Movies We Like
The Red House
Public domain film titles can be a great source of discovery for classic film buffs. There are some really weird movies that have made their way into Amoeba's DVD stock from companies such as Alpha Video which specialize in the obscure, the really terrible, and sometimes, a lost gem or two. But the experience of watching, even a good film, from a public domain copy can be pretty iffy. For one, their cover art is generally terrible. Poorly photoshopped images, terrible title fonts: on the whole, they are generally an affront to graphic design and good taste. This is why I had stayed away from The Red House, a not terribly well-known Delmer Daves noir starring Edward G. Robinson, made in 1947. Even when I finally relented, in search of more obscure noir thrills, the public domain copy I found looked and sounded awful. Whatever the filmmakers intended I could not see what it was because the sound and image were of such poor quality it was practically unwatchable.
But then a company I'd never heard of called HD Cinema Classics released a DVD/Blu-Ray combo of The Red House and once seen it was like a completely different film. What, in earlier editions, looked muddy and incoherent was now restored to its eerily gorgeous self. It's a beautiful and dark, dark, dark film and deserves high placement in the noir canon. This is a film that belongs in the same cinematic world of spooky, mysterious enchantment of The Night of the Hunter and Twin Peaks and, though it might be a stretch, The Innocents.
Edward G. Robinson plays a farmer named Pete who lives with his sister, Ellen, and his adopted daughter, Meg. A voice-over introduces us to their town, where "girls don't come any prettier." Meg loves her guardians but it's pretty weird from the start and that's only the beginning of the disquieting incest theme that seems to run throughout the film. A local nice guy in Meg's class named Nath decides to help Meg and her father out at their farm. Pete's getting on in his years and his wooden leg doesn't help. Nath has some questions about this much talked about isolated trio. Over dinner he angers Pete with his insistence that he cut across the woods to get home. Pete doesn't want anyone going into those woods. This arouses Nath's curiosity and soon he's convinced Meg to help him find the forbidden "red house" in the woods that Pete warns them not to go near. A sultry Julie London plays Nath's girlfriend who gets interested in a hunky rockabilly juvenile delinquent named Teller whom Pete pays to guard the woods from trespassers with his shot gun. Tragedy and horror ensue, terrible truths are revealed, and young love blossoms in an ending that could have had Julie Cruise's "Mysteries of Love" playing in the background and it would have worked perfectly. This is a proto-Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.
The Red House DVD/Blu-Ray combo proves what a powerful effect film restoration can have in helping us to appreciate a lost work of art. I am glad that companies such as Alpha keep the weird and the forgotten (probably for the best) alive in some form, but a film such as this deserves more respect and I'm thankful that The Red House has finally gotten the treatment it deserves.