Sunday, November 27, 2022

#2,869. The Red House (1947) - Edward G. Robinson Triple Feature


A suspenseful, sometimes spooky film noir, The Red House weaves an intriguing story that, from time to time, will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing at attention.

For years, farmer Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) have been raising Meg (Allene Roberts), who was orphaned as a child when her parents died under mysterious circumstances. With Pete’s bum leg acting up, Meg recommends they hire Nath Storm (Lon McCallister), a classmate of hers, to help out around the farm.

Reluctant at first, Pete eventually agrees, though he warns Nath to stay out of the surrounding woods. Pete insists both the forest and the red house in the center of it are haunted.

Heading home one night, Nath takes a shortcut through the woods, only to be overcome with fear. Instead of scaring him off, this experience piques Nath’s curiosity, and with Meg’s help he explores the forest, all the while closing in on a terrible secret that, once revealed, could tear Pete’s world apart.

Director Delmer Daves gets our skin crawling early on when Nath, ignoring Pete’s warnings about the forest and its “screams in the night”, cuts through the woods on his way home. It’s a harrowing journey, to say the least. With Pete’s words fresh in his mind, Nath shrinks from every shadow, and is convinced he does, indeed, hear screams on the wind. Punctuated by Miklos Rozsa’s booming score, it’s a creepy sequence, and does its part to build the mystery that will steer the first half of the film.

The Red House also features, in its initial scenes, a love triangle of sorts. Meg clearly has a crush on Nath, though he’s already dating their flirtatious classmate Tibby (Julie London). Complicating matters further is the fact that Teller (Rory Calhoun), who Pete hired to keep trespassers out of the forest, has the hots for Tibby! Both the mystery of the woods and these relationships will sort themselves out well before the final act.

And yet Daves and especially Edward G. Robinson still manage to keep us unnerved throughout the remainder of the film by taking the focus off of the haunted forest and putting it on Pete Walker himself. We sense early on that Pete’s love for Meg borders on obsession, and as the story plays out, we see just how deep his fixation runs, making the film’s final sequences more unsettling than anything that came before them. Pete has even taken to calling Meg “Jeannie”, and looking at her as if she was someone else entirely.

Robinson handles these scenes perfectly, taking Pete from the overprotective caretaker of the film’s first half to its villain without any major shift in his personality, building to a finale that is both dark and, ultimately, satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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