The Red House


Year 1949

Edward G. Robinson   as  Pete Morgan
Lon McCallister as Nath Storm
Judith Anderson as Ellen Morgan
Julie London as Tibby
Rory Calhoun as Teller
Allene Roberts as Meg Morgan
Ona Munson as Mrs. Storm
 
Director - Delmer Daves
Screenwriter - Delmer Daves  

From the hundred movies for thirty bucks collection comes The Red House;. It's been transferred by Mill Creek, so the sound goes from barely audible to loud within a single spoken word, washed out portions of the print are washout portions of the transfer, and you get to see the Mill Creek logo in the right corner of the movie every so often.

That's too bad because this isn't a "What did I just step in?" movie. Oh, it's not great but it's no worse than the drek currently coming out of Harpywood.

Here's the story. Adopted Meg Morgan (Allene Roberts) is coming of age to the point where she's in luv (l-u-v) and wants to know more about her past. Her loving adoptive father Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) knows about her past, because he helped shape it in very dark ways, but is afraid that if Meg finds out everything, she'll hate him. As added spice to the fruitcake, beneath Pete's caring persona, he's a possessive psycho nutjob.

Sounds pretty pedestrian by today's standards (although have you seen crapola like The Others?) and I'll bet that if that was all there was to it, it would have been a yawner even back then. But, there's an entire sub-theme dealing with relationships and responsibilities within relationships that elevate the movie. That aspect of the portrayals is very well done. Oh, not Fight Club well done because these are normal people. And not sell-someone-out every day well done, but rather old school honor and tradition well done.

And considering all that's happening, the viewer never gets lost so congratulations to the screenwriter for keeping things tight.

Pete and his sister Ellen live alone. Ellen can't leave her brother because...well, because he's got a screw loose. Their adopted daughter Meg is in love with local boy Nath Storm (Lon McCallister). Nath thinks he's in love with shallow rich girl Tibby (Julie London). Tibby wants Nath all to herself so that she can mold him. But Tibby gets all tingly when she's with local bad boy and high-school drop out Teller (Rory Calhoun). Teller in turn likes Tibby well enough physically.

But wait, there's more! Ellen is in love with the local doctor but familial allegiance to Pete comes first so she's a withered old maid. Nath's mother, a widow, is in love with someone who's been courting her for eight freakin' years! but can't pursue her heart because of her responsibility to Nath. Considering how everyone in this movie has a secret, I wonder how Nath's dad really "died".

So what's the deal with the red house? Well, it's the nexus for Pete's past. It's not the starting point for his obsessive behavior, but it was manifested there.

What happened there? Guess. Hint! If you listen to Tom Waits' "Murder in the Red Barn" first, it makes this movie creepier.

Will Meg find out what really happened to her mother? Will Meg find true love? Who will Tibby choose? Will Nath's mother elope with the guy from town? Will Ellen lose her virginity to the doctor? (Singing: Who let the moths out?) Will Pete quit hearing those pesky voices? Will there be another Ice Age? Enquiring minds gots to know!

This movie gets points for being nicely layered. A lot of plot points are explained, like why Pete has a wooden leg. It loses points for things like Pete being able to effortlessly handle a clutch transmission truck on a bumpy dirt road with said wooden leg.

The movie gets a lot of credit for treating farming as a noble profession. I remember palling around with a girl when I was eighteen. (Did you just yawn?) She was also eighteen and engaged. I worried about her marrying at such a young age. But, she was a farm girl and, if you don't already know it, farm life is different than city life. In the city, you keep growing and changing. On the farm, you enter a simple way of life whose predictable cycles reward you with constancy. An eighteen year old farm girl is done seeking. This girl that I was friends with was on the road to fulfillment and she was ready to settle into the life that was right for her.

I hope her decision gave her everything she'd expected.

Now for the bad things other than the lousy transfer. This Meg creature is a good place to start. Maybe she was supposed to be sympathetic and vulnerable. What she became was annoying thanks to her frequent bouts of catatonia. Oh, she recites her lines but they might as well come from M. Valdemar.

At one point Teller has seven-hundred-fifty smackers. Where did they come from? Pete? A bank? (Teller? Bank? Nevermind.) When questioned about the source of the funds, he acts like he's stolen the money. From where? Was it just a foil so that Teller and Tibby could meet and fall in lust? It had a side effect of providing Tibby with proof that Teller was a man of substance. Still, its back story was never explained.

As for the house itself, which is a farm house in a mountain depression, what could anyone raise there? Rocks? Ice?

Local #1: "I can't find the house."
Local #2: "That's 'cause it's in a cul de sac at the bottom of a ravine."
Local #1: "Oh."
Local #2: "Yep. It's the farm house that's surrounded by rocks for a mile in any direction."
Local #1: "Oh. The one where there's no flat land."
Local #2: "That's the one. They used to havest two, three stalks of corn a year out there."
Local #1: "Wow!"
Local #2: "And they had an ice house, too."
Local #1: "Why'd they leave?"
Local #2: "To look for better land to farm."
Local #1: "Shouldn't be hard to do."
Local #2: "They went to the Sahara."
Local #1: "At least it's flat."

Then there's the name "Rory". Rory Calhoun is a handsome fellow in the L'il Abner mold of jeans, long legs, deep chest, and dark curly hair. No problem with him. The problem's with his name, which I can't resist making fun of. I'm sure that it was used in one fashion or another for cartoon characters. I'll bet that it's even something that Scooby Doo or Astro mangled. "Rory?" What did they really mean if they'd said it? Laurie? Cori? Roll me? Something even more sinister?

All in all, though, thanks to some decent acting from everyone except Allene Roberts, I kept watching and I'm glad that I did.


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