Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Underrated Movie #67: The Red House

You’ve heard me mention The Red House before. I listed it here as an underrated movie that I couldn’t cover because it’s no longer on DVD. But when I moved I discovered that I actually own an old copy! It’s such a cheapo-looking DVD that I didn’t keep it on the shelf so I forgot I had it. Let’s take a look:

Title: The Red House
Year: 1947
Director: Delmer Daves
Writer: Delmer Daves, from the novel by George Agnew Chamberlain
Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Lon McCallister, Judith Anderson (Citizen Kane), Rory Calhoun (who doesn’t look anything like a puppy), Arlene Roberts, Julie London

The Story: A subsistence farmer lusts after his foster daughter, who loves an upstanding farmhand, who dates a teen seductress, who runs around with a randy gamekeeper, who protects the sinister secrets of… the red house!

How it Came to be Underrated: Entering the public domain can be a blessing or a curse for a classic movie. Anyone can put it out on DVD, but nobody has the incentive to put any effort into it. Sometimes multiple copies flood the market and sometimes it can disappear completely, as this one has now. Sometimes Criterion rescues sleepers from the public domain and restores them, so lets hope they discover The Red House.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Daves made some great movies, but he’s better remembered today by fans of high camp who love the overheated melodramas that made him very rich at the end of his career, movies like A Summer Place and Parrish. It’s impossible to take those Troy Donahue movies seriously, so I was shocked to discover how powerful and disturbing this movie is. The plot isn’t even all that different—they’re all cautionary tales about budding teen sexuality, but this one still works.
  2. Those later movies are famous for their bombastic dialogue. Here Daves is smart enough to give most of his lyrical flourishes to tough-as-granite Robinson, who works them into a powerful portrait of bottomless madness. He can really sell a line like “We humans weren’t made that way, we were born helpless...”
  3. There was a whole sub-genre of “Freud Noirs”, but the Elektra complex and forest-as-sexuality metaphors are so insistent here that it feels more like a dark Grimm fairy tale than a crime movie.
  4. You would assume that this was a low-budget quickie, but it sure doesn’t look like it. It’s always been hard to shoot a movie about going in the woods at night because of basic practical considerations—where’s the light coming from? You would expect this movie to be marred by fake-exterior sets and/or day-for-night shooting outdoors. But most of the movie has real forest exteriors and actual night-for-night shooting. This is a movie that isn’t afraid to be dark in more ways than one.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Delmer Daves’s best movie was one of his few westerns, the original 3:10 to Yuma.

How Available Is It?: You can occasionally find it on cheap DVDs like mine, but it’s not on Netflix. My DVD, as you can see from these stills, was obviously dubbed from a degraded VHS tape, but it’s remarkably watchable.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: What Happened to Harry?

1 comment:

David said...

Well analyzed, and well written.