For reasons I’ve never really been able to quantify, I’ve never been much of an Edward G. Robinson’s work. It isn’t that I haven’t seen him as gifted or as relevant as others who came from his era of filmmaking; rather, it’s just that I’d long only seen him in many of the same roles – one after the other – so I thought he’d made a career out of playing the same stock character in a long list of films. THE RED HOUSE – recently released with a digital restoration in High Definition – and THE STRANGER have caused me to rethink my position, as both films gave Robinson a chance to genuinely flex some acting muscles in roles perhaps a touch less ‘heavy’ and maybe even a bit ‘noble.’
Meg (played like a teen urchin by the lovely Allene Roberts) has been raised by ‘adoptive’ parents, an old farmer named Pete (Robinson) and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson). Now that she’s blossoming in adulthood, she begins wondering about her past and what happened to her real parents – she’s long been told that her parents left her in order to go off and start a life all on their own in the land of opportunity. Could it be that there real fate is somehow tied to the secrets long tucked away in a nearby forest where old Pete warns against the screams in the night? Are the woods haunted, or is the secret something much more treacherous?
Based on a book of the same name, THE RED HOUSE was written and directed by Delmer Dawes (3:10 TO YUMA and DESTINATION TOKYO). It’s essentially a pot-boiler style mystery – Pete’s haunted by the bloody events of his past, but he’s bound and determined to keep young Meg from discovering them – and, measured against the today’s standards, it’s fairly tame, but I have no doubt that Robinson’s performances probably shocked and scared a few folks in the audience back in the day. His performance here runs the gamut from a kindly old father to a crazed and vastly troubled soul. You can see an empty, gnawing heartache in his eyes when he begins mistaking Meg as her mother, and you get a sense of his character’s remorse as he slowly reveals the events haunting ‘the red house’ more in his mind than it is in reality.
Though the film has an impressive reputation with fans of noir and classic films, I don’t feel that it held up all that well today. The pacing is a bit lethargic, and I’m not sure that the shooting script couldn’t have benefitted from another draft or two. For example, events from the beginning of the film – specifically, Lon McCallister plays Nath Storm, a high school chum and eventually boyfriend to Meg, and it’s his first venture into the forest that shows audiences that it’s ‘haunted’ – seem illogical and really feel out of place when compared against the history revealed in the conclusion. Perhaps Dawes as director was a bit too close to his own adaptation to see the possible flaws in his draft. At best, he musters an average film that benefits from Robinson’s big-star involvement more than it deserves.
The film was made by Sol Lesser Productions (as Thalia Productions, Inc.) and distributed theatrically by United Artists in 1947. The disc comes from HD Cinema Classics, and it looks and sounds perfectly fine with the digital restoration (transferred from the original 35mm elements) provided on this Blu-ray. The movie’s trailer is also available. The disc comes with a brief featurette on the restoration process, and there’s an audio commentary provided by William Hare, a noted expert of early film noir. The Blu-ray is a combo-pack so there’s both a standard issue and HD release available, and the package contains a nifty little reproduction of the original movie poster contained.
RECOMMENDED only for fans of noir who want to see something completely different. It’s good but far from great. THE RED HOUSE bares some strong, respectable similarities to great noir from the era, but the film’s pacing and too many squeaky-clean, black-and-white characters really spoil the mood of this chiller that probably chilled more people half-a-decade ago than it ever will today’s jaded viewers.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at HD Cinema Classics provided me with a DVD screener copy of THE RED HOUSE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) owns a farm by the edge of the woods. His sister, Ellen Morgan (Judith Anderson), keeps house for him. Years ago they adopted a baby when the parents ran off. Now Meg Morgan (Allene Roberts) is a teenager in high school, and she persuades Pete to hire a friend, Nath (Lon McCallister), to help with the chores since Pete is having a hard time keeping up with things. He's getting older and has a wooden leg. Pete reluctantly agrees, but warns Nath that under no circumstances … more