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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
One of the recent classic film noir releases by Fox is "Road House" (2008) a 1948
melodrama. I'm a fan of the noir cycle which started during World War II and fizzled
out circa 1953. Movies often reflect the times they were made in which makes them cultural artifacts as well as an art form. The noir cycle of the forties represented
the cynicism of the conflict and post-war years. Americans were fairly sheltered
from the horrors of the Axis until we were attacked and then they experienced how far
civilized societies could sink into barbarism after we entered the war. After World War II
the Cold War commenced and our former ally (Soviet Union) became our enemy and former enemies our allies. There was a feeling of paranoia that no one could be trusted and this was reflected in 'film noir' (dark) movies which explored the sinister side of human nature. In each case an average person was put into a situation that put their moral compass to a test. Usually it was a 'femme fatale' (deadly female) that instigated the events that spiralled out of control but there were variations on the theme.

The term 'film noir' was coined by movie critics and historians after the fact. Screenwriters and directors at the time didn't know they were making a 'noir' picture. They were just following a trend and reflecting the cultural attitudes and stakes of the era. (Similar to
the term "Pre-Code" which is also inaccurate since a code existed from 1930-1933) After the election of Eisenhower, the country's mood changed into a more optimistic and upbeat approach and the noir cycle gradually disappeared. In addition, the competing television medium inspired producers to focus on introducing new technology to 'wow' people back into cinemas. The fifties ended up being the decade of the spectacular rather than one known for it's human interest stories although there were some notable exceptions ("Vertigo").

"Road House" is one of the better thrillers in this genre although it has some problems. I had
never seen it before so it was quite interesting to watch it fresh. The movie
was shot in black and white like most of them and contained the unique lighting design which
made them different than a conventional drama. Most cinematographers fully lit the star's
face so you could see their facial expressions in detail. This caused shadows to appear in
the background so additional lights were used to remove them. Then they would add a little
backlight to the head to give the actor a foreground and background dimensionality. Noir
films used a different approach. Only half of the actor's face would be lit. One side or part
of it would remain dark giving everyone a sinister appearance. They left the shadows in the
backgrounds of the set to increase the ominous atmosphere. Who knew what dangers's
lurked in those shadows.

The Fox standard DVD transfer starts with a warning sign that made me apprehensive. It
states that the film was mastered from the best surviving elements. I was expecting the
worse but it turned out to be an excellent copy. Contrast and shadow detail was fine and
there was no wear on the image. The only reason I can think of the opening statement was
that they transferred the picture from a fine grain master rather than the original nitrate negative
which probably has decomposed since 1948. Obviously the best quality obtainable for any
digital format is to scan the actual camera negative but a first generation fine grain print
is also more than acceptable and first generation release prints are what people saw in cinemas
in the forties. So this disc looks identical to what the audiences saw in 1948 but not better
than what they screened which would've obtainable from the nitrate original.

The story stars Ida Lupino who initiated the project. Lupino later became one of the rare
women directors in Hollywood which is noted in the commentary but without critical analysis.
Lupino did direct some very quirky and interesting noir type of movies like "The Hitch-hiker"
but wasn't able to sustain her movie career. Despite the early promise of a stylish low budget filmmaker, she ended up a television hack cranking out episodes of "Gilligan's Island" years later. So let's not go overboard and become appologists just because she was a woman. It's a pity
that her quality work ended in the fifties. The formula material she directed in the sixties seems
as if it was made by a different person.

Lupino is a different type of "femme fatale" in this narrative. Richard Widmark owns a sleazy
Road House venue which offers a bar, live entertainment and bowling. The concept of a singer
performing while people get drunk and bowl in the background was an amusing concept. His
manager is Cornel Wilde. Widmark hires Lupino to sing for him and becomes sexually obsessed
with her. But she has the hots for Wilde and this explodes in some pretty wild plot twists
which I won't spoil for you. Widmark decides on an elaborate revenge scheme and the head
games the characters play with each other is very entertaining and suspenseful. The climax
ends with a "Most Dangerous Game" type of hunt. The film is fairly bloody and violent for it's

The problem with the movie is that it takes a long time to get going. There is at least a half
hour set up which seemed a bit too much. Once the conflict starts it moves rapidly towards
the ending which delivers the goods. Part of the humor of the movie is derived from the fact
that Lupino cannot sing. She has a raspy, gravel voice. Widmark thinks she's talented but
that goes with his obsession with her. One bad song performance would be enough to establish
this plot device but director, Jean Neglesco, gives us four numbers. Not only was it excessive
but I almost turned the movie off wondering if there was a plot. Fortunately I stuck with it
and wasn't disappointed so I mention this so you'll give it a chance.

The sound is mono like all movies from the era but clean and the image appropriate for the
look of the genre.

The extras include a decent documentary about Richard Widmark at Fox. There is also a
commentary by film historians, Kim Morgan and Eddie Muller that you will need a lot of
patience to get through. While they do offer some interesting footnotes and trivia,
they engage in a lot of banter and giggling unrelated to the movie which I found
distracting. I prefer it when the commentators just stick to the subject at hand and
not joke with each other.

So I recommend this DVD if you like "noir" features (which are very grim) and don't mind
a slow build up within the narrative structure.

526 Posts
Richard, How are you today? Well, fyi, My wife and myself went to the 12:05pm showing of April Showers. An excellent film. Very serious, my wife cried throughout, and I shed some tears myself. Being the film and movie buff that you are, you definitely need to check out Andrew Robinson`s movie. Hopefully it will get up here, where we live in Westchester. But, there was no traffic, and we were in Brooklyn in about 40 minutes. It makes me wonder how this event changed his life, carrying this around for ten years, hiding in that computer lab. The masses need to see it.
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