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Ominous October: The Red House (1947)

It's that time of year when people seek out their favorite scary movies to give themselves a chill. We will be reviewing spine-tinglers from the classic movie era. Today Rodney and Samantha discuss The Red House.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: Meg (Allene Roberts) and Nate (Lon McCallister) are school chums, though it is clear she has an enormous crush on him while he is captivated by the glamorous Tibby (Julie London). Meg invites Nate to take a job working on her family farm; her adoptive father Pete (Edward G. Robinson) has a wooden leg and can't do all the work himself. He agrees but is greeted with hostility instead of gratitude, especially when he opts to walk home through the nearby forest to save himself time. There is a secret in the woods; Pete warns of the red house and the dangers of walking through that forest at night but Nate is young and invincible and can't be told otherwise. However, fear begins to get the best of him, and he and Meg decide to use daylight hours to search for the red house and discover what could possibly be so terrible that they couldn't be told about it directly.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: When Nate first eats dinner with Meg’s family, he makes some comments about rumors surrounding the family and their isolated, anti-social ways. When watching this, I thought “What a little creep! This nice family offered him dinner and this is what he talks about? Gross.” Five minutes later, when Pete is ranting and raving over the woods without giving ANY information about why this is a bad idea, my tune changed to “This guy is nuts”. Funny how that works.

"This is the way it could always be Jeannie. We don't need anybody else."

SG: It is clear by McCallister's hairline that he isn't a schoolboy, but Roberts absolutely looks the part of a naive and insecure high school girl. It makes the lecherous quality of Robinson's character all the more stark in contrast. I feared more for her well-being more than I ever feared the supposedly terrifying house in the woods.

RB: I appreciated how they had the foresight to point out that boys stayed in high school a little bit longer than the girls so that they could help with the planning. I don’t know if this was the intended explanation for the fact that Nate looks like he’s 35 (he was actually about 25 here) but it works…sort of. Maybe it’s my 2021 sensibilities kicking in here, but I agree with you, that I was way more concerned with Meg being surrounded by leering older men than any mysterious house in the woods.

TIBBY: When you love someone, you'll do anything for them. NATE: That works both ways.

SG: It takes a long time for the secret to be revealed, and after such a build-up it feels disappointing because it was somewhat easy to guess. It's like sitting down to a great looking meal but never getting full and feeling unsatisfied at the end. My reaction could be colored by the many suspense films that have come since this one which hit all the spooky notes harder. Have I become desensitized? Would contemporary audiences have been afraid of the fabled house in the woods and by the discovery of what happened there?

RB: The film does a fairly good job of building suspense, which is ultimately revealed with all of the pomp and circumstance of a balloon slowly deflating. I don’t think it’s your being desensitized at all. I think this movie just isn’t very good at doing what it sets out to do. I was unable to find much in the way of reviews of this movie, but I would be surprised if audiences didn’t have a similar confused reaction to what we had.

SG: It has it's moments. The grand finale is beautifully and powerfully shot, but to comment too much on the details would spoil the film.

William K. Everson wrote, "Although a rather mild and rambling thriller, The Red House did have some excellent atmospheric stuff including this excellent sequence of a youth's flight through a 'haunted' wood at night. Beautifully edited by the late Merrill White, and with some effective musical fireworks from Miklos Rosza, it was quite the best sequence in the film."

RB: The cinematography is indeed beautiful, and there are some stark atmospheric moments, but ultimately, the film’s fine cast is wasted in this slow, meandering story. I kept thinking that this may have made for a pleasant Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but that’s not what happened.

SG: I did not read the novel this film was based on but I did seek out reviews. Several people who read it did so because they saw this movie and wanted to see how they compared. They commented that the book is even more vague than the film. I won't be buying it anytime soon.

In his autobiography, Robinson wrote about how Sol lesser, former head of RKO approached him with the story and suggested he produce it, which he did, "A role for which I'm totally unsuited," he said. "It was a moody piece, got moody notices, but I think it made a few bucks."

RB: In the immortal words of The Critic: “It stinks.” This is one of the more disappointing films I’ve seen in recent memory, and one which I am pleased to say I will likely never have to see again. What a dud. Two stars.

SG: The Red House has a great cast who give creditable performances, and the visuals are striking, but you can't put flounces on an ill-fitting poorly constructed dress and make it look good. The story is so lacking I just couldn't get invested. I give this movie 2 stars.

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