Road House (1948)
In a just world, Ida Lupino would not only be remembered as a literally peerless feminist icon--the first Hollywood actress to write and direct her own films--but also as the working-class Bette Davis. In this bafflingly overlooked noir, Lupino smolders her way through the role of hard-luck lounge singer Lily Stevens. Despite a car-wheels-on-a-gravel-road voice, Lily lands a gig in a small-town bowling alley/C&W bar. (This hayseed/surrealist set alone is worth the cost of a rental.) A few torch songs later and both bar manager Pete (Cornel Wilde) and semi-psychotic owner Jefty (Richard Widmark) fall for Lily. Predictably, problems arise. Like the finest noirs, Road House takes a relatively reasonable scenario and, under director Jean Negulesco's deft touch, skillfully ups the bizarre psychosexual ante until all involved fall soul-first into a stealthy nightmare (in this case, a somnambulistic chase through a seemingly haunted swamp). But even with Widmark's gleefully crazed Jefty, Road House is all about Ida. Whether cracking wise, putting out cigarettes on a new piano for the sheer hell of it, or blithely fashioning a bikini from napkins, Lupino beguiles big time while barely breaking a sweat.