Road House (1948)
“One thrill at a time.”
So says Richard Widmark after telling Ida Lupino he has a marriage license in their names sending the plot spiraling into dangerous territory.
20th Century Fox put director Jean Negulesco to work for this noir tinged Zanuck production. Cornel Wilde and Richard Widmark own and operate Jefty’s roadhouse in an off the beaten track small town. Into their lives comes Ida Lupino as a bar room entertainer who sings and plays tough when need be. Widmark quickly sets his cap for Ida. Problem is that she’s not all that taken with him. From the outset Wilde and Lupino are like fire and water. They don’t seem to get along and seem uncomfortable in each others presence. A good script can cure that problem and before we know it they become a couple and Widmark’s straying into Kiss of Death’s Tommy Udo territory as jealousy overtakes him.
There’s plenty to like here from the camera work and the use of many upward angles to the shadows and foggy showdown as the film comes to it’s thrilling conclusion. Widmark really shines here making the picture his own as the rejected lover who puts Wilde and Lupino through hell. Always taunting, always threatening. Until they’ve had enough. The ending is not to be missed with both Lupino and Widmark bringing it home in rousing fashion. Widmark has always been one of my favorite leading men from this era through to the late sixties before settling into character parts as his career wound down. Don’t pass up a chance to see him at work.
Also receiving above the title billing is Celeste Holm who does fine here as a calming influence on the trio of star crossed lovers. Cornel Wilde is perfectly cast as a guy that any girl in 1948 would love to get her hands on. I am quite sure the female ticket buyers enjoyed the scene of a toned Wilde frolicking in the water with both Holm and Ida. Director Negulesco had a knack for these shadowy black and white specials. He had previously done two must sees at Warners, The Mask of Dimitrios and The Three Strangers.
As for Ida Lupino, I have to admit I have never found her all that sexy. So for the first half hour I can’t see why Cornel would get hooked. Ida sings(so-so) and shows some skin but until she gets to the clashes with Widmark I’m just not that enthralled. On the plus side when the tension winds up she’s dynamic.
If you happen to venture into this Road House and approach the bar, no worries as the bartender’s name is Sam. What else would you expect?