Thursday, November 6, 2008

Richard Widmark is better than Patrick Swayze

The Fox Movie Channel showed Road House today. Not the Patrick Swayze movie from the late 1980s, but the noir from the late 1940s. Fox produced quite a few noirs like this, and generally did a fairly good job of it.

In Road House, Richard Widmark plays Jefty Robbins, the owner of the title road house. Although he owns it, he's hired his good friend Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) to manage the place. The arrangement works fine, until the day the femme fatale walks in, in the form of singer Lily Stevens (played by Ida Lupino, although I thought the way she was made up made her look more like June Allyson than the way Lupino looked in High Sierra). Jefty hires her against Pete's advice, and you know trouble is about to break out.

It does, in the form of the love triangle. Jefty falls in love with Lily, but Lily isn't quite certain whether she's in love with him. Jefty leaves for his cabin in the woods to decide whether or not to ask Lily to marry him, but while he's away, the mouse will play: Lily falls in love with Pete. This is bad news for Pete, as Jefty responds by framing Pete for grand larceny.

Richard Widmark, having played Tommy Udo a year earlier in Kiss of Death, shows again that he's quite good at playing evil. Jefty, you see, doesn't stop at framing Pete. Although the jury finds Pete guilty of the grand larceny, Jefty convinces the judge to give Pete a suspended sentence and probation, releasing Pete into Jefty's custody. This effectively makes Pete Jefty's indentured servant, and Pete and Lily can tell that Jefty is going to try something worse.

Widmark is wonderful in this movie, although the plot fizzles a bit at the end. Ida Lupino is quite good, too, even despite the fact that she's pretty badly made up. She could have played the singer role quite well with her normal hair color and style, without having to be made up to look almost like a monstrosity. The June Allyson look is one that I found distracting, as it made me wonder whether Allyson would have been able to play the role. On the other hand, we do get to hear Lupino sing, which is a bit of a treat.

Cornel Wilde is a bit of a third wheel, and does a competent job, if not a memorable one. The same can be said for the second woman, played by Celeste Holm, who plays the cashier at the road house and serves as a bit of a sounding board for Pete and Lily. Road House, however, is Widmark's film all the way. It's been released to DVD, too, so you don't have to wait for the next time it shows up on the Fox Movie Channel.

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