Road House: The Ida Lupino Blogathon

This post is my entry into the Ida Lupino blogathon being hosted by Jen at her blog Miss Ida Lupino. Please be sure to visit her blog on August 3 to view a list of all those who participated.

When I decided to participate in the blogathon, I didn’t know very much about Ida Lupino other than that she is often associated with film noir. As a fan of film noir, I’d heard her name mentioned many times before often accompanied by high praise of her work, but for some reason I never made it a point to watch more of her movies. But knowing that Jen is such a big fan of Ida Lupino that she would devote a blog entirely to her (something I once thought about doing for my fave, Jimmy Stewart) I decided that Ida was someone worth getting to know.

To become more familiar with Ida Lupino’s work, I chose to watch the movie Road House (1948) for no particular reason other than that it was the only Ida Lupino movie they had in stock on the shelves at my local library. :-) I guess you could call it a case of serendipity, because it turned out to be a wonderful choice! Not only did I really enjoy the movie and Ida’s performance, but the special features included with the DVD were as interesting and as much fun to watch as the movie itself.

In Road House, Ida Lupino plays Lily Stevens, a sultry torch singer from Chicago who comes to work at Jefty’s Road House, a night club and bowling alley in a small town near the Canadian border. The club’s owner and namesake, played brilliantly by Richard Widmark, becomes smitten with Lily and eventually proposes marriage. The only problem is that Lily is not in love with him, but instead has fallen in love with his best friend, Pete (played by Cornell Wilde). When Jefty finds out, his relatively mild mannered, almost kid-like persona gives way to reveal a sinister side that is only briefly hinted at up until that time. Overcome with jealousy, he frames Pete for embezzlement then arranges for Pete to be paroled into his custody in an attempt to keep him and Lily close by. This all leads to some intense and suspenseful ending scenes at a remote hunting cabin where we get to hear Richard Widmark unleash the trademark maniacal giggle he first revealed in his movie debut as a sadistic killer in Kiss of Death (1947).

Ida Lupino, who had come from a family of performers and was herself a composer and piano player, sang and performed in this movie after having had her voice dubbed in a few previous movies. When I first heard her sing, I can’t exactly say that I was a fan of her husky, gravelly voice. Even Lily herself alluded to the fact that she wasn’t the best singer when she said to Pete, “Well, I’ve got a small voice. Besides who said I was good?”

Several characters in the movie as well as numerous film critics and reviewers pointed out that although she didn’t have the strongest voice, there was something interesting and captivating about it. In an oft quoted line from the movie, the character of Susie (played by Celeste Holm) summed it up perfectly when she said, “she does more without a voice than anyone I’ve ever heard.” Looking at it in that light, I eventually came to appreciate the special qualities in her singing. On a side note, The song “Again”, which was specifically written for this movie and performed a couple of times by Ida Lupino became a big hit after the movie was released, reaching number two on the Hit Parade in early 1949.

While I may not have initially been very impressed by Ida’s voice, I can’t say the same about her style and sense of fashion. I thought Ida’s clothes in this movie were fantastic and complemented her slender, petite figure perfectly. Outfits like the one-shouldered black dress she wore when she first performed in the road house and the striped halter top she wore when getting a bowling lesson from Pete, apparently pushed the limits of the Hays code and gave the Breen office fits, but you can’t argue with how great they looked on Ida and the overall impact they made in this movie.

Special Features

As I mentioned earlier, there were two special features included with the DVD that I must say are not to be missed! I would highly encourage you watch them both if you get the chance, especially if you’re like me and are looking to learn more about the actors in this film or film noir in general. The first one entitled Killer Instincts: Richard Widmark and Ida Lupino at Twentieth Century Fox, featured comments by beloved film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne along with several other film critics and historians. Osborne, who cites Road House as one of his favorite movies of the 1940’s, revealed that everyone who knew Ida loved her and was very fond of her, which is something you don’t often hear about other actresses.

The second feature was a full length commentary by film historians Kim Morgan and Eddie Muller, who is also the author of several books on film noir including Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir and founder & president of the Film Noir Foundation. I don’t typically listen to commentaries, but I’m so glad I did in this case. It was informative, funny, and gave me wonderful insights into the movie and the characters that I would not have gotten on my own as a novice film buff. Ida Lupino fans are in good company as Eddie is also a huge fan of Ida and thinks there was nothing she couldn’t do.

‘She’s the Cool Person’

One of the main points that was brought out in the special features that I did not even think about while watching the movie was that unlike other film noir where the female lead is usually the unstable character, Lily was strong, stable, and self assured while Richard Widmark fit the role typically played by the female. As Kim Morgan so aptly stated in the commentary “Ida Lupino in this movie is film noir – she’s the cool person, she’s the Humphrey Bogart, she’s the Bob Mitchum, she’s the John Garfield, and they don’t know what to think of her.” That’s certainly high praise indeed!

I’d like to thank Jen once again for giving me the opportunity to participate in this event, which gave me the push I needed to learn more about Ida Lupino. I definitely came away with a new appreciation for her and her diverse talents, and I can’t wait to watch more of her movies!

P.S. Just to see a bit of a different side of Ida Lupino, I also watched the movie Jennifer (1953), which is currently available through Netflix Instant. Though the ending left a bit to be desired, I thought it was a nice little mystery (at a run time of only 73 minutes) that I would definitely recommend to fans of Ida Lupino. As an interesting side note, Ida co-starred in the movie with her then real life husband, Howard Duff.

 

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17 Responses
  1. Karen says:

    Great post! I love Road House (as I do all of Ida Lupino’s films). If you get the chance, check her out in Private Hell 36 — I know you’d like it.

  2. Jen says:

    What a fantastic post! Road House is definitely one of my favorite Ida movies, and bonus features are always a major plus. I’m so glad you like the movie, and I loved reading your review!

    Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon!

  3. Ginny says:

    Thank you Karen! And thanks for the suggestion. I’ll definitely check that out when I get the chance.

    Thank you Jen! I really enjoyed getting to know more about Ida and was happy to be able to spread the love. :-)

  4. [...] Old Movies Nostalgia: Road House: The Ida Lupino Blogathon [...]

  5. Loved this post. ROAD HOUSE is one of my movie guilty pleasures. I never tire of watching it. This blogathon was a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to do a post on Lupino. Jen’s deadline made me get going. I’m happy with the result, which isn’t often the case. Again, wonderful job here.

  6. Ginny says:

    Thanks Stephen! The blogathon was a lot of fun, and I’m glad it motivated both of us to do something we’ve been wanting to do for a while.

  7. KC says:

    As much as I liked Ida’s singing in this movie, if she’d done anymore, I think her voice would have driven me crazy. She does do a lot with it, but it is best in small doses. Great post!

  8. Ginny says:

    Thanks KC! I think it was someone in the commentary who said it had to be her who sang in the movie so her voice could convey her character’s experience and toughness. I agree, and I think she sang just enough to do that but not so much that it would turn off someone who didn’t like her voice.

  9. [...] Lawrence Tierney. I first watched Richard Widmark in the movie Road House, which I reviewed in a previous post, and I just watched Lawrence Tierney in the extremely intense movie Born to Kill [...]

  10. John says:

    I like Ida Lupino in a John Garfield film called Out Of The Fog. She plays Thomas Mitchell’s daughter and John Garfiled’s love ineterest. It take place on the docks in NYC. She plays the naive young daughter who gets hooked up with Garfield. Who only happens to be extorting money form her Dad, whom she calls Pop. She says Pop so many times in this film, it is like Neff in Double Indemnity saying Keyes over and over, lol. This film will pleasantly surprise you if you give it a watch.

  11. John says:

    I have had the movie Road House sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. It is part of a Fox Film Noir series that Fox put out in a series of DVD’S a few years back.

    I was surprised to see Ida perform Johnny Mercer’s One For My Baby. A classic saloon song aptly performed by Frank Sinatra many times.

    I believe Lupino and Widmark give charismatic performances here. Ida who plays Lily has that tough “Brooklyn Gal” exterior but that certain sweet vulnerability underneath. Widmark is tremendous also sporting his unforgettable (Kiss Of Death) laugh which is both boyish and ominously eerie at times .

    Classic films bring some good one-liners. This film is no exception. I liked Celeste Holm’s character when asked if she liked Lily answering “If you like gravel.” Lily telling Wilde ” I used to pick locks as a kid.” Also Wilde calling out to Lily “Hey Legs!” Something we just don’t see or hear in today’s politically correct world. The use of all that cigarette smoke also added to the film noir feeling.

    The suspense really builds in this film. When Holm’s character finds the proof of her brother’s innocence things really heat up. The ending was quite predictable but the tension leading up to the climax was priceless.

    I know you like Garfield and Robinson. So I would highly recommend The Sea Wolf as Lupino appears with these two screen legends. Thanks for the blog, I finally got to see Road House and was pleasantly surprised.

  12. John says:

    I would like to recommend another 1940’s musical film noir. It is from Warner Bros. in 1941, called Blues In The Night. It has one of my favorite actors “playing the trumpet” in here, Jack Carson. It focuses on a jazz band and their talented jazz piano player named Jigger aptly portayed by Richard Worf (Cagney’s partner in Yankee Doodle Dandy). A young Priscilla Lane and Billy Halop (Dead End Kids) add to this stellar cast. Elia Kazan even has a part as a clarinetist.

    Alot of good jazz muic, soul searching and murder envelop in this musical drama. A must see in my opinion.

  13. John says:

    
    Just saw another Fox Film Noir with Ida Lupino, the 1942 Moontide. It runs about
    95 minutes like Road House. It focuses on a couple of wanderers played by Jean Gabin (Bobo) and Thomas Mitchell(Tiny). Claude Raines also appears.

    After a drunken night Bobo awakens with a dead man’s cap on his head. Throughout the film nobody knows who quite committed the murder. Enter Lupino (Anna) who is rescued by Bobo after an attempt to drown herself. A romance between Bobo and Anna ensues and Tiny doesn’t seem to like it. Tiny has been leeching off Bobo his whole life and now sees Anna as an obstacle to this. Bobo’s dog is a nice addition here and he always seems to growl when Tiny is around. Funny how animals have that extra sense about people sometimes.

    The movie basically take place on the Pacific docks. The fog and the boat horns in the harbor give the film an eerie feeling as all the tension unravels. The film slow moving at first really heats up after Bobo and Anna get married.

    Mitchell (Tiny) playing a rare villain here confronts Anna about Bobo being the killer. However, Anna doesn’t believe it and comes to the realization that Tiny is the real killer. After Tiny sees that Anna knows the truth, he winds up almost fatally wounding her.

    Bobo returns to find Anna almost dead and brings her to the hospital with his doctor friend aptly portrayed by veteran character actor Jerome Cowan. Anna goes into surgery and eventually recovers.

    Bobo realizes Tiny is to blame and goes after him on the foggy docks. With the ocean waves now raging and Bobo closing in on him Tiny finds himself cornered near a small cliff. Bobo now ready to kill him, Tiny suddenly falls into the water and is washed away and dies.

    I find this ending ironic as Mitchell is the bad guy here who dies in the water and was unable to swim. In the movie OUT OF THE FOG, Mitchell’s character, the good guy almost “kills” a John Garfield villain in the same way. About to whack Garfield on a small boat, Garfield’s character accidentally falls off the boat and drowns unable to swim like Tiny.

    Ida Lupino another fine performance in the genre of Film Noir.

  14. John says:

    I recently rewatched THE HARD WAY staring Ida Lupino. This film is one of the best films she ever made. Lupino(Helen) plays the domineering and ruthless sister(manager) of Joan Leslie(Katie). Helen will do anything and everything to make her sister a star in this film. Helen has no friends in this movie and she appropriately utters the line” I am my own best friend.”

    Jack Carson(Albert) and Dennis Morgan(Paul) add to the cast in their first pairing of many films they would do together. Albert marries Katie and they start out together as a song and dance team that quickly evaporates mostly thanks to Helen and her constant conniving. After marrying Albert, Katie goes out on her own leaving him behind. Helen also seems to love Paul but the feelings don’t seem to be mutual.

    Plenty of great short song and dance numbers in this film. Albert eventually can’t take the way the marriage is going and winds up killing himself. Paul then courts Katie to Helen’s disdain. Upon meeting Katie one night with Helen out of town, Paul asks Katie where Helen is? Katie says she is not here and Paul responds with a classic screen line” What did you chloroform her?”, lol.

    This film is told in a flashback and is definitely and Ida Lupino essential. There are also some James Cagney connections here being Joan Leslie from Yankee Doodle Dandy and Gladys George from The Roaring Twenties. A very enjoyable film overall with Ida playing a superb “baddie.”

  15. [...] This was my second time listening to one of his commentaries (the first one was when I watched Road House) and it won’t be the last! I think I enjoy listening to his thoughts more than I like [...]

  16. John says:

    Just caught Ida Lupino in Private Hell 36. It was a pretty good film noir in which Ida wrote the script for along with the producer and once husband of hers, Collier Young. It also stars Steve Cochrane (White Heat, Jim Thorpe All American) and Howard Duff who was also a husband of Ida Lupino. Don’t blink here or you might miss a young Dabbs Greer as a bartender who was famously known for playing Reverend Alden in the Little House On the Prairie television series.

    This gritty film noir that had scenes filmed at the famous racetrack in California (Hollywood Park) is an enjoyable film. Ida even puts in some horseracing lingo here referring to her leg as lame in one scene. The film centers around two cops and the greed of money which is always a temptation for any law enforcement person who finds a suitcase full of cash at a crime scene. Cochrane’s character takes the bait and falls prey to this temptation. Duff’s character on the other hand balances the fine line of being an honest cop while still remaining loyal to his partner, definitely a slippery slope.

    While all this is going on a romance blooms between Lupino and Cochrane’s characters. The ending provides justice and a few surprises.

    I really think Miss Lupino was a talented lady. Her writing, directing and acting has stood the test of time. One interesting note on Miss Lupino was that she had a guest starring appearance as a villain in the campy TV Batman series during the 1960’s.

  17. Patrick says:

    I think Ida Lupino was the most beautiful movie star of her generation. Of course an even greater achievement of hers was becoming one of the very first female film and television directors. Road House is not one of my favorites among her movies, perhaps because I am just not a huge Cornel Wilde fan (and also the hairdo Ida wears in this film does not suit her very well). But the film has a great suspenseful plot and of course Richard Widmark was always one of cinema’s greatest villains.

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