HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Sunday, April 22, 2012

THE RED HOUSE -- DVD review by porfle

It's great to finally discover an older film that proves to be a real pleasure from start to finish.  That's what it was like watching the 1947 suspense thriller THE RED HOUSE for the first time after hearing about it for all these years from people who rated it as one of their favorite movies.

Edward G. Robinson is very effective in what is, for him, a fairly restrained performance (for most of the film, anyway) as reclusive farmer Pete Morgan, who lives with his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson before she was a Dame) and their teenage stepdaughter Meg (Allene Roberts).  When schoolboy Nath (Lon McCallister), for whom Meg carries a torch, comes to work for Pete part-time, he's intrigued by the older man's admonitions to stay out of the mysterious tangled forest that borders the farm, and to especially avoid the old red house that's nestled somewhere within. 

Naturally, Nath is compelled to explore the woods and finds more than he bargained for, drawing Meg along with him into a tangled web of fear, deception, and long-buried secrets that threaten to destroy all of their lives.  Adding to this is the presence of a swaggering, gun-toting yokel named Keller (Rory Calhoun, looking like Li'l Abner's evil twin) who seems determined to keep trespassers out of the woods by any means necessary while developing an unhealthy interest in Nath's girlfriend Tibby (a ravishing Julie London).

Director Delmer Daves (3:10 TO YUMA, DARK PASSAGE) establishes a wonderfully bucolic pastoral mood that captures the easygoing innocence of early 20th-century country life without resorting to the usual "Tobacco Road" caricatures.  The lovely black-and-white photography (nicely restored for the DVD) compliments the elegant simplicity of Daves' direction while turning effectively nightmarish in the nocturnal forest sequences. 

Nath's first chilling foray into Ox Head Woods, with its swirling shadows and tangled branches restlessly stirring in the wind, is as breathlessly unsettling in its own way as a similar scene in Disney's SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.  Light and shadow are deftly used in the interiors as well, lending an eerie, noirish air to scenes in which familiar characters suddenly begin to exhibit disturbingly uncharacteristic behavior.  A wall-to-wall musical score by Miklos Rozsa is lush and evocative.

Lon McCallister is earnestly convincing as the well-meaning but somewhat cocky young Nath, whose stubborn curiosity threatens to be his undoing.  As Tibby, his preening girlfriend, Julie London is the quintessential backwoods heartbreaker and is dazzlingly cute.  In comparison, a 19-year-old Allene Roberts seems plain and almost childlike at first, yet she seems to grow more beautiful as the story progresses and her character matures.  It's easy to see why Nath eventually starts to tire of the manipulative Tibby and responds to sweet, soulful Meg, who has loved him all along.

Meg faces the most life-changing circumstances of all when the shadow of the red house begins to fall between her and adoptive father Pete, who becomes increasingly irrational as its secrets come closer to being revealed.  The aura of menace connected to Pete's urgent warnings about Ox Head Woods generates a strong underlying suspense which is deeply absorbing throughout.  Alternately contemplative, moody, and rivetingly suspenseful, the story moves inexorably toward a nail-biting climax that takes place, as one might suspect, within the cobwebbed shadows of the red house itself. 

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Film Chest is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and Spanish subtitles.  Extras consist of a trailer, an amiable commentary track by film author William Hare, and a brief "before and after" restoration demo.

With a great young cast mixing it up with some seasoned pros in a finely-rendered Hollywood thriller, THE RED HOUSE is a classic film fan's delight.  Anyone who's tired of the same old loud, ADD-edited CGI fest should try settling in with this gem for an evening of old-school entertainment the likes of which they just don't make anymore. 

Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo at

No comments: