The Red House (1947) – By Duane L. Martin

Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) have raised Meg (Allene Roberts) as their adopted daughter ever since she was a baby. Meg never knew her parents, but grew up happy and healthy under Pete and Ellen’s care. Everything was fine until Pete began to struggle more and more with his wooden leg while trying to keep up with all the work around the farm. He had lost his leg after an accident in which he fell down a canyon, so things had been very difficult for him ever since. That’s when Meg got the idea to bring home her classmate (and crush) Nath (Lon McCallister). Nath’s mom owned the local general store, which wasn’t doing so well, and he needed the extra money, so Pete hired him to work around the farm. It started off well enough, but after the first day, there was a powerful storm, and Nath had to walk home quite a distance in it. To shorten his trip, he was going to take a shortcut through the woods. Pete freaked out when he said this and insisted that he not do it. He told him about the red house and the screams in the night, that once heard, would scar his soul forever. In fact, he was downright terrified, but Nath was stubborn and went anyway. A short time later, after experiencing the things that Pete had told him were in those woods, he ran back to the farm and slept in the barn. He too was terrified, but soon after, became stubbornly insistent that he was going to find out what was going on in those woods. The woods house more than meets the eye though, and as secrets unravel, emotional trauma, madness and death are the result. Will anyone survive the terrors of The Red House?

Ok, I have a confession to make. Most people who know anything about me, know that I absolutely love classic films, which is why I’m ashamed to say that in my film viewing life, I’ve only ever seen a couple of Edward G. Robinson’s films. I know, I know. I need to see more of them. I was just pondering that fact, when I realized I haven’t seen as many of Peter Lorre’s films as I would like to either, though I have seen many more of his films than I have of Edward G. Robinson’s.

When I got the press release about this film, I was pretty excited, seeing as how I love classics and all. The fact that it was on blu-ray had me even more excited. Then I got the disc, and I knew what I was holding was a quality release, because it came from HD Cinema Classics, who doesn’t just release the films on blu-ray, but they completely remaster them and clean them up, which means you’re getting as pristine of a copy of the film as you’re going to find anywhere. They transfer the film from the original 35mm elements and even include a before and after restoration demo, so you can see what a great job they did cleaning it up and making it look great.

As for the film itself, there’s actually more to it than I put in the description, like the fact that Nath has a kind of a trashy girlfriend named Tibby (Julie London), and there’s another guy who plays a high school dropout turned hunter named Teller (Rory Calhoun), who actually reminds me a little of a young Cary Grant. I didn’t mention them in the description because to explain their parts would give away aspects of the story I don’t want to give away here. The film is after all, a noir mystery kind of a film, and where would the mystery be if I gave it all away?

The fact that this film is a mystery, means that the mysterious aspects of the film have to remain mysterious to the viewer throughout at least most of the story, and they did a wonderful job with that.

The acting was typical of the films of this era. What I mean by that is that when you watch these classic films, you’re presented with characters playing out a story, and that’s how it feels. I absolutely do not mean that to sound negative in any way. I acually really prefer that style of acting and storytelling. The modern style of performances tend to leave me feeling rather disconnected more often than not. I’m sure some people will disagree and prefer the modern style, but then again, some people like dubstep and hip hop too. There’s no accounting for taste.

The film is 100 minutes long, which did feel a bit long for the story. There were parts of the story that felt almost repetitive or unnecessary. For example, there’s a part where Nath is encouraging his mother to marry a local guy who’s been wanting to marry her for a long time and to move away with him and be happy. While nice, this part of the story really had nothing to do with anything else that was going on. It was a nice aside into Nath’s home life, but nothing more than that. There was really nothing wrong with adding this in there, as it was a pleasant enough side story, and while they didn’t dwell on it too much, it did add to the running time of the film.

The Red House is one of those great old classics that’s wonderful to watch on a dark, stormy evening. It’s not really scary like a horror film. It’s suspenseful, and it keeps the viewer wondering what’s really going on out there in those woods well into the film, which it then concludes with a very tense and action filled ending.

This release is nothing short of excellent. HD Cinema Classics did a wonderful job of mastering and cleaning up this wonderful old classic. They also included audio commentary with William Hare, the film’s trailer, a before and after demo of the restoration, and even a movie art post card. The release also includes Spanish subtitles, which is the one thing I do take exception to. If you’re going to include subtitles, which I believe all films should, then include English subs, with other language subtitles included depending on where the release is being distributed. This is something I care about in particular because my wife has some small bit of hearing loss, and the subtitles really help her to get everything out of a film. After watching everything with subtitles for so long, I’ve come to realize how many subtle bits of dialogue I’ve mised in various films over the years that were exposed by the subtitles. Hopefully they’ll include English subs on their future releases. This company, along with Well Go USA, Shout Factory and a few others, are really the top distributors in the country as far as putting out consistently high quality releases, and as far as this one goes, I can’t recommend it enough. If you love classic noir films, then this is one you’ll absolutely want to add to your collection.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of this film for yourself, you can get the blu-ray + DVD combo pack from Amazon here, or from any of the other usual outlets.