Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blu-ray Review: THE RED HOUSE (1947)

Blu-ray + DVD Combo
Label: HD Cinema Classics
Region: 0 NTSC [DVD] Region-FREE [Blu-ray]
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 100 mins
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1) 
Director: Delmer Daves
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Judith Anderson, Julie London, Lon McCallister, Allene Roberts
Tagline: You Dare Not Even Guess The Strange Love Story pf The Red House

Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson, The Strangers) and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson, Hitchcock's Rebecca) live on an isolated farm on the outskirts of a small town just on the edge of a dark and allegedly haunted forest. There they've quietly raised their adopted teen daughter Meg (Allene Roberts, TV's Dragnet) since she was abandoned by her parents years ago. Things around the farm are pretty quiet until Meg's friend Nath (Lon McCallister) comes on as a hired hand at the farm assist the aging and one-legged Pete. Meg's teen hormones kick-in and she falls in love with Nath much to the dismay of his smoking-hot girlfriend Tibby (Julie London, Night of the Quarter Moon) who in turn gives her affections to a brooding young man named Teller (Rory Calhoun, Motel Hell).

Pete's a pretty sweet man but his pastoral demeanor starts to unravel when Meg and Nath  explore the swampy forests near the farm despite Pete's alarming warnings of superstitions and soul-shattering screams that emanate from a mysterious red house. As teens are prone to do the warnings on serve to peak their curiosity and it seems the further they delve into the woods the deeper Pete's sinks into madness. 

Edward G. Robinson (Key Largo) is truly fantastic as the unraveling Pete whom bit by bit loses his grip on reality leading to tragic and dizzying finale  - he is the stand apart performance here.  A particularly effective scene has Pete careening into a furious rage that sends a table flying across the room injuring his sister when a dark secret is revealed, it's great stuff. Worth mentioning is cinema great Judith Andrews as Pete's tragic sister Ellen and it was a treat to see "Vincent Farmer" himself Rory Calhoun of the nutso 80's slasher  Motel Hell (1980) portraying the rogue who steals the affections of Nath's girl.  Tibby played by the big-eyed beauty Julie London of TV's Emergency is simply smoldering as the sexually aroused Tibby. We also get good performances from Allene Roberts and Lon McCallister as the young lovers but they really pale in shadow of Robinson's unhinged Pete and the conflicted Tibby who really made the film me. 

The film is definitely a slow burn - at 100 minutes in length the thrills don't really kick in till  the final act which ratchets up the tension and insanity. The night scenes in the woods  are creepy and intense with howling winds and strange noises everywhere. When Nath ignores Pete's warning not to enter the woods he is stricken with an unnatural panic returning to the farm terrified, it's great stuff. Bert Glennon's (The House of Wax) attractively lensed cinematography is strikingly lit and gives  this thriller a definite noir feel at times. 

Blu-ray: HD Cinema Classics presents The Red House (1947) with a restored full-frame transfer sourced from original 35mm elements. Like many of HD Cinema Classics's restored public domain films there's been a thick application of digital noise reduction that's not only sucked away the film grain from the image but left it bereft of fine detail leaving in it's place a waxy plasticine image with rampant smearing. On the plus side there's little visible damage but film grain lovers will not exactly rejoice over this one. 

The Blu-ray features English language DTS-HD mono audio with optional Spanish subtitles. This is the first title from HD Cinema Classics to offer a lossless audio option and it's much appreciated despite the limited fidelity of the mono presentation, there's some minor distortions throughout but it's not an unpleasant listen and Mikola Roza's (Ben Hur) theramin-tinged score sounds pretty great, too.

Special features include a pretty dry audio commentary with author William Hare, the signature movie art postcard that are synonymous with HD Cinema Classics titles, a brief before and after restoration demo, trailer for the film and a standard-definition DVD version of the film that carries over the bonus content.

I just can't give the transfer very high marks particularly after seeing recent black and white  classics like Swamp Water (1941) and Fritz Lang's blistering-noir The Big Heat (1953) from Twilight Time label with gorgeous restored 1080p transfers with the film grain and fine detail intact. To play devil's advocate it must be a tough business model restoring these public domain titles that are freely available online and on numerous budget collections.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with author William Hare
- Movie Trailer (1:24) 4:3
- Before and After Restoration Demo (1:05)
- Original Movie Art Postcard

Verdict: The Red House (1947) is probably a bit slow but if you have the patience for a slow-burn with an amped-up finale with a satisfying and dizzying conclusion this is a first-rate psychological-thriller with some great noir-styled thrills.  3 outta 5 

Other HD Cinema Classics reviewed on the site, follow the links to read: Zaat, Poor Pretty Eddie, The Terror, Dementia 13