Monday, July 18, 2016

A trip to the ROAD HOUSE (1948)

On TVs Leave It to Beaver, Ward asked his eldest son Wally why he hung out with the often overly slick Eddie Haskell. After thinking it over Wally replied, "Gee Dad, a guy's gotta have a best friend."

I guess all of us have that one friend who is more than slightly non compos mentis. In the case of Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) in Jean Negulesco's Road House that friend is "Jefty" - Jefferson T. Robbins (Richard Widmark).

Jefty is the scion of the first family of their middle-sized city somewhere outside of Chicago and not far from the Canadian border. What Jefty doesn't own isn't worth talking about. The hub of the social life of the area is "Jefty's" roadhouse, a combination restaurant, nightclub, bar, sporting goods retailer and bowling alley. Kids looking to connect and cut loose and guys looking to get drunk make up most of the clientele. And there is musical entertainment. In his travels, Jefty finds and supports female talent by hiring them for his place and striking up personal relationships.

While Jefty floats, Pete does the grunt work as manager of the joint. Pete is in charge of everything from cash to sweeping up. He's also in charge of personnel and that includes quietly getting rid of Jefty's hired acts when they have worn out their welcome. You can imagine Pete is less than thrilled when another songbird ends up on his doorstep. It's the old routine all over again. Or is it?

Pete and Lily
Do you think this will lead to anything?

Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino) is nobody's fool and nobody's pushover. It took her a long time and a lot of living to become her own woman and she is protective of the achievement. Jefty senses the something different in this one and is intrigued. Pete is not so quick to warm to this difference and Lily has to take him down a peg or two. Now, that catches his attention. On one hand, that's a shame because gal pal Susie (Celeste Holm), who works at the club has been Pete's fallback girlfriend, but sadly she reads the writing on the wall. Jefty is not so astute.

Jefty's absence of a week leaves Pete and Lily free to explore their feelings for one another and those feelings run deep. They flirt and fight to the strains of bluesy jazz in the nightclub.  They reveal their inner thoughts and kiss the kiss of commitment to the sound of classical music on the radio. It's the real deal.

Pete, Lily and Susie
Caught in a trap.

There had been nothing serious between Lily and Jefty, so Pete is blissfully unaware of any problems in their romantic path. Lily though has noted the off-kilter look in Jefty's eyes and his mood swings. She has felt the undercurrent of something manic in his conversation. Lily anticipates nothing but trouble. Susie gets it; it's a girl thing. We can see a psycho for miles.

Upon his return, Jefty is all smiles and congratulations at the news about his friends. He's just tickled. They want to leave town. No problem, it's a free country. Only it is tough to leave town when you've been framed for stealing from the roadhouse. Tough to leave town when the court convicts. Tough to leave town when Jefty pleads with the judge to be lenient with his friend Pete. "Release him, your honor, in my custody." A big man like Jefty can pull strings like that, and Pete's probation and Lily's Purgatory is set.

Pete, Lily, and Jefty
A quiet evening at home among friends.

Jefty's needling starts to wear cracks in Pete and Lily's resolve. Jefty is a master at driving these two to distraction with his hints and his demands. Pete naturally feels the brunt of Jefty's sly anger, but Pete is only the means to torture Lily. Lily will be forever changed by Jefty's psychopathic need for revenge. A quiet trip to Jefty's hunting lodge near Canada with Pete, Lily, and Susie sets the stage for a night of drunken taunts and temptation. How far is too far when you are bent on torment? How far is too far when you are desperate for release?

Susie: "She does more without a voice than anybody I've ever heard."

Standards like Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's One for My Baby showcase Ida's talents as a song seller along with Higgins and Overstreet's There'll Be Some Changes Made. 20th Century Fox composer Lionel Newman would compose two songs for the film, The Right Kind with Charles Henderson and lyrics by Don George, and the soon to be a standard Again with lyrics by Dorcas Cochran.

Road House is a moody treat for the noir fan. Even in the sunlight, this rural setting creates a dark world compliments of cinematographers Joseph LaShelle (Laura, Marty) and uncredited Norbert Brodine (Kiss of DeathSomewhere in the Night).

The movie delivers true tension and a kick to the gut in the performances of Ida Lupino as the world weary Lily and Richard Widmark as the demented Jefty.


  1. What a terrific cast! And the plot sounds intriguing, too.

    I've been watching more of Ida Lupino's films, and I'll be adding this to the list. Thanks!

    1. Ida is magnificent. She brings so much to a role that I think lesser actresses would miss. You will definitely not be disappointed.



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