Director Delmer Daves, who later went on to make a name for himself with classic westerns '3:10 to Yuma (1957),' 'Broken Arrow' and 'The Hanging Tree,' takes the film-noir out of the crooked, sleazy underbelly of the city and places it right in the middle of the heartland in this mostly-forgotten psychological thriller 'The Red House.' The 1947 film goes through the standard motions of the genre with various gloomy shadows suggesting the sinister desires of men and women. What sets it apart, and makes it worth remembering, is that this murky story about secrets that eat away at the soul and a madness driven by crazed passion is set in the quiet, innocent community of Anywhere, U.S.A. The idea that even the most seemingly harmless towns can't escape the dark ambitions of the human heart raises the level of creepiness in this wonderfully entertaining motion picture.
Delmer Daves is not a name which quickly comes to mind when discussing classic Hollywood cinema, but he's a respected and appreciated filmmaker nonetheless with an unobtrusive yet striking style that allows an engaging narrative to be the predominant driving force of his movies. Based on the novel of the same name by George Agnew Chamberlain, 'The Red House' is an excellent example of his approach, filling the screen with some amazing but beautifully subtle images which cast a looming shadow of apprehension, even when everything appears so hunky-dory and tranquil. The opening moments fashion a rather utopic sensibility about the peaceful town, but by the end of the first act, the howling winds of an eerie forest nearby hint at something much more sinister writhing beneath it all.
Adding to the darker side of the most perfect little country township ever is the acting of Edward G. Robinson as Pete Morgan. There was no character that brilliant actor couldn't touch without making it the most compelling and memorable personality on screen. And his performance here is no different, turning an ostensibly benign and gentle farmer into a man with terrifying secrets who is capable of horrible things in order to keep them hidden. Daves takes full advantage of Robinson's presence and unique facial expressions to further the plot's endless feel of gloom with amazing shots of the actor's frightful stares. Even our introduction to the character's grim temperament is gorgeously suggested early on with a shot of his cane looking a lot like a baseball bat and continues with a mystery of how he lost his leg in the woods.
Trouble starts brewing for Pete when newly hired hand Nath (Lon McCallister) wants to take a shortcut home through those same woods on a dark, windy night. He tries to steer the brave teen away from the area with warnings of screams and something evil roaming the forest linked to a creepy red house deep inside. Of course, as teenagers are known to do, curiosity gets the better of the kid, and he invites his girlfriend Tibby (Julie London) and Meg (Allene Roberts), whom Pete and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) have raised since infancy, to tag along. The melodrama that grows from that triangle insinuates, however mildly, some interesting notions of our base desires fomenting from an early age, especially in the restless sensuality of Tibby finding satisfaction in the overt masculinity of local huntsman Teller (Rory Calhoun).
The surprise reveal at the end is unfortunately not as shocking as filmmakers were hoping it would be, regrettably hampered by a standard narrative that starts to feel a bit overlong, pretty much giving away Pete's terrible secret before he's even ready to admit it to himself. Yet, 'The Red House' remains a wildly intriguing and entertaining film about frustrated passions, stylishly captured in film-noir fashion thanks to the stunning photography of Bert Glennon ('Stagecoach'). Aided by a stirring musical score from legendary composer Miklós Rózsa ('Ben-Hur,' 'Spellbound,' 'Double Indemnity'), director Delmer Daves takes the dark, expressive visual style of the genre and transforms a conventional thriller set in the heartland into a beautifully evocative motion picture worth preserving.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Delmer Daves' 'The Red House' comes by way of Virgil Films and HD Cinema Classics as a two-disc combo pack. The first is a Region Free, BD25 while the second is a DVD-5 copy of the movie, and both discs are housed in the normal blue keepcase on opposing panels. The package also comes with a 6x4.5 postcard with the film's poster art. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the standard menu option with full-motion clips and music.
According to info on the back of the Blu-ray box, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode was struck and restored from original 35mm elements. As greatly appreciated as that may be, the high-def picture still displays a few drawbacks worth considering, namely several scenes with visible banding in the background. It could a result of the digital noise reduction applied, which isn't terrible but noticeable nonetheless in a few spots, or the slight tweaking in the contrast, making some of the highlights bloom slightly in a few other areas. For the most part, however, the transfer is in good standing order with rich, inky black levels in the shadows, providing the image with a great deal of dimensionality. Presented in its original Academy ratio, the video also comes with strong definition of the fine lines and textures around clothing, building and surrounding forest.
Assuming the same 35mm elements were used, the DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack appears to have also received a remastering and sounds great for the most part. Vocals are clean and precise in the center, but the overall soundstage feels a tad narrow and never genuinely generates a wide imaging presence. There are few discrete effects in the background for ambience, yet they remain tightly focused in the middle of the screen. The dark, moody score of legendary composer Miklós Rózsa benefits the most from the high-rez audio, expanding the soundfield somewhat and enjoying a clean, detailed mid-range. The higher frequencies, unfortunately, tend to clip and distort in certain areas, but the low-end is healthy and appropriate to the film's age, making this a passable lossless mix for a memorable film-noir.
Other than the DVD Copy of the film and a postcard, there's not much else to this package.
A darkly moody and evocative film, Delmer Daves' 'The Red House' is a psychological thriller with film noir aspirations at its center. Starring the legendary Edward G. Robinson as a crippled farmer, the film is a rather conventional tale about dark secrets and the crazed passions that corrupt the heart, but it remains wildly entertaining thanks to Daves' direction, beautiful photography and excellent score. The Blu-ray from Film Chest arrives with a good audio and video presentation that doesn't greatly impress but is generally acceptable. Bonus material is a disappointment, but fans of the film should be happy with the overall package.