Edward G. Robinson plays a crippled rural farmer in The Red House (1947). He hires a highschool lad, Nath (Lon McCallister), to help out on the farm, triggering an unexpected crisis in the farmer's life & sanity.
At first it seems like odd casting, the face associated with urban gangster roles as a kindly farmer type. But this character, Pete Morgan, has a ferocious secret he has kept for many years. And when his adopted daughter Meg (Allene Roberts) falls in love with Nath, Pete starts down a long slow decline into madness, as his fear of loss is more crippling than his wooden leg. Robinson is great casting for this at first eccentric farmer who turns out to be stark raving bonkers.
One windy evening Nath takes a shortcut home through the forest, though Pete has been close to maniacal in insisting something haunts the woods.
Because of the crazy warnings, Nath happens upon an old tumbledown red house, but before he can investigate the ruin, he's overcome with dread for no clearly discernible reason, & flees the woods in terror.
Annoyed with himself for letting Pete's superstitions get the better of him, he swears to himself that he'll get to the bottom of this alleged haunting.
A young hunter named Teller (Rory Calhoun looking very rebel-without-a-cause) is interested in Nath's girlfriend Libby (Julie London), & she's flirtatiously drawn back & forth between these rivals for her hand. Teller has been hired by old Pete to scare people out of the woods & away from the red house, in trade for exclusive hunting rights on the properties.
Whatever is Pete's secret, it is driving him insane with paranoid belief that the mere sight of the red house will induce knowledge of his past crime.
The only person who knows what he did so many years before is his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson, who was Mrs. Danvers in Hitchock's Rebecca, 1940). She tries to convince him that he is worried about nothing, no one will ever know how in a jealous rage he killed Meg's mother & father.
The young hunter has been instructed to shoot at, but not wound, anyone who comes near the red house. One night Ellen sets out with the idea of burning down the red house & the ice house beside it, thinking that if these reminders of his crime are destroyed, Pete will regain his senses. The hunter trying to scare the woman away accidentally kills her, so heads out on the lam, taking Libby with him.
Meanwhile Pete descends into further madness so that he now believes Nath & Meg are the two people he killed years before, & he begins to re-enact his past crime, with the young couple's lives in the balance. That Meg was raised by, & loves Pete, makes this psychologically deeper than most films with a stalker/killer. The scenario set up is one that cannot have a happy outcome no matter what happens.
Though not quite a classic, this is a very odd & interesting noir-gothic melodrama of rural madness, murder, & vague intimations of incestuous desire. The climax in the ice house is swiftly horrific.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl