This is a golden age for film noir on DVD. One of the latest and long-awaited treats is Road House (1948). Looks terrific, especially Jefty’s, the neon-lit roadhouse/bowling alley where much of the action takes place, an elaborate dreamscape of a studio set. The digitally sharp black and white is certainly superior to the VHS copy I taped off of AMC years ago (a broadcast dated July 2, 1993). There are purists, such as Dave Kehr, who don’t feel Road House qualifies as film noir. (See David Denby’s definition quoted in an earlier Coffee Spew post: “violent, saturnine, dark-city crime narratives driven by strongly motivated characters.”) He’s probably right. Road House is more of a love-triangle melodrama with precious little psychological probing of its stock characters.
And yet there are noirish touches throughout. Certainly Ida Lupino’s character, hardluck lounge singer Lily Stevens with her lit cigarette notching burn marks on the pianotop, would be at home in any of the nightclubs found in classic noirs like Gilda (1946), They Live by Night (1948), or In a Lonely Place (1950). Then there’s Richard Widmark. His performance as Jefty Robbins—whose improbable third-act freakout seems designed to reprise the giggling psychopath that the actor played to great acclaim the previous year in Kiss of Death—gives Road House its strongest dose of noir cred. But, yeah, this flick is pushing its luck. I found it less satisfying than I remembered.
Do I recommend it? Heck yes! Ida Lupino at 34 is ravishing. Sure, her singing is pretty bad—as Celeste Holm accurately mentions at one point in the movie—but its her own voice, she refused to be dubbed, and it fits the character to a tee. Be sure to watch Road House a second time with the commentary track by Eddie Muller and Kim Morgan. Really gets fun about halfway through when Muller starts pouring drinks.