Hulu again. I was looking for another bad movie, and I went instinctively to Huly’s classic movies section. This one is borderline. In a pinch it could qualify for Bad Movie of the Week, for reasons that will become clear. In this case I needed another Bad Movie Wednesday, so here is The Red House, from 1947 and released through United Artists. Musical score is by Miklós Rózsa. Details are from Wikipedia.
This stars Edward G. Robinson and features a number of others soon to become big screen headliners. It’s based on a book of the same name by George Agnew Chamberlain. It’s too bad the house is read, because this movie is in monochrome (black and white), so you never get to see the red house.
Since this is supposed to be a mystery and suspense story, I’m not going to recap the plot. You need to catch it on Hulu or Netflix. First you have to imagine yourself two years following World War Two. Things are back to normal (the book was written during the war), and there are no references to the conflagration that has just destroyed much of the civilized world.
In rural America, looks like the Appalachians, a school bus in the town of Union is taking students home. We all remember those days. Three teenagers, about ready to graduate, sit in the back of the bus and make banter. Meg (Allene Roberts) stares straight ahead while her pals, Nath Storm (Lon McCallister) and Tibby (Julie London), make out. They are thinking marriage after graduation.
At home on the farm Meg confers with Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson), a farmer who has adopted her. Pete has a wooden leg, due to an accident 15 years prior. Meg suggests Pete hire Nath to help out on the farm.
A deal is struck, and Nath goes to work immediately that day, at 50 cents an hour. But he’s going to have to walk home after dinner at Pete’s house. Pete warns him not to take the path through the woods.
Does Nath follow this advice? Are we ever going to learn the secret of the red house in the woods?
We introduce another character. This is Teller (Rory Calhoun), a local bad boy who dropped out of school and now makes a living by unknown means. He is sweet on Tilly, and she begins to reconsider her commitment to Nath.
There is a darker side. Pete has granted Teller exclusive hunting and other rights to the mysterious woods with the job of keeping all trespassers out. The assignment devolves to use of weapons if necessary.
This turn has tragic consequences, as Pete’s sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) falls victim to a bullet from Teller’s rifle.
And we eventually learn the dark secret of the red house. At various points in the story this movie appears to be a predecessor variously to Skooby Doo, The Blair Witch Project, and The Cabin in the Woods. That notwithstanding, it fails on a number of points.Robinson puts in a good performance as a conflicted personality, haunted by a dark secret. Other performances are flat by comparison, and by most other measures. A number of plot features seem to have been inserted to string the story along, without any relevance to the theme.
Nath’s mother is a widow. There is a lot of conversation between the two about her marrying her long-time man friend, which she does toward the end of the movie, and they move out of town. This has no effect on the course of the action.
Teller approaches Tilly and gives her $750 dollars to purchase a government bond for him. This adds mystery to the plot, but the mystery is never resolved and does not integrate well into the theme. Where did he get the money, a couple of month’s pay in those days?
The romance between Nath and Tilly burns up a lot of celluloid and distracts from the theme. It’s fine as background, but at times it becomes the foreground.
Julie London continued in film and television up through 1978.