Sunday, February 20, 2011

For the Love of Film (Noir): Road House

When deciding what to write for For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon and Fundraiser, hosted by Ferdy on Film and Self-Styled Siren, I had a hard time deciding what to write about.

There are any of a number of great classic films noir that are among my favorite movies of all time.

There are also a number of my favorite movies that aren't traditionally considered noir that could be interesting to explore from that perspective.

Ultimately, what seemed the most like what I wanted to do was simply explore a noir movie that I hadn't seen before.

For this, I chose Road House by Jean Negulesco, movie I've meant to see forever, and have no good excuse for not having gotten to.

The movie stars Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, Celeste Holm and centers around the incomparable Ida Lupino.

Widmark plays Jefferson T. "Jefty" Robbins, who runs the titular road house, Jefty's. He brings Lupino's Lily in as an attraction at the road house, after a trip to Chicago.

I have to note here that, while Widmark's Jefty is not quite the much discussed figure of mystery Orson Welles's Harry Lime in The Third Man, but his name is used a lot, especially when he's offscreen, and I hope I'm not the only modern viewer distracted with the thought "Jeffty is Five, Jeffty is always five." every time his name is spoken.

The first half of the movie is a pretty straight '40s style melodrama, only the setting and bits of the kind of clever banter giving any hint of its reputation as a film noir. However it's just that slow burn that allows the twists and turns of the second half of the movie to resonate.

In some ways, it's the little potboilers like this that I love so much in noir. There's a casualness, a pure professionalism to every aspect of the work, as well as an unstudied cynicism that most imitators try to match with a concerted cynicism.

So the whole of "forgotten" noir is often more interesting than any of the individual movies. Many, and I'd include Road House among these, are better understood as part of that whole. I can't say outside that understanding I'd have seen this movie as more than a quirky melodrama with some fantastic performances and crackling dialogue, although that should certainly be more than enough for an evening's enjoyment.

As noted, this post is a part of the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon and Fundraiser, hosted by Ferdy on Film and Self-Styled Siren, for the Film Noir Foundation to help preserve our film heritage. Please make your donation by clicking on the link below. Thank you.

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