The Red House (1947) – Delmer Daves

I dug into another of the trauma inducing titles from the Ten Bad Dates With De Niro movie book, and this one is pretty dark, filled with intimations that can be drawn out as you observe the action, and the undertones at work in this film.

Edward G. Robinson headlines this back country melodrama that feels unnerving from the beginning when you learn that Robinson’s Pete Morgan and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) have been living in a remote farmhouse with their adopted daughter, Meg (Allene Roberts), long enough for the local townies to conjure all manner of gossip and spooky stories about.

When Meg brings home Nath (Lon McAllister), a boy she’s sweet on, to help Pete out around the farm, she opens a Pandora’s Box that is going to bring the whole family to ruin.

Nath is keen to take the job, as his mom’s shop in town isn’t making enough, but is intent on taking a shortcut through the woods home. Pete warns him against it, and the warnings verge on threats, a threat that is enforced by someone in the woods.

There are secrets there, secrets that affect the Morgan family, and reveal some horrible truths.

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Despite the level of melodrama in the script, which was penned by director Dawes from the novel by George Agnew Chamberlain, there is a real sense of menace and creep permeating the film, and once the revelations start coming, that sensation stays with you, right until Robinson’s final scene in the film.

Robinson’s performance isn’t subtle, it’s all blunt force, which makes the last few onscreen moments that much more powerful.

It’s a troubling story, and it so fits within the context of small towns and gossip, dark corners and secrets. I guess I’m trying to say there’s a feeling of authenticity to the film, even when some of the performances are a little over the top, or even silly – the character of Tibby (Julie London) for instance seems to be more caricature than character.

Still, that doesn’t detract from the substance of the story, and the things young Meg learns as she grows into adulthood, and works to leave the memories of her childhood behind.

It’s got as happy an ending as you can have with the subject matter, and the less thought spent on thinking of the psychological repercussions the events have on Meg and Nath the better. Perhaps we can just be happy that they are together, in an embrace by film’s end.

But I think it will be a long time before they forget what happened in the Red House, and if you take a look at it… you may feel the same way.

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