When people talk about classic noir films, I have to say that I have never heard the title The Red House mentioned. To take that a step further, I had ne’er heard of the film to begin with. I suspect that probably says more about my knowledge of older films than it does the pantheon of great films. I guess it is better to be a little late to the party than to not have made it at all, right? There are countless classics, known and unknown that I have yet to discover and I must say that while The Red House may never be counted among my favorites, it is certainly a solid film that is definitely worth spending some time with.
The film was originally released in 1947 and stars Edward G. Robinson. Robinson is a fine actor, although I am most familiar with him in gangster and tough guy roles, words that cannot be used to describe him here. I am learning that he was a rather versatile performer who worked in many genres, including science fiction (his final film was 1972’s Soylent Green). With The Red House, Robinson plays a man with a secret that is pushing him ever closer to the edge.
The Red House is a slowly paced noir film that also plays as a coming of age tale, a thriller, and an atmospheric horror film and is effective when viewed trough any of these filters. Set in a time just after the Second World War, we are given a look at a country in a state of change, the way people lived and interacted was changing as the country grew. This movie gives us a little look at the bubbling conflict between the old ways and the new within the framework of a secret hidden for many years that is about to burst forth and affect the lives of everyone caught in its wake.
The film opens, voice over telling us of the changing countryside, the introduction of roads, and a changing way of life. We meet our characters just as secrets of the past and eyes for the future are about to collide.
Meg (Allene Roberts) is a starry eyed teen with eyes on Nath (Lon McAllister), who happens to be dating town flirt Tibby (Julie London). Meg brings Nath to meet her adoptive father, Pete Morgan (Robinson), and try to implore him to hire the boy to help with chores around the house. Pete has a wooden leg and could use the help. Pete does hire him on, but it is not long before secrets begin bubbling to the surface.
It all starts when Nath stays late on the Morgan farm and says he will take a shortcut though the forest. This sets Pete off, he does not want anyone going through those woods. He rails against entering the woods, he is downright frantic about avoiding the red house. This insistence brings up some questions in Meg and Nath. They eventually venture into the woods in search of the red house and the secrets it contains.
Now, I am not going to give much more away. Frankly, there is not all that much to say, you will likely catch on early on as there is an interesting symmetry between the secrets of the past amd the present with young Meg. Let’s just say that there is nice pacing in how the secrets are revealed and the build up is well done with plenty of atmosphere.
The centerpiece of the film has to be Edward G. Robinson’s performance. He creates this sympathetic character whose inner insanity slowly begins seeping through leading o a big shift in the end. The rest of the performances are adequate but nothing particularly special. Allene Roberts is the biggest let down, most of her acting means stating blankly into space. I have to wonder what the chemistry between Meg and Pete would have been like had she had a bit more substance.
The cinematography is very nicely realized. There is a big mix of in and day sequences and they are both shot beautifully, contrasting the safety of the day with the dangerous shadowy night. Combine that with a rather intense musical score from Miklos Rosza and you add some distinct aural intensity.
Audio/Video. For this Blu-ray release the movie has undergone a restoration on the film level. The 35mm elements were cleaned up the best they could be and the result looks quite good, if a bit uneven. There is a good deal of DNR here giving the movie a slight video look. Much of the film sees good contrast and allowing nice levels of detail to shine through, however, some sequences seem overly bright and washed out. I suspect this is the best they were able to do with the elements they had.
The audio is in a similar boat. For the most part it sounds quite good with clear dialogue and a well realized score. There are parts that feel over amplified and the sound is a bit distorted. Still, the film sounds quite good for a restoration of a non A-list film.
- Commentary. This commentary track from William Hare is not a terribly good one. is clearly a fan of the film but it consists mostly of descriptions of what is happening on the screen.
- Restoration Demo. Brief before and after look at the restored elements.
- Trailer. Looks to be an approximation of an original trailer rather than the actual trailer.
Bottomline. This is a good, not great, film. It has a strong central performance and some great atmosphere, cinematography, and score. It is definitely worth seeking out for noir fans and those interested in the era. There is a lot to like about this film even if out don’t like the film.
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