Saturday, April 21, 2012

THE RED HOUSE (1947) - if you want kids to keep away from a house in the woods, tell them it is filled with textbooks

 Here is the entire movie in crappy quality.  You're welcome.

Poor Meg (Allene Roberts) is an aww shucks high school student caught in a rather unfortunate position. First of all, her stepdad (Edward G. Robinson) appears to be hiding some horrible secret, and he also has a wooden leg. I gotta assume that if you’re dad has a wooden leg, you’re gonna get teased in high school; “hey, isn’t your dad technically 15% wood? HA HA HA”, or “is your dad Captain Ahab or just a pirate? HA HA HA”, or whatever. She also has a crush on fellow classmate Nath (Lon McCallister), but he’s dating the conniving but hot Tibby (Julie London). She’s hoping that Nath will leave the evil and attractive girl and hook up with her, the nice girl, instead (this was back in the 40’s when such a concept wasn’t completely laughable). She convinces her stepfather Mr. Morgan to hire Nath to help out on their farm, as he is in desperate need of employment and doesn’t mind working up a sweat in a barn. 

 However, Nath ends up becoming an intruder of sorts into this close knit family. Nath, Meg, and Tibby all get curious about the mysterious red house in the woods on Morgan’s farm. Morgan is constantly warning the kids to never go exploring the woods looking for the house, but of course, kids always do the opposite of what their parents tell them to do. So, what’s the big deal with the red house? Does an axe murderer live there? Is it red because it’s covered in blood? Is the house filled with treasure stolen form a pirate ship? Does Morgan have a younger brother with two heads living there? If you have one two-headed brother, don’t you really have two brothers that share the same body? Is this one of those Freudian deals? The possibilities are endless, and I for one refuse to give the secret away. 

The Red House seems to have its roots in gothic melodrama. Morgan is hiding a sinister family secret, and his stepdaughter is attempting to discover this secret. He is haunted by years of guilt and repression, and the sins of the father are coming back to haunt his daughter as well. However, the setting is transplanted to a farmhouse instead of the usual crumbling mansion. The two innocent teenagers trying to find a red house hidden away in the woods feels like a particularly Freudian fairy tale. There are also horror elements, especially in the scene where Nath attempts to take a shortcut through the woods during a foreboding wind storm, made all the more foreboding by the “no trespassing” sign and the shadowy figure who stalks him through the woods. Having said that, I’ve most commonly heard the movie described as a noir or a thriller, and you could sort of fit it into those categories too if you wanted, but any noir or thriller elements seem rather tangential. 

One thing that stood out to me about the script was that so much character development and subtext comes out of such a simple plot device. There’s a house in the woods that people keep talking about but is never seen (until the end), and that alone drives the entire story forward while managing to stay interesting throughout. It’s the classic gothic “hidden secret”, but it never feels like a cheap device or an obvious symbol. 

 Robinson owns in the lead, as you might imagine, conveying all of the inner turmoil and the growing insanity and what-have-you. Allene Roberts is also completely adorable and sympathetic as Meg. The swirling and haunting score by Miklos Rozsa is also great, a bit reminiscent of his score for Hitchcock’s Spellbound, especially with the use of a theremin (which would soon become a staple of sci-fi scores in the 50’s). My only complaint is that the movie is a bit long for such a simple setup (100 minutes), and might have played a little better if it was more streamlined, maybe losing some of the subplot involving Tibby and her boyfriend on the side (Rory Calhoun). But what do I know. 

P.S. I have a review for the Blu-ray over up at Planet Fury.  I didn't want to open up a can of worms by beginning to discuss picture quality and what-have-you on my blog.  Yes, I'm a complete idiot.

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