Being a long time fan of Edward G. Robinson, this film has eluded me till now and that’s mainly because it had fallen into public domain and knowing that, I wasn’t interested in seeing some faded, barely watchable black and white print. Thankfully the film was restored and put out on blu ray by HD Cinema Classics nudging me to watch it. So now I’d like to state after my first viewing that this is one heck of an eerie thriller with Noir overtones that culminates in an unforgettable image at the fade out that had me voicing my excitement aloud and rewinding the disc to see it again.
“Trespass at your own risk”
It’s a dense, isolated country where farmer Edward G. Robinson and his sister, Judith Anderson work the land and raise their adopted daughter Allene Roberts. They are social outcasts and don’t mingle much with the locals but that is going to change when the blossoming Roberts convinces schoolmate Lon McCallister to visit the farm in the hopes that the peg legged Robinson will hire him on to help with chores each day after school. The young girl clearly has eyes only for Lon but what’s a girl to do when the flirtatious Julie London has her hooks into him.
Something mysterious is afoot and when Robinson warns McCallister to stay out of the woods on the way home for fears of the screams emanating from The Red House, he only creates a mystery that the youngsters want to embrace and discover for themselves. With the wind whipping and Eddie screaming his dire warnings at Lon as he enters the woods, it’s a scene worthy of any Val Lewton thriller though this time it’s directed and a credit to Delmer Daves.
Entering the story is Rory Calhoun who it appears hangs out in the woods as a vagabond and no count. Just the type that Miss London might be interested in as opposed to her schoolboy beau McCallister. When the kids spend the better part of their Sunday in the woods and Eddie learns of it, his sanity appears to be in question and when the little girl he has raised as his own begins to challenge his authority he turns to physical violence. He’s walking a tightrope between the gentle Eddie of Our Vines Have Tender Grapes and the loose cannon of Key Largo who doesn’t handle pressure all too well.
With beads of sweat forming on his brow, is Eddie slipping into madness or is he a red herring? Of what, we’re not sure.
Between eventual cowboy star Rory Calhoun and Judith Anderson, the terrifying secret of the Red House will be revealed though for audiences of 1947 there are more devilish innuendoes to contemplate. First and foremost will be is Eddie capable of molesting the young Roberts as his grip on reality steadily declines. The threat is there and his sister is all to aware of it though there’s no way the “code” was going to let that get into the film.
The past will come back to haunt Eddie in the dynamite climax that will see the characters converge deep in the woods at the mysterious Red House as they attempt to solve the mystery that plagues them, exposing the secrets of the past.
Not only is this an edge of your seat thriller with a noir twist, it’s also a wonderful coming of age story from young Roberts angle and can be viewed as such. You’ll easily find yourself rooting for her, the plain girl next door dreaming that McCallister might take notice of her over the readily available London. One can also attach the word Gothic in describing it’s overall feel and isolated filming location, much of it taking place at night or in those darkened woods where evil lurks, awaiting it’s next victim.
Once again, Edward G. Robinson delivers an electrifying performance that fits nicely into his oeuvre of forties films and serves as a sharp contrast between his roles in Scarlet Street and The Woman In the Window for Fritz Lang, only demonstrating how versatile he could be outside of his gangster persona of which he is most commonly known. The impressive Miss Roberts made her film debut here and after a decade in the business retired from the screen following what amounted to mostly Television work.
Daves was a sure handed director and shows his talent for handling diverse material with Red House before moving into the 1950’s and serving up some of the most enjoyable westerns of the decade including a trio of Glenn Ford winners, Jubal, 3:10 to Yuma and Cowboy.
Easily one of my best discoveries of new to me films this year thus earning my highest recommendation if you haven’t already enjoyed the film for yourself. And if you have, why not give it another go.