the best of Hollywood craftsmen, a maker of underappreciated pulp. But in America, try as we may, we just can't elevate him to the status of people like Hawks, Walsh, or Mann. Today he's best known for two "messagey" Westerns, Broken Arrow (1950) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957), as well as the third of four Bogart/Bacall movies, Dark Passage (1947).

These movies don't quite click with The Red House, which is a peculiar thriller with some horror overtones. It conjures up a wholesome small town feel, complete with nosy neighbors and gossip, and an undercurrent that grows increasingly darker.

Perhaps the most interesting facet is Edward G. Robinson, in one of his most complex roles, something of a cross between his milquetoast in Scarlet Street (1945), and his tough, resourceful Nazi hunter in The Stranger (1946). He plays Pete Morgan, a farmer with a wooden leg. He appears to live a peaceful existence, until we learn that his family is slightly broken. The woman he lives with (Judith Anderson, from Rebecca) is not his wife, but his sister, and their pretty teen daughter, Meg (Allene Roberts), is actually adopted.

Moreover, Pete lives in fear of the nearby woods, and forbids anyone to go in or near them. But as the story begins, Meg convinces Pete to hire Nath (Lon McCallister) to help out after school. On the first night, Nathe decides to take a short cut through the woods, which causes all kinds of havoc. Nathe decides to find out what the big deal is, but the next time he ventures into the woods, someone clocks him on the head. To complicate matters, Nathe has a sexy girlfriend (hottie Julie London) who doesn't particularly care about Nathe's new pastime. Big lug Rory Calhoun co-stars.

When characters go into the woods, Daves lets them have it with wind, shadows, and howling, creepy sound effects. Otherwise, things are sunny and idyllic, like a preview of "Leave It to Beaver." Yet he doesn't seem particularly able to cross or layer these ideas the way that, say, Fritz Lang might have done. However, the atmosphere is still strong, and even if Daves doesn't generate any real terror, he does make a fairly compelling mystery, filled with terrific little touches. Miklós Rózsa contributed the eerie score.

HD Cinema Classics has released The Red House on Blu-Ray in a two-disc set that also includes a DVD. The film is in the public domain, so this is an admirable attempt to give it a prestige package, but it's not exactly top quality. The contrast is low and the image is soft, and the shadows don't look as good as they might have. There's a so-so commentary track by scholar William Hare, a trailer, a restoration demonstration, optional Spanish subtitles, and a postcard inside the box. (Otherwise, you can watch the movie free here.)

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