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Blu-ray Review: The Red House

Joshua Brunsting

April 24th, 2012

Films that are found within the realms of what is known as the “public domain” are often both the greatest films around (I’m thinking of films like HIS GIRL FRIDAY or even a film like THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) and also the type of films that you’ll find either in the bargain bin at your local Wal-mart or in a given collection of films with the worst visual quality imaginable.  However, one of those films has just gotten its first release on Blu-ray stateside, and in a rather masterful quality.

Coming to us from  HD Cinema Classics, THE RED HOUSE has finally arrived on Blu-ray. While the company giving it to us may sound like the name of a local corner bootleg stand, this release couldn’t be further from that.

The film stars the pair of Edward G. Robinson and Judith Anderson as a husband and wife who have helped raise a young woman, Meg, as their own on their in-the-middle-of-nowhere farm. When her friend who happens to be a boy, Nath, comes to help with her cavalcade of chores, the man decides to roam the woods while taking a shortcut home, only to come across the horrors that come with a house abandoned in the woods. In what can be best described as a tense and hauntingly enthralling psychological thriller, THE RED HOUSE has become a rarely-seen classic that has only become more potent with age, and now a newly restored 35mm print brought to us in glorious HD with this release.

Based on a novel from George Agnew Chamberlain, THE RED HOUSE’s biggest star is director Delmer Daves, and the world he builds here.  Set to a devastatingly affecting score penned by Miklos Rozsa, the film oozes a grungy sense of noir that is rarely seen within late ‘40s or early ‘50s cinema.  A distant relative of a film like WINTER’S BONE, Daves’ camera is emotive and evocative, dipping the viewer in a wooded bit of noir that feels like early Cormac McCarthy.  With religious overtones, THE RED HOUSE conveys an odd but effective sense of tonal dissonance, popping the viewer out of a moment of sheer terror and lunging us in the middle of a mother reading a spiritual script to her family. The differentiation of tone makes the film feel off-kilter, and with great black and white photography, the film is brooding as all hell.

Robinson is a force of nature here as the handicapped farmer Pete, giving the film his distinct sense of physicality and his singular kinetic energy. His career is full of performances with a similar sense of fire, but here it seems to fit perfectly within the film’s spiritual backing. Judith Anderson is just as good as Pete’s wife Ellen, proving a fine equal to Pete.  Toss in Lon McCallister and Allene Roberts as the pair of Nath and Meg, and the film's fantastic cast is complete out from top to bottom.

THE RED HOUSE does have its flaws, namely a  run-time of 100 minutes. It feels a tad too long, with some rather odd pacing choices. The tonal shifts work within the narrative of the film, but there are some lengthy moments that truly take away from the overall momentum of the film.  Within the grand scheme of film noir, this isn’t a masterwork, particularly when looking at the all-star canon of one Edward G. Robinson.  Bloated length be damned, THE RED HOUSE is a winning thriller with a brooding sense of backwoods dread and terror that is hard to match when looking at its fellow genre staples.

Oh, and this Blu-ray is gorgeous.

Featuring a fantastic transfer, struck directly from 35mm source materials, THE RED HOUSE is given a new life in the HD, its gorgeous photography popping off the screen. Rozsa’s score is already a given masterwork, but with the audio at its top-notch quality, the film is as moving as one could ever have imagined.

Priced at $17, one would have imagined that the release is just the film on Blu-ray, with no supplements. Well, that’s what makes this release so damn worth it. Including a DVD copy of the film, the release also comes with a cool little postcard, a trailer, and also a really great and informative commentary with William Hare.  A noir nut and author of a handful of novels based around the history of film noir, Hare is an expert in this genre  and seems to really love and cherish this little gem of an unsung classic. A classic - that’s exactly what this film is.

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