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The Red House | Blu-ray Review

Delmer Daves The Red House CoverDirector and screenwriter Delmer Daves is perhaps best remembered today for directing the seminal film noir Dark Passage (1947), which utilized a unique first person perspective and starred Bogie and Bacall. Despite directing a number of celebrated Westerns and penning the pinnacle of romantic melodramas in 1957, Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember, Daves’ considerable filmography was more or less overlooked (at least as far as accolades) during a prolific career which spanned from 1943 to 1965. Recently, a growing number of notable distribution labels have resuscitated several of his features, with Criterion releasing restorations of Jubal (1956) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957), while Twilight Time recently dropped a limited edition of 1958’s Cowboy. The Film Detective rescues the director’s other, less celebrated noir from 1947, The Red House, which had lapsed into the public domain and previously only available via a poor transfer from Alpha Video.

The locals are leery of the mysterious Morgans, a standoffish brother and sister pair running a secluded, self-sufficient farm. Peter Morgan’s (Edward G. Robinson) fake leg has made their future uncertain, and so sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) and their adopted teenage daughter Meg (Allene Roberts) convince him to take on a hired hand. Meg is sweet on a boy at school, the rather oblivious Nath (Lon McCallister), who agrees to show up for an impromptu interview despite the protestations of his all-consuming girlfriend, Tibby (Julie London). Though Pete and Ellen are sufficiently awkward, all parties agree Nath should stay on as a farm hand…until he tries to walk home and take a shortcut through the woods, eliciting a strange response from Pete who demands he take the long way home in order to avoid the screams coming from a terrifying red house.

Daves adapts from a source novel from George Agnew Chamberlain (who also penned the novel Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hey!, which starred McCallister and an uncredited Marilyn Monroe in 1948), and manages to conjure and maintain significant intrigue with this simple scenario, thanks in part to the weird energy of its principle cast. McCallister seems a bit too old for romance with the gangly Roberts (in her screen debut), and their central romance supplies the titles with its most stale bits. An anxious, nearly hysterical Edward G. Robinson commands this unassuming B-grade narrative, a set-up which would be borrowed time and again by other genre films (this one particularly recalls an MST3K enhanced horror item, The Touch of Satan, 1971).

Superb character actor Judith Anderson is Robinson’s coldly severe opposite, while Rory Calhoun is on hand as a lusty, enigmatic young man either luring or shooting at the younger female character traipsing through the woods. Besides a compelling Robinson, The Red House features a pair of notable supporting performers, famed jazz singer Julie London, the “Cry Me a River” crooner who steals all her scenes as the haughty sex-pot, and Ona Munson as McCallister’s strangely affectionate mother (they lip lock in one bizarre farewell scene). Munson, known for her striking performances in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Von Sternberg’s neglected The Shanghai Gesture (1941) feels a tad underutilized in a subplot which seems abridged for this consolidated adaptation (and sadly, this would be her last film appearance prior to her suicide in 1955).

Disc Review:

The Film Detective does an excellent job of cleaning up this transfer, presented in 1.33:1. Beyond DP Bert Glennon’s attempts to create a rural mood around the woodsy, isolated farm house (replete with several eerie night-time wind sequences), another highlight is a superb score from three time Oscar winning composer Miklos Rozsa (Double Indemnity; The Killers; Spellbound), who assists with a moody, dominating piece which stands out as one of the title’s best elements. Sadly, no extra features are included.

Final Thoughts:

A tad gamey but nevertheless entertaining, The Red House is an entertaining rediscovery for fans of its notable director and cast members, in this (more or less) offbeat noir.

Film Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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