Lily (Ida Lupino) is a singer who gets hired by Jefty (Richard Widmark) a country bar owner, to help draw customers in, and also because he’s kind of sweet on her. But Lily falls for his best friend and partner Pete (Cornel Wilde) and soon they’re looking to run off together. This doesn’t sit too well with Widmark who frames his pal for a crime in an attempt to keep them both under his thumb.
I happened to catch this very late one night and thought I would take a chance, and unfortunately I wasn’t very impressed with it. I actually wished I watched the Road House with Patrick Swayze.
There were a few things I liked in Road House – Widmark, Lupino and the setting and design of the country road house. Typically a noir is set in the asphalt cityscape, so having deception and crime unfold in the more remote locale of the countryside is unique. And the road house itself looked awfully cool with its bowling alley, country decor and the heads of animals all over the place, a signal as to where Ida and Pete will find themselves – on Jefty’s wall.
It’s a standard love triangle story that despite some witty dialogue and good performances I felt was very dull. There’s the introduction to our characters, the back and forth flirting between Pete and Lily, which is all good. There are some good scenes between them at the lake, in the bar, on that bowling alley trading barbs and doing everything they can to make the other feel they’re not worth the others time.
Lupino’s singing is something I also didn’t much care for or find believable it would lure crowds into the place. She does two numbers and neither made me convinced that she would be a draw for this road house. But maybe that was the point, leaving it clear that Jefty didn’t hire her for her talent. The hairstyle of hers….I thought looked terrible too. I was constantly distracted by it.
Once Pete and Lily connect I wasn’t sure when the next part of the story was going to start. It takes an awfully long time until Jefty manages his frame up job on Pete. Too much time. Until that happens things get very tedious to watch. Once the cops come calling on Pete and he finds himself under the strict supervision of Jefty after his trial (complicated story), the movie had long ago lost me.
I was left with too many lingering questions and was bothered by leaps of logic – When did Jefty fall madly in love with Lily? Why didn’t Pete tell the cops of Jefty’s motivations to frame him? Why weren’t the cops suspicious of Jefty or even the judge when he has that sudden change of heart? Why did Jefty take them to a cabin in the woods a few miles away from the Canadian border? Was he hoping they would try to escape him? Why would he keep the evidence on him that pointed to his guilt? Plus, that seemed like some pretty weak evidence anyway and Jefty could explain it away if he had to.
I kept being reminded of The Postman Always Rings Twice and how superior that movie is. Or how much I preferred Lupino in High Sierra, another country crime drama. Even The Hitch-Hiker which she directed is a noir with much more suspense and surprises than Road House. This one just didn’t work for me.