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.
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.