Noir City DC Film Fest: “Road House” (1948) & “Desert Fury” (1947)

Hey y’all, thanks for reading (hope you also subscribe)! I missed out on blogging re: movies during #Noirvember (yup- again), BUT am gonna share w/ you the 2 films I saw at a local film fest (at AFI in Silver Spring- a FEW blocks from my place). The best part- I met TCM host Eddie Muller (looking classy and full of funny stories) and got my book (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir) signed!

Road House (1948) starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, & Celeste Holm

Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark), owner of a roadhouse in a small town (near the Canadian border), hires tough-talking/world-weary Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino- who does her own singing) for a 6 wk. gig, despite the reservations of his manager/best friend, Pete Morgan (Cornell Wilde). Pete even tries to get Lily to go back to Chicago, offering her some money. Jefty is interested in Lily, as she’s “different from other girls.” He brings her breakfast in bed at her hotel. When Pete goes out of town for a fishing trip, Lily turns her charms on Pete, who is resistant. Pete usually dates the roadhouse cashier, Susie Smith (Celeste Holm). Events bring Pete and Lily closer together, until they fall in love. Lily turns down Jefty’s marriage proposal. Then, Pete and Lily have to face Jefty’s intense jealousy!

Susie: She does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!

Road House was director Jean Negulesco’s 1st film for 20th Century Fox; he had recently been fired by Warnes Bros. Darryl F. Zanuck told him, “This is a bad script. Three directors have refused it. They don’t know what they’re doing, because basically it’s quite good. Remember those pictures we used to make at Warner Bros., with Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Cagney, in which every time the action flagged we staged a fight and every time a man passed a girl she’d adjust her stocking or something, trying to be sexy? That’s the kind of picture we have to have with Road House.”

Not only was Lupino (one of Muller’s faves) a good actress, she also had a head for business (purchasing the rights to the movie for $20K). This film was a year after Widmark played a sadistic killer in Kiss Of Death. As Jefty, Widmark gets to show some of his “regular guy” side, but evolves (or devolves) into a very troubled man. Wilde’s role is as the straight man (which can be dull), but he does a good job. Wilde and Lupino have strong romantic chemistry. Holm gets the (thankless) role of the “girl next door” who’s overlooked, but she handles it well. I really liked the production design on this film; scenes in the roadhouse’s bowling alley were shot at a real alley located near the studio. Check this movie out- it’s one I think MANY will enjoy!

[1] Despite the hole-riddled ending, it’s still worth seeing because of Lupino’s and Widmark’s performances. She is great as the 2nd-rate singer (singing her own songs with a decent but obviously less than stellar voice–which was perfect for the role)… Widmark was interesting because he combined two totally different performances in one film…

[2] “Road House” is an engaging film–noir with a storyline of unrequited love and obsession. Ida Lupino has an impressive performance, singing with a wonderful husky voice. […] This film is also the third appearance of the outstanding Richard Widmark and his insane smile on the cinema. Cornel Wilde and Celeste Holm complete the dream cast of this unknown gem. 8/10

[3] Widmark’s character is by far the most interesting. A little unbalanced at the beginning, he turns crafty and bitter before he loses it altogether. There’s a good deal of pathos in the character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Desert Fury (1947) starring Lizabeth Scott, John Hodiak, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey, & Mary Astor

Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor) is a powerful casino owner in Chuckawalla, a small town in Nevada. Her 19 y.o. daughter Paula (Lizabeth Scott) has quit school; she returns at the same time as racketeer Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak), who left under suspicion of murdering his wife a few years ago. Paula and Eddie become involved, despite the big age gap and her being warned against him. Fritzi, a deputy/Paula’s friend Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster) and Eddie’s companion Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey- his film debut) try to break up the relationship. Then, Eddie’s past catches up w/ him in an unexpected way!

This is the kind of B movie that ONLY a true fan of noir will like (or tolerate)- LOL! Seeing it w/ a audience helped, as did the intro from Muller. The music is unnecessarily dramatic, overpowering some scenes. Fans of this genre MAY be surprised to see Scott as the lead here; she was a limited actress (though V conventionally pretty w/ a distinctive/husky voice). Lancaster (looking esp. handsome w/ his tousled hair and leather jacket) has the straight-shooter role here; Tom (in his late 20s) cares for/is protective of Paula. She doesn’t have many friends in town; other kids stayed away from her b/c of her mother’s profession. The romance between Paula and Eddie isn’t as interesting as the (enigmatic) relationship between Eddie and Johnny. Corey gets a meaty role for his first role; a villain w/ many layers, Johnny is V protective over his friend.

[1] Made in 1947 in perfect glossy Technicolor to distract you from the beserkness and tawdry storyline, this is one terrific exercise in censorship busting antics that managed to fulfill it’s reputation. […] DESERT FURY is genuine queer cinema. With incest hinted, guns and car tire screeching, sinister sunglass wearing and cactus pricks everywhere…

[2] Desert Fury is one of those several films from the studio days where gay was strictly taboo yet it somehow got to the screen. That scene where Corey tells Scott how he met a ragged and hungry Hodiak at the Automat and bought him a meal and took him home sure sounded like a pickup to me. Many from the generation before Stonewall told me that the Horn & Hardart Automat was one of the great pickup places in New York. Romances and flings have started in stranger places. No way that the writers would not have known that. Corey’s devotion to Hodiak can’t be explained any other way as the story unfolds. In fact he’s the stronger of the two.

[3] The best part of Desert Fury is Edith Head’s costumes. Every single scene, Lizabeth and Mary are dressed in gorgeous dresses that will have you oo-ing and ahh-ing for the entire running length. Lizabeth is very pretty in this film, and dressing her up in such beautiful costumes only makes it more fun to watch her, even when she’s exercising bad judgement.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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