One For My Baby…and One More For The Road: 20th Century Fox’ 1948 film noir Road House, directed by Jean Negulesco, rarely ranks at the top of film noir fans’ “best” lists. But for some reason, I’ve been completely hooked on it since the first time I saw it on a late-late show as a kid.
Why? Well, there’s memorable Ida Lupino, doing a sultry songstress role very nicely. Her One For My Baby (and One More For The Road) by Johnny Mercer is sheer smoky piano bar perfection, even if her look is a little peculiar in this film, styled with a short-banged do that somehow undermines her femme fatale charms. Cornel Wilde is sometimes considered a very good but somewhat wooden actor by many, though he does a fine enough job here. Richard Widmark is doing his very familiar nutty-bad-guy Widmark that we’ve seen in many other 40’s-50’s films.
No, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the film. Still…
There’ something about the small town northwoods setting that works for me, taking all the classic noir-ish lighting (or lack thereof) and creative camera work out of the all-too-familiar New York/L.A. back alleys, skyscraper canyons and deserted thoroughfares, and here making pine trees and one-stoplight main streets appear every bit as ominous as anything the Big Apple or Tinsel Town can brag about.
Actually, this film is largely what inspired me to take a crack at writing a bit of 50’s era small town noir of my own (Waiting For The 400 – A Northwoods Noir) and I later watched it over and over again when rewriting a fresh edition of that novel just the year before last.
In Road House, nice-guy Wilde manages a small town nightclub/bowling alley (now there’s a combo) for friend Widmark, and Lupino is the new star singer up from Chicago. Widmark falls for her hard, but after some rough starts, Wilde and Lupino only have eyes for each other, so naturally Widmark sets up his buddy on a phony larceny charge. And lets throw in Oscar winner Celeste Holm as a nightclub cashier with a yen for hunky Cornel Wilde (who may or may not like her too). Oh, it’s a mess of a story. But from start to finish, the film is a virtual B&W gallery of classic film noir era visuals, and you can never go wrong with Ida Lupino trading barbs with anyone, particularly with a smoke dangling from her lip-sticked lips, giving Wilde and the audience a good glimpse of some quite comely gams, warbling in a husky voice beside a piano, or…even…bowling.
Not on many “Best” lists, but if you come across Road House, do check it out.
The top painting is by the great Basil Gogos, of course, and while often mistaken as the Polish actress in her role as Carmilla Karnstein, is actually based on a still from the Amicus horror anthology film, The House That Dripped Blood, and was the cover art for an issue of the now defunct MonsterScene magazine. I have a large and lovely framed litho of that piece hanging on the wall just across the dungeon from me now. Ah, Ms. Pitt, your delightful words are missed as much as your films. God bless.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I happily joined the Ingrid Pitt Fan Club, and still have my autographed certificate around here somewhere. The Polish actress is revered by Gothic horror fans for her role as Carmilla Karnstein (however miscast she may have been) in Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers, and as Elizabeth Bathory in Countess Dracula, and a vampire once again in Amicus’ anthology The House That Dripped Blood (stills from which are always mis-titling her as Carmilla). But in a way, I think I loved her later non-film work even more: including her own books and her witty, gossipy monthly horror scene column for UK horror magazine Shivers.
“…We had an agreement, Harry. We both know why we show up here every Wednesday, so lighting candles, bringing me presents and hinting about something more is just window dressing on a hotel affair. You have your life, and I have mine, and we both have to get back to them in a couple hours. So how about you shut those drapes and stop daydreamin’ about things that’ll never, ever be?