Editorial review of Road House (1948) courtesy of Amazon.com
Road House has acquired a cult as a prime film noir. Certainly the title location is archetypal, a lounge and bowling alley up toward the Canadian border, and Ida Lupino and Richard Widmark make the most of flavorful roles that would qualify them as exemplary noir denizens even if they hadn’t established that elsewhere. He’s the second-generation owner of the place who’s never been obliged to grow up. She’s a somewhat shopworn dame he’s brought back from Chicago to play the piano and sing. He–Jefty’s the name, by the way–decides to marry her, and is unhinged enough not to realize he needs to ask first. She, meanwhile, has been rubbing Jefty’s sobersides right-hand man (Cornel Wilde) the wrong way, and both of them are getting to like it. Fairly psychotic vengeance ensues.
This was director Jean Negulesco‘s first film for Fox, pretty much coinciding with his career peak of Johnny Belinda, a Warner Bros. picture that would bring him an Oscar nomination. Yet Road House is a frustratingly mixed bag. The writing boasts expert three-cushion dialogue–which Lupino delivers deftly–but the script is poorly structured overall. (Screenwriter-producer Edward Chodorov was appropriating material from another crazy-young-fellow movie he’d worked on, MGM’s 1942 Rage in Heaven.)
Cinematographer Joseph (Laura) LaShelle’s lighting and setups are characteristically artful and glossy, but he’s obliged to make too many studio “exteriors” look good–a standard cheat in that era, but more irksome than usual because the ostensible location cries out for legitimacy (couldn’t they have gone to Lake Arrowhead at least?). Totally on the plus side, however, Ida really does sing and, for the first time in her career, is not dubbed; as Celeste Holm‘s character notes in admiration and envy, “She does more without a voice than anyone I ever heard.” Musical highlights: “One for My Baby” and “Again.” –Richard T. Jameson
Movie quotes from Road House (1948)
Lily (Ida Lupino): Well, I’m Lil Stevens, the new entertainer from Chicago. Right now I’d like to sleep. Pete (Cornel Wilde): Oh. The new equipment.
Sam (Jack G. Lee): Hey, Susie! What do you think of this one? She’s somethin’, isn’t she? Susie (Celeste Holm): If you like the sound of gravel.
Susie (Celeste Holm): She does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!
Pete (Cornel Wilde): Now, baby, I’m not trying to rush you. Lily (Ida Lupino): [Slaps his face] Silly boy!
Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark): Do you think I’d be crazy enough to give her a loaded gun?