The powers that be have been unusually miserly with their classic film DVD releases in the last five or so months, but this week we at least get some really good, weird film noirs, MOONTIDE and the incomparable ROAD HOUSE. A fine showcase for Ida Lupino (she gets to croak out a bunch of numbers in her frail, smoke ravaged voice, and you understand why she packs the house and everyone stays quiet, almost nervous lest they break the spell of her world-weary reverie), ROAD HOUSE is slam bang quality "rustic noir" - the hybrid of guns and fatalistic romance with the big outdoorsy cabins and lakes that American audiences seemed obsessed with in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The big show stopping performance here isn't from Lupino, though, it's Widmark--who slowly burns his way from lovable swine to full-on homicidal lunatic, sneering and cackling like his KISS OF DEATH killer cranked to 11. Never before has craven sniveling been made so damned sexy.
I'd never seen ROAD HOUSE--not even the Patrick Swayze remake--until last night and I'm fairly blown away. It's rich in atmospheric detail, with the titular house--a bowling alley/tavern deep in the Northern moose country along the Canadian border--brought to detailed, thriving life. Twenty minutes into the film and we feel like we've been working there; we know the playboy boss, Jefty (Richard Widmark), his Rock Hudson-ish fall guy (Cornell Wilde), the bartender, the waitress (Celeste Holm), the newly arrived torch singer (Ida Lupino), their good and bad sides, the way you can only know someone by working with them. The road house itself feels lived in, cozy. The plot runs along the same lines as Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND, with Wilde's poor but virile right hand man (a very good bowler) falling in love with the torch singer, whom Widmark has imported for himself. Widmark doesn't take well to the news, and begins a rapid descent into giggling homicidal rage, in the Widmark tradition!
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