Cast & Crew
Edward G. Robinson
Teenager Meg Morgan lives with her adoptive father Pete and his sister Ellen on an isolated farm surrounded by Ox Head woods, which for all her life she has been forbidden to enter. When Meg brings home schoolmate Nath Storm to help Pete, who has a wooden leg, on their farm, Pete warns Nath not to enter the woods. Nath defies him, and while walking home, he is knocked out by a man in the dark. Suspicious of Pete's preoccupation with Ox Head, Nath and Meg explore the woods with Nath's girl firend, Tibby Rinton. Pete reacts with rage and threatens to whip Meg if she ever enters the woods again. As Pete becomes increasingly jealous of Meg's affection for Nath, Meg begins to fear Pete, and Nath takes a job at the Rinton farm. Pete, meanwhile, tells Teller, a local drifter, to use no restraint in keeping people out of the woods. Tibby, meanwhile, leaves Nath for Teller. One day Teller catches Meg exploring the woods and shoots at her, and in a panic, she falls and breaks her leg. Nath rescues her, and later is ordered off the property by Pete. Pete then enters Meg's room and calls her "Jeanie." When Meg confesses this to Ellen, she confronts Pete about his strange behavior, warning him not to become possessive of Meg, as he did with Meg's mother, Jeanie. Ellen, who for years has been in love with the town doctor, Byrne, sacrificed a life of happiness to take care of Pete after he nearly went insane following an incident at the red house in Ox Head woods fifteen years earlier. Determined to save Pete and Meg from the past, Ellen goes to burn down the woods, and with it, the red house and its adjacent icehouse. Planning only to frighten Ellen, Teller inadvertently shoots her. Meg hears the gunshot and runs to Ellen, but Pete, who is beginning to lose his mind, refuses to help, telling Meg that she and Ellen are being punished for "defying the red house." Although Meg calls Nath for help, Ellen dies before he arrives. Meanwhile, Teller has convinced Tibby to elope with him that night, and they flee in her father's truck. Meg returns to the house with Nath, who takes Pete's rifle and goes after Teller after calling the sheriff. Afraid that Nath will kill Teller, Meg begs Pete to help, and he confesses to murdering Meg's parents in the red house after her father threatened to take her and her mother away. The bodies of Meg's parents, he explains, lie beneath the icehouse in a sunken surrey. Although Meg is horrified, she offers Pete absolution in exchange for saving Nath, unaware that the police have already arrested Teller. When Meg and Pete arrive at the red house, Pete begins calling her "Jeanie." Then, as Nath and the sheriff are heard outside and Meg screams for help, he covers her mouth in the same way he did before accidentally suffocating Jeanie. Nath rescues Meg, and the sheriff pursues Pete as he flees in his car. Pete drives into the icehouse, then drowns. As his car sinks, a wheel from the surrey floats to the surface. Later, Meg and Nath start a new life together.
Edward G. Robinson
Joseph I. Kane
Eddie J. Nelson
William H. Wilmarth
The Red House
The Red House
Noir City 2008 Report, Part 4: Two Edward G. Robinson Films & TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) boasts one of noir's most evocative titles, and the first half of the film lives up to that poetic, dreamy promise. A woman (Gail Russell) appears to be afraid of the stars in the night as she runs to a train overpass and prepares to throw herself off. Saved at the last moment by her boyfriend (John Lund), the two return to a restaurant where Edward G. Robinson awaits them. How did Robinson know to send him to the train station, Lund asks? And Robinson tells them his story, revealed in flashback... He was a fake "mentalist" who toured around with his partners Jerome Cowan and Virginia Bruce putting on his act, until he started having actual visions which turned out to be true. Sometimes they were premonitions of which horse would win a race; sometimes they were of individuals' deaths and other disturbing things. Robinson found he had no control over this power. It struck randomly. He skipped out of town, leaving Bruce and Cowan to marry even though Robinson and Bruce had been involved. By leaving, Robinson hoped to prevent her death, which he foresaw. It didn't work. Russell is Bruce and Cowan's now-adult daughter, and Robinson has made it his mission to make sure that nothing will happen to her, now that a tragedy has also befallen her father Cowan.
This is all captivating stuff (more so on screen than on paper), delivered in flashbacks with Robinson's great voice describing the events and his feelings. The only problem is that halfway through the movie, when the flashbacks end and we continue in the present, there's a huge shift in tone and momentum. All the characters hole up in a mansion to wait and see if Robinson's premonition of Russell's death at 11pm on a certain night will take place. Robinson becomes under suspicion as a murderer and the movie loses his subjective presence - a big mistake. Instead, William Demarest dominates this portion as a cop, and his broad-comedy screen persona takes over, too. It's really disappointing, and the movie deteriorates into hokum.
Even Robinson thought so - literally. In his memoir All My Yesterdays, he devoted a mere eight words to the film, calling it "unadulterated hokum that I did for the money."
But there's still that mesmerizing first half! What stays in one's mind is how the story is actually about fate and doom - staples of film noir. Robinson is held captive by these mighty forces, and we are made to feel it strongly. The very night and stars are established to be ominous, a danger, which is about as pessimistic as you can get in a noir; as soon as it turns to night throughout this film, we automatically feel uneasy. Pretty amazing. Victor Young's beautiful score also does much to accentuate the mysteriousness of the story.
One of the pleasures of film noir (if "pleasure" is the right word!) is discovering how fatalism and doom can express themselves in so very many ways. In these movies, it's usually via an urban crime story in which we are aligned with a poor sap who gets sucked into a scheme which can only end one way, but there are many exceptions and variations out there, and one of them is The Red House (1947), a strange, dark story shot in the farm country of northern California. The movie's feeling of "noir" stems from a menacingly photographed rural landscape and, on a thematic level, Edward G. Robinson's psychological entrapment by his disturbing personal past.
At first we see the landscape as sunny and bucolic, and a teen romance story is set in motion involving Rory Calhoun, Lon McCallister, Allene Roberts, and a quite stunning 20-year-old Julie London (in one of her earliest screen appearances). McCallister goes to Roberts' farm after school to help around her parents' property, but we quickly discover that those parents (Edward G. Robinson and Judith Anderson) are in fact brother and sister, and Roberts is their foster daughter. The weirdness of that situation points to something ominous in their past. When McCallister declares he will take a shortcut home by walking through the "Ox Head woods," Robinson goes into a conniption, warning the boy not to go that way and to beware "the screams in the night" that he will hear there. Just as suddenly, a ferocious windstorm picks up, and the entire landscape is one very scary place. McCallister goes through the woods anyway, in a bravura sequence in which the darkness, wind, gnarled trees and wonderfully eerie Miklos Rozsa music all combine to create a feeling of intense dread and deep fear that everyone has felt at one time or another in their childhood.
Robinson will go to any length to keep people from trespassing in the Ox Head woods and venturing near the decrepit, old red house that can be found within. Why the woods and the red house are off limits and so scary is a question that the rest of the movie takes its time in revealing. (Too much time, to be honest.) Suffice it to say that old family demons arise after being hidden away for many years, and that Robinson's kindly father-like character turns out to mask something very sinister.
The Red House is atmospheric and superbly scored but also a bit too static, even with all the psychological turmoil going on. Perhaps it's the teen romance subplot, which isn't all that interesting. Or perhaps it's the directing of Delmer Daves, whom I've personally always found to be a stronger writer than director. (He does both here, having adapted the film from a novel.) I kept wishing that Jacques Tourneur had directed this picture, or that Val Lewton had produced it. Imagine what they could have done with this spooky material! A good film might have become great.
The cast features popular young actor Lon McCallister, who had quite a career going at this point, but Rory Calhoun makes a bigger impression. When he's in the frame, he really commands it. One final note about The Red House: it was made as an independent film, released by United Artists, which is why it's in the public domain and remains so hard to see in a good-quality print. (Here it was screened in a 16mm print loaned by UCLA.) Robinson and producer Sol Lesser, a former chief of RKO, set up a production company and then managed to raise the financing and a distribution deal on the strength of the talent involved. In his memoir, Robinson wrote simply, "It was a moody piece, got moody notices, but I think it made a few bucks."
Tomorrow is Another Day
A last-minute replacement for Sunday's promised show of The Clay Pigeon (1949) was Tomorrow is Another Day (1951), directed by Felix Feist. (Pigeon's print didn't show up.) The program notes describe the picture as being like "Gun Crazy scripted by Steinbeck," and there's something to that characterization.
Steve Cochran stars as a man released from jail after 18 years; since he was just 13 when he was sent in, he finds that the world has moved on without him, and he's lonely and vulnerable. Early scenes of Cochran poking around town, bewildered by a modern car's gadgets, ordering three pieces of different pies at once in a diner, and the like, are compelling. After being duped by a local reporter who wanted to secretly get a story of the freed murderer's first day out of prison, Cochran leaves town because he knows no one will hire him, and finds his way to New York, where he's never been before. He gets involved with taxi dancer Ruth Roman, and before we know it, there's a tussle in Roman's room involving a police officer, who is shot and later dies; Roman and Cochran go on the run, believing themselves hunted by the police, and they wind up in California to start a new life as farm workers.
It's a strange plot direction but allows for some beautifully scripted and played scenes with a fellow family of workers headed by Ray Teal and Lurene Tuttle, which is where the Steinbeck comparison comes in; through these scenes, we get a glimpse of Americana through the eyes of minimum-wage workers trying to make it honestly and provide for their families. Teal and Tuttle's struggle over their temptation to turn Cochran over to the police when they discover he is a fugitive is a sequence at once utterly believable and purely American. It's wonderfully acted by both, too.
Even though Tomorrow turns into a lovers-on-the-run movie (and a pretty good one at that, with one or two very suspenseful set pieces) its most penetrating "noir" feeling comes from the early scenes of Cochran unable to find work or a footing in life. The world is seen as a big, strange, unrelenting place, with no room for this man who only wants a fair shake. Adding to the unsettling, hopeless feeling is the fact that Cochran is like a boy in a man's body as a result of having grown up in prison. He has limited skills and no clue how to talk to or behave with women. It's a fascinating notion, but the movie is only able to hint at his virginal state so far, due to production code requirements.
by Jeremy Arnold
Noir City 2008 Report, Part 4: Two Edward G. Robinson Films & TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY
The film's working title was No Trespassing. This film was the first production for Edward G. Robinson and Sol Lesser's company, Thalia Productions. Portions of this film were shot at Sonora, CA, according to Hollywood Reporter. As reported in Hollywood Reporter, Capitol Records made a deal with Miklos Rozsa to record the film's score, which was to be entitled "Suite in Four Movements." According to Motion Picture Herald, $800 from the film's profits was donated to the Greek War Relief Association.