Though one of the most familiar faces to grace crime cinema during Hollywood's classical era (1930s-40s) of mass-produced studio fare, there couldn't be more difference between the two films that comprise this DVD double feature. While the famous SCARLET STREET, directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, is an urban nightmare shot in harsh contrasts of light and shadow, THE RED HOUSE turns out to be a rural set mystery that has a flatter, duller and more even visual style - though it has to be said that the crusty Robinson ties the features together with his morally ambiguous, shifty persona that made him an icon in genre cinema.


Directed by Fritz Lang

An ageing cashier, Christopher Cross (Robinson) harbours dreams of loving a younger woman. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he paints - as a passion rather than to pass the time. Spotting a damsel in peril after having a late work celebration, Chris wards off the attacker and gets to know the woman, Kitty March (Joan Bennett), whom he becomes quickly besotted with. Though believing that fantasy is fast becoming reality, Christopher couldn't be more wrong when Kitty makes up with her boyfriend, the scoundrel that hit her called Johnny. Finding out about Kitty's 'date' with Christopher (they had a drink together and he walked her home), the penniless Johnny (Dan Duryea) convinces her to keep seeing the old man, so she can squeeze every penny from the man they believe to be a rich and famous artist. With Chris trying to keep up the deception, he's driven to increasingly desperate means to find the money that threatens to lead - eventually - to murder.

Essentially, SCARLET STREET is about fantasies - fantasies that we all harbour that are brutally unrealistic and ruthlessly cut down. The story of a man who admits to his unattractive and frankly horrible wife that he's "never seen a naked girl", and who has worked a dull job for 25 years, SCARLET STREET allows its protagonist to indulge in his dreams - of being a painter/lover - before things go horrendously wrong. As such, this could well be the bleakest and most pessimistic work of a director known for his finely crafted, doom-laden gems. Strangely, while Lang's other most famous works, like THE BIG HEAT and RANCHO NOTORIOUS, feature main characters whose hopes and dreams are taken from them at the beginning, this is a quite devastating film in which the unlikeliest of hopes is raised, and then irrevocably shattered. It's not a perfect film, however; and Robinson himself overdoes the attempts to invoke pathos from us, by fawning pathetically over the younger woman at times. Indeed, this is no ATLANTIC CITY, Louis Malle's astonishing and eloquent gangster film featuring Burt Lancaster, the ageing star in the twilight of his career outdoing this film by putting across a potent feeling of loss and longing. SCARLET STREET's story is somewhat overstretched, what with Duryea's stylised con man Johnny persuading Kitty to bleed more and more money from Chris. Chris, in turn, goes to increasingly silly measures to find more and more money, in order to fund his fantasy. However, things not only pick up, but escalate by the end, which turns out to be a quite devastating climax upon a climax, a double dose of brutal irony that leaves us in little doubt that what we've seen is a little classic.


Directed by Delmer Daves

Suffering a bad leg, Pete Morgan (Robinson) gets a hired hand to help out at his farm. Starting the job, Nath (Lon McCallister) begins promisingly, but the happy veneer is undone when Nath insists on taking a shortcut through the woods. Though warned not to on account of screaming sounds that haunt those who cross the woods at night, the young man is adamant, but soon loses his nerve upon entering and hides in Pete's barn. The next day, however, Nath is determined to conquer his fears, against the wishes of Pete, who seems to be hiding something. When Nath investigates, and brings along Pete's surrogate daughter Meg, the situation and the mystery reach boiling point, bringing lives into jeopardy and threatening to uncover the mystery of Meg, whose parents disappeared many years ago, leaving her with Pete and his wife. When Peg wanders off and finds the 'red house', the mystery comes closer to being solved - but no one will like what is uncovered.

Directed by a good craftsman, Delmer Daves, as opposed to the a legendary auteur that was Lang, THE RED HOUSE is no way near as vivid as SCARLET STREET, neither in its visual style nor its content. It does, however, make an interesting contrast with that aforementioned film, with its country setting and more 'realistic' (in the '40s Hollywood manner of having even light levels, more location shooting, etc) visual style. Though this 'dark secret in the family' is closer to rural gothic than film noir, and may sound somewhat bland, this melodrama is vividly directed. But this is a double-edged sword: despite ensuring an enjoyable, energetic experience at times, things seem to be badly overdone. When Nath sets off to take the shortcut through the woods, Morgan does everything in his power to stop him, when a more subtle approach might have been necessary. The camerawork, which follows Nath as he ignores the older man, determined to take the shortcut, in one long take, is extremely vivid and energetic as it follows the boy rushing away, but despite being technically very good, it merely adds to the feeling of outright hyperbole, so overemphatic it is. Much of the film lacks even this flair, however, and the film loses steam with its wet kiddie romance - as Meg gets drawn away from her increasingly shifty guardians, by Nath, whom she fawns over - which becomes a teeny bopper quest to find the 'red house.' Robinson, the star of the show, varies from being dreary, washed up old man to the shock haired, wild eyed harbinger of doom ("Stay out of the woods, you will hear screams") and perfectly encompasses a film that balances the mundane with the OTT.

Given that classic films are here unearthed for DVD, the transfers are a disappointment on this budget release. One would hope for remastered transfers, but these soft and hardly pristine transfers are the stuff of old vhs releases.

Review by Matthew Sanderson

Released by Acme DVD
Region All - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review