Road House Jean Negulesco

Thankfully, this late ’40s noir has nothing at all to do with Patrick Swayze or his well-documented dreaminess, choosing instead to re-jigger the gender bias that had long defined the crime movie. Would that it were a little better — what’s here is juicily entertaining but trying way too hard to be entirely credible. Ida Lupino turns the mysterious stranger archetype on its head by being a woman and not a femme fatale. She’s an embittered singer who blows into a small town, sets up shop at the local dive and dates its unhinged proprietor Richard Widmark. Trouble brews when she falls for his sensible friend and right-hand man Cornel Wilde. Widmark doesn’t suspect anything until he buys a marriage license and discovers the betrayal, then he comes up with a manipulative way to tie the lovers to him in perpetuity. What’s good here is that the woman is, for once, the moral centre of the movie, with Widmark playing one of his patented psychos and Wilde needing more guidance than his anger and confusion can provide. But though Lupino nails her role (and the boys aren’t shabby either), director Jean Negulesco simply doesn’t have the killer instinct to give this movie bite. The dialogue is so obsessed with talking tough and sounding bitter that it gives the impression of being a pretender. Thus the actors are sort of left to flounder within a script, and direction, that only gives so much. Still, it’s entertaining, and an interesting anomaly, though Lupino herself would give its difference fuller flower in her own work as director. Extras include a good commentary with experts Eddie Muller and Kim Morgan, a solid featurette on Lupino and Widmark, an interactive press book and photo galleries. (Fox)