Sunday, April 22, 2012

Restored on Blu-ray & DVD: Delmer Daves' not-quite-noir mystery THE RED HOUSE

Some old movies are simply old movies -- with little that approaches the "classic" about them. They're fun for awhile (was the audience actually scared by this kind of hooey?), and if the cast and credits are peopled with enough interesting names, worth watching just for the chance to see so-and-so, back in the day. Such a film is THE RED HOUSE, from 1947, a black-and-white, would-be mystery/film-noir/thriller boasting a crack cast led by Edward G. Robinson, a decent journeyman director (Delmer Daves) and a score by Miklós Rózsa.

Possibly the first in the now mini-genre of don't-go-into-the-woods movies, the hoary story involves a small, down-on-its-luck town where nearly everyone seems to have money problems but the high school kids are all fresh and innocent (above) and look closer to 30 than to 15 years old (some things, movie-wise, never change -- unless that old saw about the camera adding ten pound to one's figure should also include adding ten years to one's age).

Mismatched couples abound, beginning with Mr. Robinson and his charming, sweet "niece" (played by Allene Roberts, above, in her film debut) and high-school sweethearts, the fresh-faced Lon McCallister (below, right) and his gal Julie London (below, left). This is the earliest I'd ever seen Ms London in a film, and whew -- she was sultry even then!

Not just mismatched couples but couples-that-couldn't-be also grace the movie, from Robinson's early and ill-fated love to that of his sacrificing sister, nicely played by Judith Anderson (in a positive role, for a change) who's in love, from afar, with the town's doctor. Due to his quasi-incestuous love for Ms Roberts, Robinson faces off -- unnecessarily -- against McCallister, and things get, as they usually do in melodramas, way out of hand. (There also seems a little something incestuous going on between McCallister's character and his mom, played well by Ona Munsonbelow. Check out their goodbye kiss, as she leaves him to take off with her new hubby....)

As happens when we watch movies made 65 years ago, the audience stays far ahead of the game and must wait for the film to catch up. By the time it does, we're tapping our toes in anticipation and/or annoyance. This is especially true with The Red House during its final fifteen minutes, when information we've long ago figured out in general is handed to us with western-union, spell-it-out specifics. Mr Robinson, below, good as he always was, is given some of the silliest dialog you'll have heard him render: ersatz psychological twaddle combined with an ooooh-I'm-losing-my-marbles speech that is loony-tunes memorable.

Otherwise, you can look forward to seeing an also very young (and hunky as ever) Rory Calhoun as the sort-of-but-not-really bad guy in the mix. Daves directs competently, keeping on track with a tone that moves from the romantic to the mysterious to the slightly noirish. Rózsa's score -- of its time and typically heavy-handed -- still remains fun to hear.

The new Blu-ray disc of The Red House (100 minutes) looks pretty good in this Film Chest remastering into high definition, certainly better than the regular DVD of the film. Both discs come in a single package that retails for a suggested $15.98 and will hit the street this Tuesday, April 24.

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