Ah, the golden age of Hollywood, when films actually relied on strong stories to build suspense and keep audiences riveted to the screen. I had never really heard of The Red House (1947) until recently, but this is one heck of a good film. It sometimes gets associated with film noir, but I would describe it as more of a psychological thriller. It features a strong cast, including the likes of Edward G. Robinson, Judith Anderson, and Rory Calhoun (as well as a wonderful young actress named Allene Roberts), a wonderful musical score by Miklos Rozsa, and a plot that methodically works itself out to great effect.
Young Meg (Roberts) lives on a quiet country farm with Pete Morgan (Robinson) and his sister Ellen (Anderson), having been taken in by the Morgans as a two-year-old following the death of her parents. Everything is calm and peaceful until Meg talks Pete into hiring some extra help in the form of young Nath Storm (Lon McCallister). When Nath says he is taking a shortcut through the woods, Pete goes off half-cocked and starts ranting about the woods being haunted, screams in the night, and the evils of a red house. Nath soon comes running back to the farm, but he is determined to figure out the secret of those woods. Meg also wants to know why she has always been forbidden to enter the woods, and the two of them sneak off several times to go exploring. Pete becomes more unsettled as the movie progresses, as dark memories begin to bubble to the surface of his mind, and the viewer is eventually forced to question his motives. There is plenty of drama and suspense (and a touch of young love) before the dark secrets of The Red House are revealed, all of which contribute to the film's remarkably dark and somewhat eerie atmosphere and a surprisingly effective conclusion. To my mind, Robinson tends to overplay his part at times, but Allene Roberts comes into her own and plays opposite his character extremely well.
Some viewers found some of the scenes in the dark woods to be scary, but modern audiences will almost surely find nothing the least bit scary about this film. Suspense, though, still abides here in droves, helped along quite effectively by an orchestral score featuring the theremin (which was used predominantly in early science fiction films). Younger viewers might sometimes grow a little impatient with the slow and steady nature of the plot, but it is the strength of that plot that makes The Red House a somewhat overlooked classic.