Monday Movie: Road House, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll highlight a piece of writing from our vaults. This article originally ran as part of our TCM Classic Film Festival 2019 coverage.
Decidely more of an A-picture noir from the same year is Jean Negulesco’s Road House. Every year, TCM Fest screens a handful of films on nitrate prints. This was the only one I made it to this time around but it was worth the dash down the street to the Egyptian Theatre and the long wait to get in. Ida Lupino stars as Lily, a lounge singer hired for a six week engagement at a road house by Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark), a small town rich kid and the establishment’s owner. Jefty’s only hired Lily in order to woo her but she finds him, well, resistible and quickly falls instead for Pete (Cornel Wilde), Jefty’s regular-Joe pal and the road house’s manager. Where Open Secret made do with a handful of cheap, reusable sets, Road House drips in production design and the occasional, distinct location, like the bowling alley where Lily and Pete first start to spark. The music–both the score by Cyril Mockridge and the many songs performed by Lupino herself–tells as much of a story as the script does. With gin-soaked details like the cigarette burns on Lily’s piano, Road House is a clear precursor to Steve Kloves’ The Fabulous Baker Boys and Ida Lupino blazes onscreen just as much as Michelle Pfeiffer would 40 years later. Lupino’s legacy as the only female director working in Hollywood in the 1950s is assured and well-earned. But her screen presence here–whether singing or bowling, sexy or cute, always in charge–is worth remembering her for too.
Does it include a nightclub/lounge singer? Yeah, Lupino performs a bunch of songs, though she more purrs than sings (not that that’s a complaint) her way through numbers like “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”