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ROAD HOUSE

USA, 1948 (MIFF 1996, Ida Lupino - Actor)

Director: Jean Negulesco

Jean Negulesco's potent melodrama opens with a credit sequence that introduces the titular setting and swings into high gear when gravel voiced Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino) arrives to sing torch songs at the dive owned by Jefty (Richard Widmark) and run by Pete (Cornel Wilde). Jefty is smitten by Lily ("she's different") but from the start she and Pete circle each other like caged lions giving off so much attitude and innuendo laden dialogue as to leave no doubt where the plot is heading. Wanting Lily for himself Jefty rapidly decends into a kind of madness devising a terrible revenge that begins with framing Pete for grand larceny and culminates in an astonishing shoot out on a fog-shrouded riverbank.

Negulesco carefully steers the film through it s initial phase as a character study of three almost neurotically independent, rootless people to its later plot twists replete with disturbing undercurrents. The psychological implications of the film's latter scenes in which Pete, after a court ruling falls legally under the control of his nemesis lefty are remarkable for a film of this period It is in the resolution of this and other developments that the role of Lily is crucial and Lupino gives it her all.

Despite the richness and complexity of the male antagonists her portrayal of a small-town Circe is always believable and finely detailed emerging as the strongest component of a film of many distinctions not the least of which is its function as a great showcase for Lupino's gifts as a screen performer. (GH)

See also...

DEEP VALLEY

USA, 1947
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