A Classic Restored: The Red House (1947)
Fifteen years ago, a young couple left their two-year-old daughter in the care of neighbor Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) while they established their own farm. They would return for the child once they were settled. The couple never settled, however; they died in an accident, leaving daughter Meg (Allene Roberts) to be raised by the Morgan family. Each member of this little family adored the others until one day…
The Red House is a film noir classic but it is not classic film noir. Although steamy romance, jealousy, and passionate murder form the backstory, they are not the focus of the screenplay. Instead, the plot revolves around Pete Morgan, a farmer with a wooden leg (yes, it’s relevant), who is getting on in years and needs a little help around the farm. Meg, now a teenager, convinces high school friend Nath (Lon McCallister) to meet Pete, who offers him employment at a whopping 35¢ an hour (Nath negotiates for 50¢ an hour due to his long walk home).
Nath’s employment impacts both Morgan family dynamics and his relationship with high school hottie Tibbie (Julie London looking far too experienced to be a high school girl…at least in 1947). Meg falls in love with Nath, Nath is in love with Tibbie, Tibbie is in love with Tibbie, and on the fringe of all this puppy love is Teller (Rory Calhoun), a high school dropout who is on the make for any girl in town. Teller lives in Oxhead Woods, a section of Pete Morgan’s property.
Meg has never gone into the woods because Pete forbade it, but when Nath’s curiosity is aroused (particularly after he’s clubbed in the woods), she joins him in uncovering the mystery there—a mystery that includes a red house and rumors of mysterious screams in the night. Soon dark, troubling secrets begin to surface that confirm the town folks’ suspicions about the Morgans.
Film Chest Media Group recently released a restored, HD print of The Red House, available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack on the HD Cinema Classics label. The film has held up well over the past 65 years, and the story is riveting. The dark atmosphere, eerie score (by Miklós Rózsa), and solid performances by its cast, particularly Robinson as the obsessed farmer and Roberts in the challenging role of Meg, contribute to its continuing appeal.