The Red House (1947)

The Red House (1947)  Front Cover DVD

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The Red House (1947)  Back Cover DVD

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Edward G. Robinson portrays one-legged farmer Pete Morgan, who works his large spread with his devoted sister, Ellen (Judith Anderson in a rare sympathetic role), and their adopted ward Meg (Allene Roberts). Meg has a crush on local boy Nath Storm (Lon McCallister) and gets him a job on the farm as a hand, leading to an almost Freudian explosion of emotion and unbridled Id. Playing out against this rather odd m?nage a trois of Pete, Meg and Nath is another convoluted intertwining of romances, including local hussy Tibby (Julie London in an early role), who is playing the field both with Nath and local tough guy Teller (Rory Calhoun).

The Red House is really a film about relationships rather than any overt plot mechanics, but it plays out in a sort of quasi-Gothic atmosphere after Nath comes on board as farm hand and wants to take a shortcut home at night which will lead him through some supposedly haunted woods and near the titular structure. Pete becomes almost frantic in his attempts to keep the boy from going that way, which raises the suspicions of Meg, who starts asking perhaps a few too many questions. Something obviously happened there, something that may have led to Pete losing his leg and something that may in fact involve Meg. Modern day mystery buffs probably won't have an overly hard time figuring out what's going on in The Red House, but perhaps rather surprisingly, it really doesn't matter that much and takes away little of the film's inherent moodiness and subtext of emotional undertow.

The Red House came out in 1947, smack dab in Robinson's noir era, and while it may not be a traditional noir (much like The Stranger), it's a moody, tense piece of filmmaking that shows what a remarkably versatile actor Robinson really was, one who could segue from sweet tenderness to murderous rage at the drop of a thundering Miklos Rozsa score cue. While the film doesn't exactly keep its secrets hidden especially artfully, it's an often spooky little film that casts an interesting light on post-War rural America and the roiling passions not so subtly buried underneath calm exteriors, something somewhat similar to Hitchock's Shadow of a Doubt in a way.

The film is probably best appreciated as a showcase for some nicely nuanced performances. Robinson evinces growing paranoia brilliantly, and he manages to walk a fine line between curmudgeonly gruffness and tender sweetness. It's almost bracing to see Anderson, so nefarious in Rebecca, work a homespun character like Ellen here, and she does remarkably fine work. If the "kids" are a bit too callow and inexperienced, they, too, have their moments, and Calhoun is especially effective (and actually kind of frightening) in a glowering, hulking performance as a backwoods predator who briefly ends up on the lam with London. Like McCallister, Allene Roberts' name has been largely lost to the ravages of time, but The Red House shows the then young girl to be rather well modulated as she traverses emotional territory that needs to see Meg evolve from peaceful security to increasing fear and ultimately hysteria.


Edward G. Robinson as Pete Morgan
Lon McCallister as Nath Storm
Judith Anderson as Ellen Morgan
Rory Calhoun as Teller
Allene Roberts as Meg
Julie London as Tibby
Ona Munson as Mrs. Storm
Harry Shannon as Dr. Jonathan Byrne
Arthur Space as The Sheriff
Pat Flaherty as Motorcycle Cop
Walter Sande as Don Brent

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