Wednesday, January 5, 2022

THE RED HOUSE (1947) Movie Review

The Red House (1947) d. Delmer Daves (USA) (100 min)

Daves, who directed the classic Westerns 3:10 to Yuma, Jubal, and Broken Arrow, got his start – like so many other directors in the 1940s – dabbling in the crisp shadows of film noir, and while this Edward G. Robinson vehicle is not preoccupied with criminal underworlds and double-crosses, it’s steeped in atmosphere so thick you could swim in it.

Robinson plays Pete Morgan, a struggling one-legged farmer who dotes on his adopted daughter Meg (Allene Roberts) to the point of smothering her, and while he grants her wish to have a schoolmate Nath (Lon McCallister) come over and help out with chores, it’s clear that he’s aware of her more-than-friendly feelings toward the lad. Luckily, he’s dating the local hottie Tibby (future torch singer and Emergency! TV star Julie London), so there’s less to fear, but when Nath insists on taking a shortcut through Pete’s backwoods property, we realize that the patriarch has some serious hangups about the woods and the secrets hidden therein. (No surprise, they include a certain red house.)

While it’s arguable that the film is not a genuine horror effort, there is no denying that the forest immediately announces itself as a strange and terrifying presence (highlighted by Miklos Rozsa’s magnificent score), always haunting Pete’s mind and creating a mystery for Nath and Meg to uncover, perhaps to their own detriment.

Cinematographer Bert Glennon served as DP for House of Wax (1953), Stagecoach (1939) (and a bunch of other stuff for John Ford), and the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments for Cecil B. DeMille. (I’m not surprised at the pedigree, considering his outstanding work here, but still, DANG.) There is an early scene that immediately had me thinking about a similar “running from nothing… or is it something?” sequence in 1957’s Curse of the Demon, and one can’t help but wonder if Jacques Tourneur was inspired by this earlier offering.

Robinson is in superb, self-tortured form, with Judith Anderson offering excellent support as his spinster sister. Roberts and McAllister are likeable young leads, and London lends just the right combination of self-centered entitlement and the wounded neediness of those who have spent their lives being perpetually sought after.

Rory Calhoun, best known to horror fans as Farmer Vincent from Motel Hell, makes a smashing early appearance as the tall, dark, and sinister gatekeeper of the off-limits property.

Well worth checking out.


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